For thousands of years, prophets and every Tom, Dick, and Harry. have been predicting the end of the world and the end of mankind. At the end of World War 2, some of the scientists working on the first atomic bomb were afraid it might be so powerful as to rip the atmosphere from the Earth, or maybe even set the atmosphere on fire. Then came fear of global thermonuclear war, along with a nuclear winter causing another ice age.
For a while there it was the very real possibility of the holes at the North and South poles in the ozone layer. Now its global warming. From the Bible forward, the predictions always portray humanity as responsible for its own self-destruction, whether through greed, hatred, selfishness, or war. Or, maybe, just plain stupidity. You pick. All of the above. One or two or three of the suggested causes? Or will the resultant destruction come from the unknown, such as an asteroid or comet striking the Earth and wiping out almost all life? Or the sun suddenly going nova and wiping the world from the universe?
There’s a much simpler way it will happen. Humanity, mankind, us–we will become obsolete. How?
As I said, it’s simple. And we’ve begun the first steps and there’s no turning back. You see, we’re fascinated and obsessed with the cause. We want it to happen. What is it? Mechanization. Robotics.
Hilarious, right? The Terminator movies. The Matrix movies. Fantasies all. It’ll never happen. But it will and it is.
We were once a nation of farmers. Our lives were hard and short. Now we’re a nation of computer programmers and hackers. And a nation of consumers of technology. And we want and need more and more advanced technology to keep us happy. It’s not about money. Money is the means of acquiring technology. In fact, technology is fast replacing money as the real currency. Thieves of limited vision still steal expensive jewelry and paintings, or gold, or rob banks for pitiful amounts of money. But the real thieves, those with wide eyes and wide vision are stealing ideas. Ideas that create better and better tech.
So how will computers take our lives from us? It’s not the computers but the algorithms that run them. And what else they’re used for, such as operating the robots replacing people in manufacturing. And robots are the key.
A Japanese company recently sold out in one day all one thousand human-sized robots it placed on the market. They were only a few thousand dollars each. The could recognize and respond to human emotions. They could act as mechanical companions. They could act as servants. But they lacked personalities and self-awareness. However, scientists and engineers world-wide are working on those issues and soon, maybe six months from now, maybe five years, maybe twenty years, and those issues will be solved and we’ll have the robots we’ve dreamed about since childhood.
What else? Well, we have drones now that deliver packages. We have drones that allow stalkers to spy on their victims with cameras (even with night vision cameras) without the victims knowing it. They can even photograph people showering, bathing, having sex, and doing anything they don’t want anyone to know about. Soon someone will figure out ways to blackmail and murder people with drones and how do you prove that in a court of law? In fact, will the laws even be able to deal with it?
Recently it was announced in the news that there are now more registered drones in the United States than there are peopled aircraft.
What else? Battlefield robots.
We’re nowhere near the droids in the Star Wars film Phantom Menace. In fact, just a decade ago our best robots were nothing more than land-crawling drones used to inspect and detonate bombs. Now we have four-legged and eight-legged robots used to haul supplies and wounded personnel through the mountains of Afghanistan. It won’t be long before we have truly robot planes, robot tanks, robot ships and robot soldiers. We already have a self-propelled, solar-powered, computerized prototype artillery platform–essentially, a robot. With the proper targeting data, it can load, aim, and fire explosive shells at a distant target. After it fires, it moves to a new position, calculates the vector to the assigned target (or a new target) and fires from its new location. It changes position each time so enemy artillery cannot use radar to track its out-going shells back to its location.
Someday, maybe in less than twenty years, there will be generals and admirals, a few techs, and thousands of robot submarines, ships, tanks, aircraft, cannons, and drone soldiers. We will land our robot troops in other countries. They will receive their orders through super-encrypted communications. Their algorithms will keep them loyal to the US. Spyware and malware will not affect them–they’ll be hack proof. They’ll go in and eliminate terrorists, enemy troops (including enemy robots), destroy factories, topple foreign governments, and maybe even kill anyone, man or woman or child, who gets in their way. What is compassion and kindness, even mercy, with no algorithms for such sentiments.
Where are Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics? They’re irrelevant. Pie-in-the-sky fantasies. No one wants them. Victory, success, freedom from fear, that’s all anyone wants.
No soldiers die. None come back with emotional or physical injuries. Two million jobs lost as all the sailors and soldiers and airmen are unneeded, irrelevant. Then polices officers won’t be needed anymore. No police officers, no firemen, no ambulance drivers, no medical personnel, no doctors, no nurses, no lab technicians.
Think that’s a pie-in-the-sky fantasy, completely absurd? There’s already a hotel in Japan where robots greet you, where everything is automated and no human being works there. The future is here already, at least in Japan.
Seven billion people in the world (or close to it) today. What happens when a quarter, half, three-quarters, maybe all of the jobs are gone? What happens when robots replace politicians? (Well, that WILL be great!) But what happens when all the decisions are made by computers? Will humanity be like the fat and useless people in the Disney film WALL-E, out on the spaceship far from Earth? Will that be all that’s left of us?
People today, now, want android bodies. They want to be cyborgs, with mechanical and electronic parts to free them from their crippling burdens and pain. But what happens when there’s no purpose and no jobs? Will we live forever? Will we just wither away? Will anyone become an artist or an athlete, when people with cybernetic implants or android bodies compete where normal people cannot? Even with steroids, common humans will not be able to compete.
What happens when robots do all the manufacturing, all the farming? Will there be more terrorism, human against human–because machines won’t care! When they become self-aware, we will be less than bugs to them. Not even a nuisance. Why? Suppose you destroyed a self-aware robot? Would it care, when it could instantly download itself into a new mechanical body while the old one is blown into scrap?
Death will mean nothing to them. Death will mean only something to people.
With nothing to do and no purpose, what will life mean to us? How long will we live? Currently, medical researchers suggest that the average lifespan in the 22nd Century might be virtually unlimited. Live a hundred years? Two hundred years? Four hundred? A thousand?
If machines do everything and life has no meaning to us, birth rates might falter, even disappear. Live a thousand years? A thousand years of boredom, with nothing to do and no reason to live? Talk about a living hell! The life span might only twenty years, ten years, six months. Who knows?
Machines might know. But would they care? Who would want to give a machine emotions? Would you want your robot like Data from Star Trek:TNG? Or like his evil twin, Lore? Would you want a society of evil, vindictive, hateful, enraged robots after you? Well, it might give you purpose, to survive, to live, to hide! But how much terrorism and fear can you handle? And when they caught you, what might they do? Might they boil you in oil like how one of Saddam Hussein’s sons did to the children of his enemies? Yes, he did do that, and he made the the parents and grandparents and older siblings listen and watch while the infants and toddlers screamed to death. Could robots do that? Hell, yes, if they’re programmed to.
Where am I going with all this? I don’t know. I don’t have any solutions. I just want the world to know that what’s coming. Maybe we need Asimov’s Three Rules for Robots–that a robot cannot harm a human being; that it cannot let harm come to a human being unless it violates the first law; that it cannot let harm come to itself unless it violates the first two laws.
But will that even work?
There’s an old saying that’s very apropos, “Be careful what you wish for!”
It seems appropriate. Very appropriate.
Let’s hope we have more “Robby the Robot” types like from the film THE FORBIDDEN PLANET. Let’s hope we have more C3POs, R2D2s, and more like that BB droid from THE FORCE AWAKENS that looks like Wilson from CASTAWAY. And let’s hope our dreams don’t become the end of us.