The Phoenix Network:
About  |  Advertise
Adult  |  Moonsigns  |  Band Guide  |  Blogs  |  In Pictures
Big Fat Whale  |  Failure  |  Hoopleville  |  Idiot Box  |  Lifestyle Features

Rage against the machines!

Could robots take over the world? In many ways, they already have.
By MIKE MILIARD  |  May 28, 2008


Massively intelligent artificial brains with no further use for humans. Armies of robotic clones, ever replenishing their ranks. Nimbly mechanized BigDog quadrupeds that can’t be toppled as onward they march. Self-replicating swarms of ecosystem-destroying “gray goo.” Military killing machines with no moral compass built in.

We’re on the cusp of a perilous era. Our pitiful carbon bodies are evolving much slower than the silicon and steel gizmos we’re inventing. And the guys in the lab coats and pocket protectors are starting to worry we’ve opened Pandora’s hard drive.

Technology rules us. All day, every day, we interact with machines. What if they decided, some sunny afternoon, that they no longer wanted to interact with us?

“Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”
Smart robots could indeed stage the big takeover. Many experts think it’s inevitable. And the “technocalypse” won’t necessarily come courtesy of bipedal humanoids wasting us with lasers. It could be more insidious: surpassingly cerebral supercomputers simply deciding they don’t like us, or planet-devouring microtechnology run amok.

Our best hope is to become more like them. To make the great leap forward from human to cyber-enhanced post-human. Only then might the billion-casualty war between Cosmists and Terrans be avoided. (Er, we’ll explain that one later.)

The AP reported a couple months ago that Japan is well on its way “to a future . . . where humans and intelligent robots routinely live side by side and interact socially.” There are more than 370,000 robots employed at factories across that country — nearly 40 percent of the worldwide total. Robots in Japan are “serving as receptionists, vacuuming office corridors, and spoon-feeding the elderly,” the story reported. “With more than a fifth of [Japan’s] population 65 or older, the country is banking on robots to replenish the workforce and care for the elderly.”

Just think of all the time we’ve wasted fretting about climate change and looming recession, nuclear war and bioterrorism. Perhaps we should worry instead about destruction or subjugation at the steely hands of these man-made monsters?

More and more, the innocent subservience of Kraftwerk’s “Die Roboter” — from 1978’s classic The Man-Machine, in which helpful automatons chant “Ja tvoi sluga, Ja tvoi robotnik” (“I’m your slave, I’m your worker”) — seems a wistful relic of the past. These days it’s better summed up by Flight of the Conchords, cavorting in silver cardboard boxes as they cheer the downfall of their meat-puppet masters: “The humans are dead. The humans are dead. We used poisonous gasses. And we poisoned their asses.”

20,000 years of progress
Don’t think it could happen? To understand how quickly and irrevocably we’ve arrived in this grave new world, check out that Kraftwerk video and the clunky “technology” that used to be considered cutting-edge.

Only three decades later, we’ve got iPhones and wireless Web and hi-def TV. And what do you suppose things will look like in another 30 years? Precisely.

Such is the exponential technical growth possible under Moore’s Law — the postulation, put forth by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965, that the number of transistors that can be fit inexpensively onto an integrated circuit is doubling about every two years. It’s a law that’s held true for more than 40 years, and shows no signs of being broken.

Extrapolating from Moore’s Law is Ray Kurzweil, the renowned inventor and futurist — he does most of his mind-bending cogitation at Kurzweil Technologies in North Andover — who sees us fast approaching a technological critical mass.

Describing his own “Law of Accelerating Returns,” Kurzweil writes on his Web site that “we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).” Within a few decades, he maintains, “machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence, leading to The Singularity — technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history. The implications include the merger of biological and nonbiological intelligence, immortal software-based humans, and ultra-high levels of intelligence that expand outward in the universe at the speed of light.”

Is your mind sufficiently blown?

Transcending biology
Kurzweil’s vision for the future, if a little hard to wrap one’s head around, at least sounds reassuringly sanguine. (Publisher’s Weekly calls him “technology’s most credibly hyperbolic optimist.”)

But as Bill Joy, a co-founder and chief scientist of Sun Microsystems, asked in his famous 2000 Wired article “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us,” should we be banking not so much on Moore’s Law but on Murphy’s? With technology and innovation unfolding so blindingly fast, it would seem an awful lot could go wrong along the way. In that article, Joy argued that such technologies as “genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics” (GNR) could imperil mankind, leading to “whole new classes of accidents and abuses.”

1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6  |   next >
Related: Wet, hot American summer, Energetic Engineering, Get it while you can, More more >
  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Science and Technology, Technology, Flight of the Conchords,  More more >
  • Share:
  • Share this entry with Facebook
  • Share this entry with Digg
  • Share this entry with Delicious
  • RSS feed
  • Email this article to a friend
  • Print this article
Rage against the machines!
Oh my God! I bet they're mooselems!!!!!
By DICKERSON3870 on 05/22/2008 at 9:00:58
Rage against the machines!
Actually this recurring theme of being taken over by computers is something of a distraction from the very real danger. Mankind has already allowed corporations to take over the world. Corporations are a synthetic lifeform we have created. Your government is a dysfunctional corporation only pretending to be a public service.
By Gnostic on 05/22/2008 at 10:37:42

Best Music Poll 2009 winners
Today's Event Picks
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   HIGH DIVES  |  August 31, 2009
    Dive bars. Where the drinks are cold and stiff. Where the air wafts with the unmistakable but not-altogether-unpleasant tang of suds long since spilled. Where the neon shines bright and true and the jukebox plays good and loud.
  •   INTERVIEW: JOHN OLIVER  |  August 27, 2009
    John Oliver is English. There's no getting around it, really.
  •   BIG FAT WHALE GETS EVEN FATTER  |  August 26, 2009
    Brian McFadden's comic strip Big Fat Whale — which can be seen semi-regularly in these very pages — had an inauspicious beginning.
  •   REVIEW: IT MIGHT GET LOUD  |  August 27, 2009
    Some guitar teachers will tell you there’s a right way and a wrong way to play the guitar. But Davis Guggenheim’s rousing new documentary, It Might Get Loud, reminds us that that’s not true at all.
  •   A MIGHTY WIND  |  August 24, 2009
    This past Earth Day, President Barack Obama, speaking at an Iowa wind-turbine factory, delivered a gusty peroration. "The nation that leads the world in creating new energy sources will be the nation that leads the 21st-century global economy," he said. "America can be that nation. America must be that nation."

 See all articles by: MIKE MILIARD

RSS Feed of for the most popular articles
 Most Viewed   Most Emailed 

  |  Sign In  |  Register
Phoenix Media/Communications Group:
Copyright © 2009 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group