Tales from the Water Cooler: Heed the warning about robots!

It really doesn't seem sensible to keep building lethal autonomous robotics


There aren’t as many robots around as 1950s movies predicted, but judging by this week’s news, their numbers are growing. First came a speech from a United Nations expert urging humanity to stop making combat robots. Or “Daleks”.

Christof Heyns said there should be a ban on “lethal autonomous robotics” – Terminator-style weapons that can march off into the sunset and, well, kill people. This seems perfectly fair to me (the ban, I mean, not the robot-instigated bloodbath.) Good luck to Christof in his quest. I hope the UN listens. But I suspect the clockwork genie may be out of the bottle. Whenever I watch The Terminator and they talk about “the day the machines took over”, I assume there must have been a tipping point before the robots achieved supremacy. Surely there was a time when a lone expert urged us to back off from this headlong rush to a stainless-steel Armageddon? Why did no-one listen to him? And was his name Christof? Noooooo!

The other story saw Germany developing spy drones in order to catch graffiti artists. Imagine: a Dusseldorf street, 2.15am. Helmut, 15, is tagging a bus stop. A hovering metal sphere suddenly appears at his shoulder. It scans his handiwork and begins to “speak”, its tinny words betraying no emotion. Well, perhaps a touch  of sarcasm. “Ah, Helmut. You again. Having fun?”

The teen backs away, wide-eyed. “Nein. Nein. Aaaarrrrgh!” A laser shoots out of the orb and reduces Helmut to a greasy smear on the clean German pavement. Is this what we want next time Banksy feels inspired?

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