5 Inventions That Prove 'The Terminator' Is Upon Us
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.
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 , and of course . 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?
"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."
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.
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.
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.
"Our next project is a robotic facehugger."
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.
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 ...
Robots That Talk to Other Robots
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.
"... 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 ...
Robot-Made Human Skin
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.