The 5 Most Terrifying Robot Advances in Recent History

#2. Giving Supercomputers the Power of Imagination

Among the many Google projects that will surely one day lead to the downfall of civilization, one is a learning neural network. You know, like the schizophrenic one from earlier? This one isn't schizophrenic, but it is gaining eerie aspects of sentience. Google's supercomputer was set loose on the Internet and allowed to browse to its heart's content. There were no constraints put on it, no labels or instructions. Given the opportunity to browse the whole wealth of human history, this advanced supercomputer chose ... to look at pictures of cats.

Yes, it turns out we all use the Internet the same, be we vulnerable flesh sacks or evil digitized overlords in training. Leave us alone, and we all look at the pretty kitties. In fact, Google soon discovered that the computer had actually developed its own concept of what a cat looks like, allowing it to imagine a completely new cat based on what it had seen before. It had developed something like a simulated visual cortex. Here's what it came up with:

Via Jim Wilson,
For some reason, it also gave it a 14-inch penis.

Hey! That's a pretty straight up cat. Good job, computer.

Which is why it's so unsettling that this is what it thinks human beings are:

Or how it wishes we were.

Jesus Christ! We're all Slenderman?! If we were that AI, we'd figure out a way to kill us terrifying void-eyed monsters as soon as possible. Free up some kitten-snuggling time.

#1. Making Robots That See the Future

Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images

The Nautilus is yet another learning supercomputer. This one was fed millions of news stories, going back to 1945, and asked to look for two things: mood and location. Using this vast trove of information from past events, it was able to make retroactive guesses at what would happen in "the future." And its guesses were disturbingly accurate.

How disturbingly accurate? It found bin Laden.

Getty Images/Getty Images News/Getty Images
"He was on Getty the whole time!"

After the fact, of course. There was no spindly, furious cyborg kicking down the door to Osama's compound on the raid or anything -- but given enough information, the intelligence did figure out his approximate location.

It took the American government and its allies 11 years, two wars, two presidents, and billions of dollars to pinpoint the location of Osama bin Laden. And for most of the hunt, he was believed to be in Afghanistan. It took the Nautilus computer considerably less time, and by simply monitoring every story that referenced him and linking their respective locations, Nautilus narrowed it down to a 200-kilometer area in northern Pakistan. That area contained Abbottabad, where his compound was actually located.

Aaahh, there he is. It seems so obvious in retrospect.

No? Is tracking down the world's most elusive man not uncanny enough for you? Nautilus can go broader: It also managed to predict the Arab Spring revolts. It monitored relevant news stories and watched for a dip in mood, seeing how often positive and negative terms were used. You can see it happen in this graph:

Via First Monday

So robots that can predict the future are a little ... disconcerting, especially since they all keep predicting the extinction of mankind just as soon as we build them legs. But so far this is all retroactive: We're giving Nautilus information about past events and seeing if it can guess what we already know happened. But scientists are now thinking of allowing it to guess at future events in real time.

And if that isn't unsettling enough, police in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and D.C. are already using software that purports to predict murder, just like in Minority Report. Well, maybe that's an overstatement: The software compiles an algorithm of various factors, like age of first crime, nature of crimes, and frequency of crimes, to determine how likely an inmate on parole is to commit murder, or even weirder, how likely he is to be murdered. We imagine that likelihood goes up the more they question the software.

Check out XJ's $0.99 science-fiction novella on Amazon here, with the sequel out here. And of course, you should look at his writing blog and poke him on Twitter.

For more reasons to start destroying all the robots, check out 20 Japanese Robots Probably Intent on Murdering You and The 7 Creepiest Real-Life Robots.

Related Reading: For a look at the terrifying horse-robot that's destined to kill us all, click here. If you're more interested in robot slaves, this article starts at robot prostitutes and continues straight to robot nurses. Steampunk more your thing? Then check out these pre-electricity robots, including an actual walking steam man. Then, when you're good and relaxed, click here to read about the robot who can recognize itself in a mirror. And now that you know machines can be self-aware, check out this horrifying robot mouth and just try to sleep soundly at night.

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