When we say Skynet is coming, we're not talking about the U.K.'s Skynet satellite network: that one's been around since the '60s, and despite its name, it does actually need humans to operate it.
The new SysBrain orbital robots, however, do not.
University of Southampton
"... and then we thought, fuck it, why not embrace the inevitable machine revolution?"
These robots (currently in development) are sophisticated enough to understand simplified English and perform basic reasoning, plus they can send information across the globe with ease. They don't rely on direct orders: instead, they download text documents from the web and "read them to enhance their physical and problem solving skills."
Did anyone else just hear thunder?
Then there's the big one: RoboEarth, an "Internet for robots" that lets them download instructions, share information and even learn from each other. The database can include anything from objects, maps or tasks, which they would instantly learn upon "reading" the downloaded file. In the following video a robot can be seen downloading instructions to care for a bed-ridden patient ...
... but it could just as easily learn how to strangle him to death. Or, if it somehow taught itself how to do that, it could then post the information to RoboEarth, thus letting others find out exactly how many seconds you need to press that pillow against the guy's face to do the job.
"Hey, you know that giant evil robot superconsciousness from Terminator? Let's make one."
So there you have it, robots can now communicate with each other across the planet and share common orders. The chances of every single robot on Earth being connected to the same network seem pretty slim right now -- but ask anyone who was alive 25 years ago if they ever thought there would come a day when practically every computer on the planet would form a massive web of interconnected servers.
"And one day, this 'Ultranet' will be used to help millions of people masturbate and pretend to kill things!"
But these are still just robots, right? Whether it looks like a gleaming chrome skeleton or a tumbling pile of homicidal Legos, it'll always be easy enough to identify and fight a machine. The whole point of the Terminator films was that the robots looked human, complete with organic tissue. And that brings us to ...
The Terminator's artificial skin wasn't just a cosmetic accessory, it was also a huge tactical advantage: the fact that the T-800 didn't always look like a giant C-3PO on steroids allowed it to move freely among humans and eventually sneak up on its prey.
"Oh, it's just another Austrian bodybuilder with a large gun."
When the first Terminator movie came out, the idea of producing humanlike skin and covering a robot with it sounded like pure science fiction, but that's no longer the case. Recent advancements in medical skin grafts have turned fleshy machines into a real possibility: these days, new skin cells are raised over a 3-D structure instead of in a flat petri dish. In other words, we've already figured out how to make skin grow over artificial materials such as metal. You see where this is going?
Fashionable toasters covered in human skin. Boom.
Fake skin is still pretty expensive and tough to produce, but technology is making this less and less of an issue. For example, a robot-controlled factory in Germany is already mass-producing penny-size discs of human skin for clinical testing -- that's right, there's a whole building full of unsupervised robots fabricating human skin right now.
To be clear, the guys who run that factory have no plans to use all that artificial skin on robots (that we know of). For now, all they have is a monopoly on specialty pizza toppings for Germany's growing cannibal millionaire market. But what if one of those factory robots accidentally falls on the assembly line and comes off looking like a young Haley Joel Osment?
It's only a matter of time before this happens and you know it.
Not that they are satisfied with just growing organic human skin, which of course would have the same weaknesses as ours. Researchers are working on artificial skin made of nanowires that can mimic all of the sensitivity of human skin, but without the issue of bleeding when it gets shot.
The idea is to someday make artificial limbs that can pass for the real thing. But then if you make a person entirely out of artificial limbs, what do you have? A goddamned Terminator, that's what.
She's three bionic limbs and one positronic brain away from enslaving mankind.
Check and mate.
Fletcher is a freelance writer. His book Triggered is due next March, and you can read more of his brain-thinkings at http://fletchathustra.wordpress.com/.
For more ways we are doomed, check out 5 Tiny Technologies That Will Doom Us (From The Inside Out) and The 6 Cutest Animals That Can Still Destroy You.