I needed to include this, distinct from crime, because calling it crime doesn't do it justice and isn't really what I mean at all. Cartoon supervillainy is really the best way to evoke the right feeling of where this is going to go wrong. And when I say wrong, I mean terribly, horribly wrong. Bad things are going to happen, in your lifetime, because of robots.
Humans want to be liked and respected and loved. Maybe sometimes feared, depending on your own personal quirks. We want to be important, and we have a deep driven tendency to anthropomorphize everything. Every pet owner will tell you unequivocally one of the best things about having a pet is unconditional love. But can an animal even feel love the way you understand it? No doubt that animal does feel something about you -- if you're a good pet owner, it associates you with security and sustenance, but can you ever know if it's love? And what about those people who name their Roombas and apparently rearrange their furniture or pre-clean the house to make it easier on the robot vacuum cleaner? If that's still too refined an example, go look at a cloud until you see a face. Humans want to see that in everything, something real and relatable, even though we're often only just projecting. The same thing happens with robots.
A professor at MIT faced the unsettling reality of what our mind can do with a robot one day when she realized she wanted a robot programmed to do nothing more than turn toward the sound of someone's voice to pay attention to her and not someone else in the lab. It wasn't really paying attention to anyone, and she knew that when she thought about it. The problem was that she was expecting it, because of its ability to seem like it was interested in her, to be interested in her. To return her emotions the way we expect that Roomba or a budgie to. But it won't because it can't.
Know what "cheep" means in budgie language? Means eat shit and die!
But how does that lead to cartoon villainy?
What happens if you, say, run a small dictatorship somewhere in the world and you have the ability one day to start producing very adept, very dangerous robots, and maybe they're so super lifelike to you, and they agree with everything you say because they're not really human and will never have the ability to dissent or object on any grounds, and you feel like their support bolsters any questionable ideas you may have had about how to treat your own people, your neighbors and the world at large? Too crazy? What if you're just a slightly unstable loner with a knack for building robots, which are as much as 80 percent cheaper to build today than they were 20 years ago, and that robot becomes your only friend, your sounding board and your only emotional connection in the world -- and it can only ever do and think and regurgitate to you exactly what you've programmed it to do, in a way that you process as being real and alive? What if you want to hurt someone and talk it over with your trusted friend who only agrees with you?
And you're probably going to be porking it, too. Sick.
As robots get cheaper, they're going to become more viable options for all sorts of things that normally we would, and likely still should, use a human for. And because we have this ingrained desire (which we're only aware of when we stop to reflect on it) to make these machines human, we're going to try to accommodate them in increasingly bizarre ways. And all it takes is one person who programs a robot to be creepy from the get go for that unstable friendship to turn into something bugfuck crazy weird.
Are you ready for a world with religious zealot bots? Imagine the Westboro Baptist Church with a humanoid robot that spouts hatred but can also lift a car. Imagine if it was programmed with every line of every religious text they believed in. Or worse, if someone tweaked real Bible verses just enough to fit their messages so that when it shouted hateful gospel, you couldn't refute it without fact checking, but to everyone else it sounded pretty legit. After all, he's a robot and can't really lie.
Now what if it's a group of white supremacists who get inspired by Robot Monster and make a big, bubble headed monkeybot that hates minorities, or some militia group has a few well armed Patriot-bots? And to those people they'll be as real as you are, and the things they say just as important or even more so, because there will also be an implicit sense of ownership. If that sounds scary and insane, it's because it so creepily is.
For more Forteyian terror, check out 8 Horrifying Uses of Branding (Feat. Hello Kitty Pads) and The 7 Most Horrifying Things Found in the Homes of 'Hoarders'.