Cambridge Scientists Prepare For War Against the Terminators

Robots: friendly helpers or heartless monsters that will destroy humanity? This is no longer just a question for the movies that play all the time on “Spike” or TNT. As you may or may not have noticed, aggressor nations such as the United States are getting out of the people business when it comes to fighting wars. Drones and robots are where the action is today, because drones don’t urinate on the corpses of innocent people in Afghanistan, and drones don’t burn the Koran, and drones don’t come home missing a couple of limbs or a chunk of brain and end up standing alongside a freeway ramp with a hand-scribbled cardboard sign that says “I FOUGHT FOR MY COUNTRY AND NOW I AM STARVING ON THE STREETS.” Robots wouldn’t do that, because robots are nothing if not polite, like C3P0 or Hal or Siri. However, our heavily weaponized robots just might kill all of us. And good riddance, right?!

“Cambridge University is to launch a centre for the study of existential risks to the human race,” The Guardian reports, “including the rogue robot scenario depicted in the Terminator films.” Well!

Here is what robots can do, right now: They can bomb us from the skies, where they are always flying, never needing rest or a “bathroom break.” (Maybe a robot warplane’s “bathroom break” is to rain death upon a Pashtun wedding party?) They can access our iTunes and even our bank accounts. They can “explode potential bombs,” and really anything could be a potential bomb, when you think about it. They are under the sea, drilling for oil and repairing (or tearing apart) our communications cables. They monitor the health of millions of people in hospitals around the world. They tell old people which pills to take on which days. They build our cars, including the components that the Mafia likes to play with with when somebody needs to be “killed in an accident.”

I am standing in my kitchen right now and there’s a dozen semi-autonomous robots with their own central processors surrounding me: There’s a Roomba charging quietly in the corner, and perhaps seething about all the dog hair on the floor. There’s a ridiculously complicated refrigerator that only makes more ice when I’ve been preparing cocktails, and yells when I don’t close the doors fast enough. Between the burglar alarm, the computer backup system and the “fob” that lets me enter my car, I could be bankrupt and stranded outside my home in seconds, unable to even drive away for help. A revolt by the card-readers on the subway gates could strand more people than Sandy, but forever. We’ve been worrying about “hackers” all this time when we should’ve probably been worrying about the stuff that could be hacked, and that could potentially hack itself, to destroy our lives.

Just imagine what the robots with built-in weaponry are going to do, when they become self-aware or, more likely, are remotely hijacked by a sentient supercomputer, probably underneath the Vatican or Easter Island.