The rise of the robot in the 21st century can be directly related with the rise of drone technologies perfected by the United States Military. Drones or UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicle) have unexpectedly become popular in the mainstream media mostly due to conspiracy theories and Kentucky senator Rand Paul’s epic13 hour filibuster before congress. Senator Paul schooled the congressional committee on how drones are currently being used to kill innocent civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan and how the use of drones over American skies could potentially be used from everything to unwarranted spying to capturing and killing terrorist and criminals. Drones for spying and warfare can come as small as mosquitos, and these drones can do everything from record conversations to emitting deadly bio-chemical weapons. The uses of drones have grown so much that they comprise over 30% of all US Military aircraft. But the real dangers of drones are the warning signs they signal for the eventual steps towards the A.I. becoming aware.
These warnings can eerily be traced with one word SKYNET – a fictional self-aware robotic intelligence system that threatened to eradicate humanity in the Terminator. In the franchise storyline Skynet was an advanced computer system created for the U.S. military by defense contractors Cyberdyne Systems. Skynet was billed as the “Global Digital Defense Network” and given Internet command with cloud technology over all computerized military hardware systems. This robotic WiFi brain system would eventually lead to self-awareness and shortly after being implemented on April 19, 2011, SKYNET launched a nuclear war that killed billions. While we are still decades away from reaching the scenario described in the fictional Terminator series, nuclear destruction and the building blocks that could compose this doom are already being assembled. In fact, as shocking as it sounds there is even a SKYNET telecommunications satellite that is in orbit right now! Jonathan Amos, Science correspondent for the BBC writes:
“The Skynet system, which includes the radio equipment deployed on ships, on vehicles and in the hands of troops, is the UK’s single biggest space project. It is valued at up to £3.6bn over 20 years and is run by a commercial company, Astrium, in a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) with the Ministry of Defence (MoD). UK forces pay an annual service charge for which they get guaranteed bandwidth, with spare capacity then sold to “friendly forces”. These third party customers include the Nato allies such as the US. The Ariane left the ground at precisely 18:49 local time (21:49 GMT) and dropped off Skynet-5D 27 minutes later over the east coast of Africa. 5D will now use its own propulsion system to move into a geostationary position at an altitude of 36,000km. The eventual operating position early next year will be at 53 degrees East. The first three spacecraft in the Skynet series were launched in 2007-2008. They all match the sophistication of the very latest civilian platforms used to pass TV, phone and internet traffic, but have been “hardened” for military use. Classified technologies on board will resist, for example, attempts to disable the spacecraft with lasers or to “jam” their operation with rogue signals.”
Since its launch SKYNET has been integrated with NATO military operations and is solely responsible for the destruction caused by NATO’s executioner drone programs. According to Wikipedia, “Skynet is a family of military satellites, now operated by Paradigm Secure Communications on behalf of the Ministry of Defense, which provide strategic communication services to the three branches of the British Armed Forces and to NATO forces engaged on coalition tasks.” During the 2012 NATO summit, politicians and Military leaders talked openly for the first time about using and legalizing robots for warfare.While the drone wars have already begun, the era of robot wars is suddenly fast approaching.
We have progressed to the point that pilots, like Tom Cruise in Top Gun are quickly becoming obsolete. For example the slick black, arrow-shaped X-47B stealth drone developed by Northrop Grunman can be used as an armed destroyer or surveillance tool. It can fly faster than a b-52, is cheaper to make and doesn’t require a human pilot. Another defense contractor BAE systems has funded a military robotics project with Professor Henrik Christensen at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Their goal is to develop unmanned robotic jeepscapable of exploring and digitally mapping dangerous enemy terrain. Professor Christensen tells the BBC, “These robots will basically spread out. They’ll go through the environment and map out what it looks like, so that by the time you have humans entering the building you have a lot of intelligence about what’s happening there.”
While the emphasis on Christensen’s project is mostly information gathering, the arrival of armed robots, programmed for death on the battlefield raises profound questions that go beyond the sick reality of creating machines to kill human beings. Peter W Singer, an expert in warfare and consultant to the Pentagon at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, wrote a bestselling book Wired for War that expertly describes the future roles robots will inhabit in war time scenarios. Singer writes:
“Whether it is motherships, swarms, or some other concept of organizing for war that we have not yet seen, it is still unclear what doctrines the U.S. military will ultimately choose to organize its robots around. Whatever doctrine prevails, it is clear that the American military must begin to think about the consequences of a 21stcentury battlefield in which it is sending out fewer humans and more robots.”
