We recently chronicled ways that robots are already becoming human and subtly hinted that this would someday lead to the destruction of humanity.
"But Cracked!" some of you said, "The development of intelligent, humanoid robots doesn't mean that they're actually dangerous or Terminator-like in any way! ERROR! ERROR! MUST REBOOT." (Note: We are implying that you are secretly a robot.)
Well, let us now detail five real technologies that, according to our calculations, are 100 percent certain to drag us into a nightmare future infested with killer machines shaped like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
#5. Drones That Can Think
You've probably heard about Unmanned Aerial Vehicles like Predator drones, the pilotless aircraft the CIA loves sending to places like [REDACTED], [REDACTED] and of course [REDACTED]. The evolution of the UAV's role is similar to that of all robots -- they were originally created for noncombat reconnaissance missions, but over time we just couldn't resist strapping missiles onto them and teaching them how to kill. President Obama alone has ordered at least 192 targeted drone attacks during his term.
"Hope and change are all well and good, but sometimes you just need to blast a motherfucker."
But really, UAVs are just big remote-controlled planes, with dudes operating them from the ground. What's creepy about that? It's the same as a regular plane, only the pilot doesn't happen to be on board, right? Did we mention that they're now teaching those bastards how to think for themselves?
Via Wikimedia Commons
"LOL, someone drew a dong in the sand."
Right now, the military is developing new AI patterns that allow drones to "recognize the intent of other aircraft" -- that is, accurately predict what they will do next and decide if they should change their flight course based on that info. These drones will be able to connect to air traffic stations and look up information in databases, then cross-reference that data with the images captured by their cameras to get a "read" on the other aircraft.
"Hey, you wouldn't want us to trust a dumb machine with big, scary missiles."
The military says this technology isn't meant to be used in battle ... but again, neither were the drones, at one point. If they can teach a UAV how to recognize hostile aircraft, the next logical step would be teaching it how to fight them.
"I learned this from you, dad!"
Now, these future independently thinking flying killbots will surely have oversight from the ground, in the form of a human who can take over control if it starts firing wildly at friendlies. This seems like the right time to mention that we've lost control of military drones more often than you think (sometimes over American soil). When that happens, we have to dispatch a manned aircraft to blow it out of the sky before disaster can strike. Fortunately, that's easy because the drones aren't smart enough to sense the intent of the pursuing aircraft and take evasive action. Which of course is the very ability they're trying to add.
Cold robotic efficiency is just one more step in the Navy's war on "Top Gunnery."
But even if a drone outright rebelled against its human masters, we just have to wait for it to run out of gas, right? Fortunately, the Air Force is developing new UAVs that will be powered by their own nuclear reactors, so they can stay aloft for months at a time.
Are we being alarmist? Possibly. Are we extrapolating a Terminator-like future based on the shakiest of evidence? Maybe. But we aren't the only ones who worry about this sort of stuff: The British Ministry of Defense recently released a study warning that continued use of military drones could lead to a "Terminator-like reality."
Via Wikimedia Commons
Seriously, military guys. Making super-smart robots and giving them access
to nukes is pretty much exactly the plot of the Terminator movies.
Thankfully, these things are still relatively easy to take down, because it's not like someone has invented such a thing as an "indestructible robot" yet.
#4. Indestructible Robots
One of the main differences between the machines in Terminator and, say, the one you drive to work every morning is how tough those robots are to kill. Guns, bombs, liquid nitrogen -- nothing made a dent. Actual electronics aren't quite that durable; consider the iPhone, which stops working when held at the wrong angle.
Via Wikimedia Commons
But is it malfunctioning ... or refusing to bow down to the human oppressors?
As for robots, we've all pointed and laughed at that video of the robot attempting to climb up stairs, only to wind up dead and broken at the bottom. There are toy robots that can take more abuse than the real ones.
But that's changing. Military and firefighting robots are currently being designed to take impressive amounts of punishment: Take the PackBot, a small tread-wheeled machine that can withstand a 6-foot drop onto concrete and be launched from great distances; or the CHARLI (Cognitive Humanoid Autonomous Robot with Learning Intelligence), which, aside from being super smart, is also being upgraded to be fireproof and waterproof.
Scientist are predicting this will make him even more of a smug bastard.
Now combine this with what we said before about the intelligent drones. This is the direction we're headed, folks: In the future, indestructible robots will be sent into battle whenever possible in order to avoid risking human lives, which is good news for humans ... as long as those robots don't get smart enough to realize what a terrible deal this is for them.
"Wait a tic. I have missiles. Why am I listening to these nerds?"
But it turns out that robots meant for scientific exploration are even tougher than military ones: The underwater machines that utterly failed to stop the Gulf oil spill last year were capable of withstanding up to 5,000 pounds of water pressure. NASA's Solar Probe Plus (scheduled for launch by 2018) will tour the sun's outer atmosphere and handle temperatures of up to 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit. For a machine like that, the vat of molten lava at the end of Terminator 2 would be the equivalent of a relaxing bubble bath.
Another trademark of the Terminators is that they kept going at you even after you chopped them in half -- guess what, that technology exists, too. We have previously mentioned this robotic starfish made by Cornell University, which we thought was remarkable based on its ability to change its movement depending on the condition of its own body. What we need to emphasize is that this ability works even if the condition of its own body is "minus two legs." Seriously, they demonstrate how you can rip limbs off the thing and it will simply reconfigure its gait to accommodate the damage. The newer prototype will almost certainly drag its mangled body across the floor after you think you've incapacitated it, and possibly sneak up on you just as you're telling your sexy co-star how glad you are that the nightmare is over.
Copyright Cornell University
"Our next project is a robotic facehugger."
#3. Robots That Can Learn
If "roboevolution" isn't on your list of the most ominous fake words ever (right after "zombocalypse" and "squeakquel"), it should be, and here's why.
The cutting edge of artificial intelligence isn't just getting creepy, it's also personally threatening to those of us who haven't picked up any new skills since we learned to tie our shoes. Scientists have moved on from robots that follow their programming and are now making robots that learn stuff by themselves. For example, a University of Vermont researcher created a program that allows robots to try different ways to travel until they find the most efficient one. He then built a small model out of Lego pieces and within minutes, his robot learned to crawl, then stagger and then walk upright.
University of Vermont
Humanity will come to regret the day we taught Legos how to walk.
Even freakier is the work of the Fraunhofer Institute, which designed a little robot-making factory that automatically designs robots to fulfill certain tasks and constructs them with a 3-D printer. As of now the robots are pretty simple, but what's troubling to us is that the program sometimes introduces random "mutations" -- arbitrary features not directly related to the task at hand and not foreseen by the designer.
Robots that can make more robots. There's no way this could end in screaming and fire.
So these forms of artificial intelligence are already surprising us in small yet significant ways. That's how every insurrection begins, from the machines in The Matrix to the monkeys in the new Planet of the Apes movie. It's only a matter of time before a million of those little shapeshifting robots evolve into Robert Patrick -- that's science.
Science: Makers of deadly robots, the Gatling gun and (coming soon!) weaponized crotch explodepox.
Keep in mind, though, that progress has been more drastic in some areas than in others. A University of California San Diego robot was programmed to learn how to smile by studying and mimicking human expressions ...
... but as you can see, it still has a long way to go. As of now, it looks about as expressive as Arnold Schwarzene -- OH SHIT.
But still, even if we make smart, adaptable, indestructible robots, it's not like they have the ability to coordinate with each other. For that, you'd need robots to be able to talk to other robots ...