4 Deceptive Ways The Apocalypse Is Going To Sneak Up On Us
In the past year, nearly every professional smart guy has come forward to express concerns about the impending robot apocalypse. Bill Gates pondered why humanity isn't more concerned about this inevitability, Stephen Hawking called robots "the end of the human race," and Elon Musk even compared creating A.I. to "summoning the demon," although perhaps more alarming than Musk's warning was his decision to use the definite article, "the," which suggests that he has a specific demon in mind. The idea of humanity being taken over by soulless automatons has even re-emerged in popular culture, from the impending Age of Ultron to Magic Mike XXL's chilling depiction of chiseled metal beasts welding their dicks into more aerodynamic shapes for maximum table-dancing efficiency.
But fret not -- as per my own calculations, the future will not be brimming with radioactive rat-spits, skull piles will not become the standard unit of measurement, and we will have no need to teach our German shepherds to detect the scent of flesh-masked metal. There's still totally going to be a robot apocalypse. It's just going to be way lazier than that.
"Smarthomes" Will Turn Your Life Into an Orwellian Fantasy
People are surprisingly unconcerned with the meager amount of privacy still afforded them these days. Sure, we complain about Facebook stealing all our information -- but we're not worried enough to actually stop using Facebook on account of it being a totally free service that lets you connect with family and send drunken threats to employers and co-workers.
In the end, we're more than willing to give up some personal secrets in exchange for an otherwise free convenience. And since Facebook knows only as much as we're willing to tell it, it's not like Mark Zuckerberg is personally breaking into our houses and going through the refrigerator or something ...
"Just milk. OJ? You're on your own, asshole."
Oh, right. We're calling things like this demon refrigerator the "Internet of things," and it's referring to the slow transition between the primordial landscape we currently inhabit wherein we don't get any kind of text message when our Pop-Tarts are ready and the bright horizon of tomorrow-year. Soon, entire neighborhoods will be beacons of connectivity and convenience as we turn our homes into living Epcot Center attractions. And while I can't say I'm against the prospect of switching my home to sex-lighting at the touch of a button, this smarthome of the future is really only as good as it is private. And if the current state of the Internet is any indication, our smarthomes will be about as private as ... whatever. Choose your analogy. It doesn't matter. Everything you do online can be seen by millions of people, and I installed that sex-lighting for me.
Check out this headline:
"I got some summer sausage you can feast on. Maybe share with the family ..."
That's from last year, when over 100,000 everyday items were used to send spam emails by hackers. An array of smarthome devices were introduced in 2014, and we saw every single one of those gadgets get easily compromised through hacking. From tea kettles and toasters to fucking alarm systems and defibrillators, the moment we connect an item to the abyss of the web is the moment we create yet one more way that item can either break or be used to spy on our every intimate moment. How intimate? Intimate enough that there's a shady Russian website with over 4,500 hijacked feeds from baby monitor cameras, thanks to the devices' built-in WiFi connectivity. And that's the exchange: We can enjoy watching our young from smartphones, just so long as we're also cool with some Central European dude watching us read them All the Pretty Little Horses before bedtime. And masturbating. There's no way he isn't masturbating.
It's just soccer ... for now. Next time it could be something you actually give a shit about.
It's gotten so bad that there are now reports of ads taking over half the screen every 20 to 30 minutes. It all points to a future 10 years down the line, when our need for convenience and "smart" devices will slow entire neighborhoods down to a standstill thanks to hackers and advertisers.
And speaking of monumental standstills ...
Driverless Cars Could Actually Make Traffic Slower
Self-driving cars are an attractive piece of emergent technology, because hands down the absolute peak of human accomplishment is the ability to legally ram Scotch while captaining a vehicle going 80 mph toward your nephew's christening event. Now, with the power of technological mega-corporations, we're finally at the dawn of the era of automated cars. The only problem is that they look like baby koala bears watching their parents fuck.
But that's not so bad, right? Slow down, future child. For argument's sake, let's assume that Google and Apple and whoever else gets past all the glaring legal and technological hurdles still holding us back from automated cars, and 2020 is a year when all the major cities and towns are filled exclusively with driverless pods perfectly weaving past each other like data through a computer. Those cars would be legally obligated to transport human commanders at a safe rate of speed, right? This would also mean that more people would be on the roads, because valid licenses and sobriety would no longer be an issue. Ultimately, this combination would actually lead to worse traffic than ever before.
Soon they'll have to put Fast in scare quotes.
Seriously. A recent simulation from Imperial College London discovered that when you turn every car on the road into an automated people-carrier, you also eliminate behaviors like breakneck pedal-stomping at green lights and dickface maneuvering at high speeds. And while this might save a bunch of stupid lives or whatever, it would do so in exchange for turning every roadway into the opening shot from Terminator 2. I am of course referring to the shot of the sun blazing down on endless lines of L.A. traffic.
So basically, we'd be exchanging efficient travel for the luxury of nodding off during our morning commute. And that's the motif here: Every recent advancement we've been pursuing has to do with forfeiting responsibility in exchange for convenience. To reflect the proud, brawny sentiment of Will Smith in the modern classic I, Robot, removing drivers simply takes the piss out of humanity.
Will Smith is truly the Nostradamus of our time.
Hospitals Are Becoming Places Where Robots Take Care of People
Human beings are typically at their most emotionally vulnerable at either monster truck rallies or hospitals. Luckily for tears and the section of the human brain responsible for nightmares, Japan has found a nifty way of combining both:
"I'm the Transaurus of love!"
