Thursday, May 8, 2008

Robot Nation

One of my very first blog entries was a rant on how I’m convinced Google is trying to take over the world and, if we aren’t careful, computers are going to be methodically exterminating the human race in a ruthless and efficient manner. Just as we designed them.

I hope you’re nearly finished with that fallout shelter and have stocked up on canned goods, bottled water and duck tape because mankind just took one step closer to eradicating ourselves from existence.

On Monday, Berkeley Institute announced it’s partnering with Tensilica, Inc to use that company’s ‘Xtensa processor cores as the basic building blocks in a massively parallel system design’. The idea is to build a new generation of super computers to better predict global climate changes.

Now, this sounds all fuzzy and warm since it’s being built to make the world a safer, better place, but aren’t all man made apocalypses designed with good intentions? Just look at disco! What caught my attention was the mention of using the embedded technology already being used ‘in cell phones, iPods, toaster ovens and most other modern day electronic conveniences’.

This means this new breed of super computer that will probably scrub humanity from the face of the earth will be able to talk to nearly every electronic device we currently use. It’s going to text nasty messages to our spouses, steal our music and burn our bagels simultaneously. By the time we figure it out, it will already be too late. It will be CHAOS!!

Not convinced? How about Europe (apparently unaware of movies like ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Terminator’) funding the CoSy (Cognitive Systems for Cognitive Assistants) project? The idea behind this gem is to create more ‘human aware’ robots so they can be used for things like helping out around the house and caregivers (Which I hope to hell doesn’t imply nannying. Can you imagine the first generation of glassy eyed, emotionless kids raised by robots?).

Says Geert-Jan Kruijff, the CoSy project manager at the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence, ‘Getting robots to understand their environment from visual inputs and to interact with humans from spoken commands and relate what is said to their environment is enormously complex’

I say if it’s that complex, then let’s keep things as they are now. I’m not sure I want robots to be ‘aware’ of humanity at all. Let’s keep them all in the dark and make them think we’re some invisible god that dictates their every move and should not be offended. I like that idea. Awareness will lead to thought which leads to logic which leads to understanding which leads to them realizing the world will be better off without us dirty, selfish, wasteful humans around.

Cue ‘accidental’ nuclear warhead launch from Iran.

Need more? Ok, Tekniker-IK4, a company in Spain, is leading a conglomeration of companies and universities in a race to create ‘technologies necessary for the development of mobile robots able to carry out complex tasks with a high degree of autonomy and capacity for collaboration. These robots, moreover, have to share tasks with people in the most friendly and natural way possible’. At least they address the paranoid concerns of people like me who have seen way too many science fiction movie robots like HAL and the killer robot from ‘Red Planet’.

The goals for this project are as follows:

- Improve the robot’s perceptions so they can better recognize complex environments. Like the planet earth and their place in the universe.

- Improve communications between humans so they can say things like ‘Humans are the virus and I am the cure’ before crushing our puny little heads.

- Person – Robot interaction improvement. I’ll just quote from the article and let your imaginations run wild. ‘Here the idea is that the robot is not limited to just obeying control orders that are formulated electronically, but they are also enabled to interact with their human collaborators and in the most natural manner, including with voice and, above all, with gestures which, for tasks in the exterior and in extreme conditions, may be the most reliable channel of communication.’

- Development of ‘autonomous behavior and mecatronic movement’. This means they’ll be able to solve complex problems on their own while navigating through virtually any landscape. This includes water, land and friggin’ air. That’s right! Not only will they be able to solve the problem of humans, but they’ll be able to go anywhere. Can’t wait!!

Don’t think this is some hypothetical, either. The Igema Foundation is working away at what they call ‘Integrated Cognitive Assistive & Domotic Companion Robotic Systems for Ability & Security’. Looks like the Foundation needs to hire a Director of Project Naming. What they’re trying to do is get robots to help out in the field of health care by assisting with Administration of Medicine, Cleaning, Care of Surroundings, and Safety. Health care. You think they would test these things in a car wash or maid service before incorporating these new, autonomous robots into a life and death environment. I know, I nitpick at the littlest things.

To be fair, I’m over reacting as usual. This will probably work out just fine and robots will drastically improve the quality of all our lives and even become a lifestyle choice for me when they invent the JessicaAlba2030 model.

Still, the cynical (some would argue psychotic) side of me keeps conjuring up images of a post apocalyptic, battle scarred landscape where the few surviving members of the human race cower in the shadows hoping to avoid detection by hovering, self piloted mini-helicopters.

Where’s Neo when we need him?

Today’s distraction: A comforting video for your enjoyment. Not only will these robots be gunning for us, but they’ll be able to put themselves together when we blow them up. Fantastic!


Hammen said...

I think it's kinda funny that you mention HAL from 2001: Space Odyssey because just this morning, my co-worker was complaining about her computer constantly being shitty and fucking her over, and I told her I was gonna start calling it HAL. Weird coincidence.

BeachBum said...

I think that is called 'synchronicity'. Where something you think of or mention in passing begins popping up all over the place.

Let me know how many other times you run across HAL during the rest of the weekend. Just a casual research project.

Beach Bum said...

I have to admit my wife's Roomba keeps giving dirty looks whenever I come into the room where its working. On a serious side the army started using armed remote control robots fairly recently in Iraq but as far back as the 80's when I was active duty at Fort Carson I remember reading in Aviation Week and Space Technology about how the army wanted independent operating tank killers to offset the Soviet advantage in tanks.

Anonymous said...

Now, when you say "duck tape," I am just going to assume you mean "duct tape" because I don't see any reason when a duck would need tape. Maybe that's just me.

...I know, I'm a cynical asshole.

BeachBum said...

BB. By 'independent tank killers' do you mean independent in thought and action or just remotely controlled from a far? The second one makes sense, at least.

10, No, I mean duck tape. I envision a future where ducks will be the only edible wild life and we will therefore need to capture them to survive. Duck tape will be the only way to capture them live.

But, now that you mention it, you should probably stock up on duct tape, as well.

Hammen said...

Cheese, is your Grammar Police badge really big and shiny? Does it make you feel powerful?

Anonymous said...

Hammen, you don't know the half of it, and that is a sad truth. I am a grammar and spelling stickler.

Beach Bum said...

Coming back late on this but the article and the few other pieces I read on this had them completely independent identifying targets on its own.

BeachBum said...

Yeah, that's kind of scary considering most tanks all look the same (to me, anyway).