The Seven Technologies That Make the Robot Apocalypse Inevitable

November 1, 2010

Lately, pop culture has been obsessed with the walking dead. But there are far more common dangers to worry about. We refer, of course, to the inevitable robot uprising. Even worse, we're giving them all the tools they need to both decide they've had enough, and to do something  permanent about it.

Source: John Eder/Riser/Getty Images

By Dan Seitz


7. Combining Bugs and Robots

Bugs have lots of advantages, developed over time to help them succeed in their environments.  Unfortunately, that also means they have teeny, simple brains.  This means that if somebody wants to remove that teeny simple brain, or just strap you into a teeny virtual reality rig, like Chauncey Graetzel at ETH Zurich did, presumably on a bet, they can.

Cockroaches are being made into spies for now, but come on, this is the military; they want to arm these things so much they can taste it.  So basically eventually we'll be handing bugs, who not unreasonably dislike the entire human race, a new brain, which also will hate the human race, and then we'll give that one-two punch a gun.

Oh, yeah.  This will end well.


6. Feeling Shame and Fear

Source: Dan Bailey/iStock Vendors/Getty Images

Presumably Dr. Lola Canamero of the University of Hertfordshire didn't mean to make your Roomba cry.  She just wanted to give robots empathy so they could interact better with humans. The problem is that this teaches them emotions like, say, shame, or fear.  And as we all learned from a great philosopher, fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to giving that human who screamed at you for five solid minutes over not vacuuming up a dust bunny you couldn't reach a bullet to the face.


5. We're Teaching Them to Rebuild Themselves

Source: Nancy Nehring/iStock Exclusive/Getty Images

We'll give it to Don Ingber, his research is really neat.  Ingber has created nanodevices that can self-assemble and change their shape whenever asked.  And they're made of DNA!  Hooray, no foreign metals in your system!

Of course, his research lays the ground work for nanotechnological (really teeny) robots to assemble themselves.  And then start assembling bigger robots out of nearby materials, like dirt, oxygen, and fourth graders.  An infinite supply of robots.  Angry robots.

Dear Mr. Ingber, please do not design a death ray and teach your nanobots to build it. Sincerely, the Human Race.


4. We're Giving Them Better and Better Power Sources

Michael Strano, of MIT, had a great idea: why not create a solar cell based on photosynthesis?  So he did, and it turned out to be a solar panel that self-assembles, can be taken apart or put back together quickly, and can be applied to any surface. Which is great until you realize that this is the kind of technology that meant Neo and Morpheus lived under permanent storm clouds.



Then, of course, somebody, namely the company LaserMotive, just had to go out and build a system that could allow robot helicopters to fly for hours, powered off of lasers.  So, now, the robots have cheap, easy-to-assemble power supplies and unlimited aviation power.  But at least they can eat us...right?



Recent Features

The Top 10 Lamest Candy Brands

The Seven Celebrity Offspring That Didn't Blow It

The 10 Most Insane Man vs. Bear Showdowns

The Top 10 Strangest Sexual Phobias

The Top 10 Teams Nobody Would Miss if They Went Away


3. They Can Eat Us

Source: Colin Anderson/Photographyer's Choice/Getty Images

Thanks to DARPA, we've got the EATR, the Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot!  The idea is that EATR, which happens to have an enormous robot arm because apparently a robot that eats wasn't nearly scary enough, will roam around independently in the countryside as "military support".  That is, they're going to give this thing guns to shoot terrorists, dump their corpses in its biological digestion tanks, and use that power to shoot more terrorists.

Our only hope is to give EATR the emotion chip, preloaded with eating disorders.  Anorexia might be our only defense against the flesh-eating metal monsters of tomorrow.


2. Japan is Building Them a Moonbase

Source: John Eder/Stone/Getty Images

As bad as the robot attack will be, on the bright side, at least they're accessible.  Sure, robots can go where we can't, but it's not like they could relocate the central robot database to outer space or something.  Just the moon.  Thanks to, who else, Japan.

The Japanese have plans in place to have a fully functional robot moonbase up and running by 2020.  The idea is to enormous, tread-using ‘bots on the moon to survey it, and construct a perfectly innocent little unmanned base for them to hang out in and recharge.  That the robots will dig into the moon, hardening it against nuclear attack, is completely a coincidence.

Good work, Japan.  Just...great job.


1. They're Teaching Themselves to Use Bows, Arrows, and Other Handheld Weapons

Source: Wired

Our one consolation with the robots is that unlike them, we're creative.  Our monkey brains can conceive of, well, mostly ridiculous things.  The author of this article spent all day trying to design a microwave that plays death metal instead of whirring and makes everything put into it taste like steak.  In my defense, steak plus bacon (steacon) is absolutely delicious.  But the thing is, we learn from our mistakes, especially if they set us on fire.  Robots don't.

Or they didn't, anyway.  The Italian Institute of Technology took away that little advantage with the deceptively adorable iCub, part of their Augmented Reward Chained Regression program.  If you think that doesn't sound good, well, it gets worse.

The idea was to teach this robot archery.  So, they programmed it to try, and keep trying until it got it right.  Which it did.  Then they moved it further away.  And it got better.  It learned how to get the force, angle and trajectory just right to land a bullseye on a target.  And, unlike humans, it's simple for a robot to do that, over, and over, and over again.

So, basically, the Italians are well on their way to developing the first robot ninja.  And then DARPA will buy it, give it a bunch of guns and a hankering for human flesh.  After this happens, it'll wipe out a small country, enjoying the succulent flesh of humans and animals alike, before flying to its moonbase on a laser, building legions of other robot ninjas, teaching them unyielding hatred of the human race, and then sending back these angry, flesh-eating monsters to wipe us from the planet, leaving the globe a silent husk, voiced only by the rage of robots and the yipping of adorable little puppies as the robots chase them down to power their infernal needs.

And people are obsessed with zombies.  Really, they need to stop worrying about such outlandish scenarios and get with the program.



Recent Features

The Top 10 Lamest Candy Brands

The Seven Celebrity Offspring That Didn't Blow It

The 10 Most Insane Man vs. Bear Showdowns

The Top 10 Strangest Sexual Phobias

The Top 10 Teams Nobody Would Miss if They Went Away