The laws of robotics, according to Isaac Asimov (who wrote them) focus on a central theme: Robots may not harm people or through inaction allow people to be harmed. That’s the gist of it. If you’re a robot, and you have that covered, you’re golden.
Asimov must be doing 360s in his grave, because destruction and killing – harming people – is something robots do really, really well. Here in the real life 21st century, flying robots, or drones, are swarming over Pakistan, hunting and killing people, sometimes the wrong people.
These robots are not entirely autonomous, but they’re getting there. Typically flown by ace pilots thousands of miles away in a bunker, the drones are tasked with seeking and destroying suspected terrorists. But a fussy army of scientists is getting closer to giving us robots that will fly themselves, make decisions themselves, using their own robot brains. Oh, humans will supposedly be able to trigger a kill switch in the event that drones start accidentally targeting, say, daycare centers, libraries or hospitals. But robots that think for themselves without human clutter, that’s the aim.
Think of the possibilities. The one that jumps out at me is health care. Isn’t there a massive shortage of nurses and doctors and home care givers, and aren’t baby boomers lurching toward incapacity by the gross?
Smart, agile, not-scary drones might help address the current and looming health care worker shortage. But first, there is the hierarchy-of-use for any new technology.
At the top of the list are the military applications (the military pays for the largest percentage of drone research, so duh), followed closely by pornography. Somewhere down the list, after assassination and pornography, is health care and all of the other things Asimov probably hoped for.
Too far down the list, maybe, because soon we won’t matter.
We’re building these artificially intelligent drones to think for themselves, robots that can detect and communicate with other life forms, tiny organisms that live in the soil, trees, everywhere. And these microbes – who do not lie, as a rule – have no doubt already convinced the robots that humanity is the greatest danger to the greatest number of living creatures on Earth.
They don’t lie, these little things, but they are egocentric and manipulative, and they stand to gain immeasurably when the robots begin their systematic destruction of us, because human bodies are rich in nutrients and make good eating for those selfish little microscopic bastards.