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

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

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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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