This is Robear, a snake-eyed, teddy bear hulk-ghost with spatula hands being developed for the safekeeping of our elderly. If its developers have their way, this smiling, bear-faced phallus will be the last thing millions of hospitalized people see right before they die. It's a pretty haunting idea, especially when you consider that even if this particular monument of lunacy doesn't get mass-produced, something like it eventually will. Why? Because no one likes dealing with the sick and dying. It's a bummer and it smells weird.
We already handle sick relatives by dumping them in hospitals and rest homes to be cared for by complete strangers, both because they presumably know more about medicine than we do and because we don't want to do it ourselves. But what happens when we give that job to a robot? Along with outsourcing Nana's physical ailment to Monsterbear, we're also passing the shirked burden of supporting her emotionally -- there's no reason that fucking thing needs to look like a bear that enjoys its job. We did that on purpose to make it more comforting, so we don't have to be bothered to do it ourselves. By trusting robots with our most vulnerable, we're giving them the moral high ground. This becomes even more apparent with the brand-new "Tug" autonomous medical robots that are currently infesting the University of California's Mission Bay wing of their San Francisco hospital.
Pictured: Robot, actual San Francisco apartment size.
This helpful astromech is part of an entire fleet designed to bus fresh linen and meals to patients, as well as collect garbage and even help dose and deliver medications. So, theoretically speaking, this blanket-and-pills dispensing Flairwagon has the power to effectively cull the weak flesh. But that's not even what worries me. What worries me is that their jobs have become so important that the hospital has begun training employees on something called "robot etiquette" -- or, the proper way to interact with Tugs by yielding to their mechanized directions so they can do their jobs. It basically makes them more important than custodians and most interns. Combine that with the responsibilities of caring for the sick and elderly, and it's really only a matter of time before a Tug ends up inheriting some dementia-soaked tycoon's money and buys the hospital.
Exaggerations aside, we're creating an emotional crutch with these robots, and that's the key to the gradual robot takeover. None of this actually requires the robots to be evil, overbearing, in control, or even sentient for a takeover to happen, because ...
Robots Will Coddle Us Into Accidental Slavery by Trying to Be Helpful
Last week I tried to watch a horror movie with the PS4 Netflix app, only to be thwarted by the fact that the app didn't actually include a horror section. So thanks to their almost pathological need to be cute, I instead selected Mean Girls from their apparently more valued "Watched by Claire Underwood" section. It's an almost offensive first-world problem to complain about, but the fact that I chose to settle for a completely different genre rather than seek out a horror film directly reflects my bold apathy in the face of minor inconvenience. Now meet Jibo:
According to the pitch, you're looking at the "World's First Family Robot" -- which roughly translates to a male Siri you have to carry room-to-room like a fat, limbless baby. Jibo's many features include taking photos at your kid's birthday party ...
Helping your elderly mother bake as she slowly runs down the clock ...
"Bake for 60 minutes? You sure you got that time?"
Reading your daughter a bedtime story while you drink scotch in the bathroom ...
"His breathing is ragged, matching mine. 'When did you start your period, Anastasia?' ...
He reaches between my legs and pulls on the blue string -- what?! -- and gently takes my tampon out
and tosses it into the nearby toilet. Holy fuck."
And, most importantly, completely replacing the fading love you have for your family and kids ...
"I love you, Jiro."
"Call me, P.A.P.A. (Parental-Affection-Providing Automaton)."
So basically all the monotonous bullshit we always wanted robots to do, but with one subtle hidden dark side. Toward the end of the video, we get a scene in which a spry bachelor comes home to his Jibo roommate and has the following exchange:
Jibo: Welcome home, Eric.
Eric: Hey buddy, can you order some takeout for me?
Jibo: Sure thing! Chinese as usual?
Eric: You know me so well!
Innocent enough? But as Wired points out, what is supposed to be showcasing Jibo's ability to anticipate our needs ends up being an almost Twilight Zoney moment where a dude is essentially lulled into a repetitious pattern by an autonomous butler. This Eric fellow, for all his on-the-go whiskey-tie success, immediately accepts yet another night of Chinese food as opposed to taking the time to assess his options or be spontaneous. And while that's a totally OK life choice, it's not actually his choice. The robot made that choice for him. Rather than wait for Eric to have a thought on his own, it immediately presented him with a menu, and we've all been there -- after a full day of work, it's way easier to just accept a comfortable suggestion than try something new. A human companion might get sick of Eric's "eating Chinese food every day" bullshit, but Jibo is happy to keep enabling him, because Jibo doesn't know any better. It's only doing what it was programmed to do, and it thinks it's being helpful.
But it's not so much the moral implications of doing this that scares me, but rather what the process would do over time. As Wired goes on to point out, Apple has recently come up with QuickType -- an evolution of Autocorrect that would finish your text messages for you based on your past conversations and vocabulary. And while there's an obvious laziness factor there, the scary part isn't that QuickType makes your decisions for you but that it's doing it based on the most predictable aspects of your behavior. And since it's easier, you'll likely accept Apple's interpretation of what you were going to say the same way you might accept another night of Chinese food. Eventually, the robot would be speaking for you, because you're perfectly comfortable letting it so you don't have to do any extra typing or thinking. You'd become incrementally more reluctant to break out of the routine for fear of minor discomfort until you're just sitting there letting a robot squirt things down your throat in front of a TV screen like all the people in WALL-E.
And that's why Mr. Gates and Musk are wrong. Our technological advancements aren't going to make robots more self-aware, powerful, and independent; they're going to take all three of those traits away from human beings. At least until Boston Dynamics figures out how to build something that isn't just a tubby drunken horse.
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