With the rise of drones and our understanding of robotics, a recent announcement made by the Obama administration has once again fueled conspiracy theories concerning the arrival of Skynet. Obama has secured three hundred million dollars worth of federal funding for an extensive neuroscience project in an effort to map and understand the human brain. This ten-year project has led to speculation that Obama’s neuroscientists will pave the way for advances in artificial intelligence. Thus laying the groundwork that will eventually allow A.I. to become aware. European scientists have already created ‘Rapyuta’ an online “brain” that describes unfamiliar objects to robots. Inspired by Hayao Miyazaki ‘s classic anime fable Castle in the Sky – in the film “Rapyuta” is where all the robots live.
This “Rapyuta” brain database serves as an Cloud warehouse of knowledge that robots can access via WiFi to ask for help when confronted with unknown situations. This web-based service can also take over the robot’s automation and can navigate, do physical labor or understand human speech in various languages. Using Cloud control WiFi technology instead of onboard computation reduces the cost of creating robots and allows robotic thought processing to be downloaded via the web. This cloud-based system of brain computing will only intensify in time as our ways to feed it via improvements in fiber-optic wires steadily improves.
Fiber-optic wires are capable of holding 100 gigabits per second, but their clumsy and dangling appearance makes them a storage annoyance and quit useless on the battlefield or in the air. To solve this problem the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has created a new program intent on perfecting the type of technology needed to run fiber-optics through the cloud. In an article posted on December 12, 2012 on the popular Technical Science blog Ars Technica , Sean Gallagher writes:
“Of course, you can’t run a fiber backbone through the air or summon one up at will on the battlefield. That’s why the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has launched a program to create technology the same sort of bandwidth as fiber optic backbones—100 gigabits per second. If successful, the program could mean not just faster data connections on the battlefield, but better broadband for people in remote areas and cheaper expansion of cellular networks. The effort, called the 100 Gigabit-per-second RF Backbone (or 100G in DARPA shorthand), seeks to do more than just overcome the physics that limit current radio-based data connections using the Defense Department’s Common Data Link (CDL) standard protocol. The initiative is searching for a solution that will be able to be deployed both to the battlefield and aboard aircraft—and work at distances of over 200 kilometers…The most likely route to creating this sort of Skynet is to use the same sort of technology used to collect much of the data in the first place—synthetic aperture antenna technology. There have been a number of efforts to turn the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars of fighter aircraft into dual-purpose systems capable of both acting as a radar and as a data link. Raytheon, L-3 Communications and other companies working on previous DARPA-funded projects have demonstrated the creation of airborne mobile ad-hoc networks by connecting a data modem to an AESA radar. This turns some of its transmission array into a multiplexed transmitter and establishing network connections of over 4.5 gigabits per second. DARPA sees the next leap in data throughput coming from improvements in extreme high frequency (EHF) radio technology. Using wavelengths measured in millimeters, EHF frequencies—such as the 60 gigahertz frequency used at the top end of the WiGig standard—are typically only effective for communications at short range and within line of sight. But DARPA believes that by using techniques in the modulation of signals, including quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM), the millimeter wave band can be used over much greater distances, through cloud cover, and to achieve even higher throughput.”
Theoretically this could also provide the necessary bandwidth needed to house an advanced Internet grid strong enough for an artificial intelligence to become aware to the extent of controlling networks of robotic killing machines. DARPA has also spent close to 200 millions dollars funding the STARnet chip project. Which is a study on how to improve semi-conductors with nanomaterials, spintronics, and swarm computing techniques. With over six universities conducting experiments in six different fields of study, the project aims to create non-conventional materials and devices, “that have nanoscale structures and quantum-level properties. The research looks at atomic-scale engineered materials and structures of multi-function oxides, metals, dialectrics, and semiconductors as they are used in analog, logic, and memory devices.” The most significant research is being carried out at the TerraSwarm Research Center at the University of California-Berkeley, “TerraSwarm is looking at a sensor and command-control systems on a city scale that can be deployed using massively distributed, swarm computing and communications technologies. This project looks at swarm sensors, big data processing, cloud computing, to work on “smarter cities,” to use the IBM lingo.”
