Quick: animals or robots? As in, which of them will be the first to get tired of humanity's bullshit and rise against us?
I'm sorry, that was a trick question. Thanks to science, there's no need to choose anymore. Enterprising researchers everywhere are busy merging the two options by building artificial animals that will one day rule the lands, seas, skies, and us with an iron paw. When our grandchildren inevitably find themselves skulking in the ruins of their ravaged megacities, chances are they're going to be hunted for sport by the sentient upgrades of ...
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Ha, look at these things!
Are they ... artificial cows? Some sentient variety of those mechanical bulls rodeo bar patrons so enjoy hurting themselves with?
What you're looking at are semi-autonomous creatures known as Legged Squad Support Systems, or LS3s. A robot technician walks in front of them and gives them commands, which they seem perfectly content to obey ... for now.
An LS3, seen here nonchalantly blocking your only way to safety.
Also known as DARPA Mules, these weird headless horse creatures are meant to help soldiers haul their gear around the battlefield, although no one will ever convince me the Army isn't secretly planning to ride these things into battle. An LS3 has a carrying capacity of 400 pounds, or two or three humans it has hunted down -- a task it will find extremely easy, thanks to its advanced voice recognition technology. Yes, LS3 knows how to locate you by sound.
If you think that LS3 looks less threatening and more kind of clumsy and harmless, it's only because you haven't seen it in action. Cut to 0:33 of this innocent demonstration video: The guy is walking alone in the forest when suddenly an LS3 enters the frame from the right, stalking him silently save for the quiet revving of its engine and the monotonous thud of its robot murder hooves.
Tell me you could walk into a cinema with that scene playing and think it isn't a horror movie. And tell me you wouldn't crap all the pants if you were taking your daily forest walk and saw that thing coming at you, crashing through the foliage and screaming your naaaaaaaaaaame.
Look at them happily cavorting in the field, the six men they just trampled to death but a memory of a job done well.
The LS3 is a joint project between DARPA and the Google-owned Boston Dynamics, two long-standing names in robotics whose track record of insanity includes BigDog, a perennial contender for Cracked's prestigious Thing That Is Most Likely to Murder Us in Our Sleep award. Incidentally, BigDog's development team has recently taught it to hurl cinder blocks with deadly strength and accuracy. It's probably just a matter of time before the LS3 picks up the trick and starts throwing cars at us.
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A few years ago, scientists were worried about the phenomenon of disappearing bees. Although some viable explanations for the problem (fungicides and a particularly nasty parasite) have been found since, no one has been able to come up with a functional solution. Bee populations are still rapidly declining.
Which is why we're now building robotic bees.
I realize that bees play an important part in pollination and ecosystems and shit, but personally, I've never liked the little bastards. The fact that people are now robotizing them does nothing to alter my stance. Sure, right now these guys are little more than concept models, tiny nail-clipper-looking things on wings that barely function. But we all know how science works. Once someone gets the basic concept down, others start rapidly building on that platform. In 10 years' time, we'll suddenly have 30 million completely realistic robo-bees that can Voltronize into a 10-story Beezilla and shoot electricity from their giant horns (I know nothing about bees). What's more, the people working on the robo-bee project have been blurting out quotes such as "We can now very rapidly build reliable prototypes, which allows us to be more aggressive in how we test them." After comments like that, you know it's just a matter of time until these things sport stingers and a hive mind, and possibly also tiny missiles that automatically home in on your crotch.
"Say goodbye to your urethra."
The reason scientists are working on these swarms of robotic bees is noble enough: They just want to reproduce the pollenating and buzzing-around functions of real bees now that they're slowly dying away. Still, I dare you to think of a man-made cloud of millions of tiny robot bees in a way that will not lead to a scenario that requires Will Smith and a flamethrower.
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Points redacted if you take the obvious route.
The ostrich may look goofy as hell, but remember: This avian mini T. rex is one of nature's premier murder machines, easily capable of tearing through lions with a single blow. You can't outrun an ostrich, you can't outfight an ostrich, and you definitely can't outkick an ostrich. Hell, you don't even stand a chance in a knife fight -- before you've even figured out how to open the latch to your butterfly knife, the ostrich has gutted you thrice with its velociraptor claws, Jurassic Park style. With the possible exception of the golden eagle, this bad boy is the absolute last bird you want to fight against. So, of course science has decided to robotize it.
Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition
"KICK-MURDER MODE: ACTIVATED."
Our friends at DARPA have commissioned a creepy ostrich machine that will be able to run circles around you at speeds that rival the best human athletes. That's just the beginning, too: The final goal of the project is a robot that can travel at paces nearing 50 mph, with its carrying power limited only by the strength of its materials. It will be able to run in fairly rough terrain, and even jump obstacles:
Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition
Somewhere, ED-209 is weeping tears of impotent rage.
The design doesn't seem to feature giant foot knives and miniguns at this point, but come on -- this is DARPA we're talking about. That shit will totally be there, probably painted gold and with bells attached. Once finished, the robo-ostrich will be the perfect war machine, just one sentience-creating short circuit away from either destroying mankind or befriending a lonely boy and having wacky adventures with him while running from a rogue colonel. Really, the only thing that it won't be able to do is fly.
Don't think that the skies are robot-free, though ...