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Everybody's afraid of something. Some people fear spiders. Some are afraid of bears. Right-wingers fear gays, blacks, Mexicans, mosques, headscarves, science, multiculturalism, the census, Rachel Maddow, fancy coffees, and certain kinds of lettuce, just to name a few things.
I'm not afraid of any of those. What scares me are robots.
Ha, you may say, Rhoades has seen to many "Terminator" movies. Perhaps I have, but that's not the point. You haven't seen the things I've seen on the news or the Internet. I have, as they say, "connected the dots." And I tell you, we're in trouble.
First there's the news that Google, the company that seems to be well on its way to ruling the Internet, recently revealed
that it had been testing a robotic car.
Equipped with sensors, cameras, and, one supposes, a wireless connection to Google Maps, the modified Prius, with a human observer on board as a safety precaution, reportedly logged more than 140,000 miles with the wheel untouched by human hands. It even navigated San Francisco's tortuous and twisty Lombard Street on its own.
Scientists at the German University TU Braunschweig have reportedly accomplished a similar feat
with a laser- and sensor-guided Volkswagen that navigated itself through the streets of Brunswick.
You might think this is a great thing, especially if you like to have a few drinks from time to time. Wouldn't it be cool, you might think, to be able to stagger out of the bar, punch "Home" into the car's computer, and nap till you arrived at your doorstep? Or to catch up on a few Z's, read a book, or fix your hair on the way to work while the car does the driving?
You poor deluded fool. Maybe you wouldn't feel so warm and fuzzy if you knew that a scientist in Slovenia is teaching robots to punch humans.
According to an article n the online tech journal Gizmodo
, Dr. Borut Povse of the University of Ljubljana "persuaded six male colleagues to let a powerful industrial robot repeatedly strike them on the arm, to assess human-robot pain thresholds."
Supposedly, the idea is to "define the limits of the speed and acceleration of robots, and the ideal size and shape of the tools they use, so they can safely interact with humans." Or so this mad scientist would have us believe.
It gets worse. The deceptively cute little robot its designers called the "iCub"
has a terrifying talent: It can teach itself to use a weapon, specifically a bow and arrow. Using a learning program, it figures out how to pick up the bow, string the arrow, and shoot, adjusting each time until it consistently hits the bullseye.
Oh, sure, it's only using a toy bow with rubber tipped arrows. Now.
Then there's the most terrifying machine of all: the Maker LegoBot.
We all know Legos, the little plastic snap-together building bricks that have provided countless hours of fun to tots and countless minutes of agony to parents who've stepped on them barefoot.
A few years ago, the Lego people introduced Mindstorms
, Lego sets with tiny programmable computers that allow geeks of all ages to build and program their own robots. I had a bad feeling the first time I heard about those, and now I know why.
Software engineer Will Gorman has made a robot that can take a 3-D blueprint and some Legos, and build whatever you want, so long as whatever you want is made of Lego bricks. According to an article in Wired magazine
, the machine is itself made entirely of Legos, which "raises the possibility - theoretically at least - that the machine could, with some modifications, build a copy of itself." And it could do it again and again, over and over, never getting tired, never getting bored, until it and its progeny overwhelm us all.
The Maker LegoBot is part of what Wired calls "an emerging trend" of so-called "3-D printers": computer-driven devices that can fabricate items you request out of plastic, right there in your very own home.
Right now, the Maker LegoBot has to have instructions, and you have to feed it the Lego bricks, but this is just the beginning. How long do you think it will be before machines can build other machines to drive themselves to your house and punch you in the face before shooting you full of arrows?
Be afraid. Be very afraid.