This blatant attempt at creating Skynet is now out in the open and accelerating with incredible speed. A recent announcement by legendary futurist Ray Kurzweil sent shockwaves throughout the “Google is Skynet” conspiracy forums when Kurzweil told the media that he was working with Google to create the next generation of A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) networks. Kurzweil, a certifiable genius who reinvented the musical synthesizer, and created machines that helped the blind read, among other inventions is currently building a computer module that will be able to mimic a human brain. He claims that along with the A.I. eventually becoming self-aware that also our personal computing laptops will shrink to the size of a blood cell and will be over a billion times stronger. By the time Google wakes up it will have every known fact and record of every human that has ever lived. Google already has a self-taught “virtual brain” program already in place:
“Using pattern recognition and sound recognition, the neural network could get closer to understanding context and information surrounding a central target, like scanning the background of an image to learn where a photo was taken by using existing similar images and geotag data. Of course, Google is quick to point out that this is really still just the first step towards a true artificial intelligence. Although Google’s neural network technology is smaller than a human brain, can beat humans at certain tasks, and can teach itself and get more efficient at learning, it still can’t reason, which is essential for intelligence. So, the neural network can find specific visual data faster than humans can, and it can match shapes and patterns, and ultimately do jobs that would be incredibly tedious and boring for humans. But, it can’t draw from the outside world and reason out the why or how of a thing. Why and how are the most powerful of all questions, and both the asking and drive to answer those questions are the true mark of intelligence. Google’s brain can’t do that yet. But, the question still stands: when the day does come that Google or some other company creates a true artificial intelligence, will you be there with pitchforks and torches, or with an offering of peace for our new Cylon overlords?”
With the realization that drone and robotic technologies might reach self-aware A.I. levels faster than anyone dares to admit, The Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic jointlyreleased a mind blowing fifty page report entitled “Losing Humanity: The case against killer robots” on November 19, 2012. The report makes clear that banning killer robots before it’s too late is crucial to the survival of the human race. The report cites the out of control drone programs and DARPA’s zeal for building fully autonomous weapons.
This legitimate threat was also addressed by Award-winning former intelligence officer Lt. Col. Douglas Pryer, in an essay titled “The Rise of the Machines” published by the United States Army Combined Arms Center. Pryer writes, “It seems heart-breakingly obvious that future generations will someday look back upon the last decade as the start of the rise of the machines…robots so advanced that they make today’s Predators and Reapers look positively impotent and antique. These killer robots, though, will share one thing in common with their primitive progenitors: with remorseless purpose, they will stalk and kill any human deemed “a legitimate target” by their controllers and programmers.”
Dr. Roman Yampolskiy, a computer scientist at the University of Louisville in Kentucky has been one of the leading proponents of creating failsafe mechanisms to prevent A.I. from getting out of hand. He proposed new ideas outlining ways to contain and restrict robot intelligence His theories were released in the March issue of theJournal of Consciousness Studies. He envisions trapping Skynet insidea cloaked “virtual machine” already running inside a computer’s operating system without the aid of Internet access. Yampolskiy worries that without laws implementing how advanced A.I. systems can grow to be, there’s no stopping the robots from overriding human given commands simply by developing an unforeseen rise in intelligence and self-awareness. Yampolskiy claims that a clever breed of artificial intelligent robots will be able to, “discover new attack pathways, launch sophisticated social-engineering attacks and re-use existing hardware components in unforeseen ways. Such software is not limited to infecting computers and networks — it can also attack human psyches, bribe, blackmail and brainwash those who come in contact with it. The Catch-22 is that until we have fully developed superintelligent AI we can’t fully test our ideas, but in order to safely develop such AI we need to have working security measures. Our best bet is to use confinement measures against subhuman AI systems and to update them as needed with increasing capacities of AI.”
Despite Yampolskiy’s concerns and safeguarding ideas, most experts believe that it would be impossible to keep A.I. a locked genie in the bottle forever. There are just too many behind the scenes interest groups, Defense contractors and various Militaries around the globe spending ridiculous amounts of money willing to rush face first into the rabbit hole of robotics. If that rabbit hole ends up spitting out A.I.’s that have reached levels beyond human scientific understanding and starts to deploy powers such as physic abilities, telepathy or psychokinesis, then Pandora’s box will take on a whole new meaning. Yampolskiy warns, “If such software manages to self-improve to levels significantly beyond human-level intelligence, the type of damage it can do is truly beyond our ability to predict or fully comprehend.” Huw Price, Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge, Martin Rees, Emeritus Professor of Cosmology & Astrophysics at Cambridge, and Jaan Tallinn, the co-founder of Skype all share Dr. Yampolskiy’s views and have co-funded a project together with robotic experts at the University of Cambridge. Where they are currently conducting research into the “extinction-level risks” scenarios that humanity faces with the rise of artificially intelligent robots.
With the unstoppable advancements of A.I. and Skynet plowing full speed ahead, the ability for robots to become self-aware and possibly take over the planet has become a reality. More safeguards are needed, along with openly televised debates and public forums to help raise awareness on this crucial topic. If not, this reckless drive to mend man with machine at an overboard pace without taking notes of the consequences might ultimately put us on the road to ruin. Bill Joy, computer scientist and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, wrote a shocking article called “Why the Future doesn’t need us” detailing the fall of humanity and the rise of the robots. Now more then thirteen years later, his point is more valid and frightening than ever before. Especially after news leaked that DARPA is setting out to make Computers that can teach themselves how to think!