Robot Apocalypse Now

Author: Chris Piskorski
Published: March 04, 2011 at 11:21 am

The U.S. Navy seems to be hard bent on employing every single mad scientist in the world. First they ask for a death ray machine, now they want to build a swarm of micro-robots, empowered with their own means of production.

Self-replicating robotsRecent proposal N11A-T037 calls for: "a particular approach of using a coordinated and distributed swarm of micro-robots that are capable of handling and manipulating nano- and micron-scale building blocks in the process of synthesizing novel materials and structures."

Speculative fiction and Arnold Schwarzenegger references aside, the idea is for every warship to carry a contained nanobot factory, sort of 3-D printer, able to manufacture spare parts, ammunition, and basically everything you might need while away from homeland facilities.

But what if someone uploads the nanobot’s schematics into a nanobot, resulting in machines that build machines that build machines? Then it all comes down to one thing: how good the robots will be at harvesting raw materials and spare parts.

And if they're anywhere as good as SF envisioned, we're in for a rough ride. Skynet'esque scenario is exactly what many writers have feared since Von Neumann published his Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata back in the sixties. Some even insist that a self-replicating mechanism will be humanity's last invention.

This proposal might very well turn into a new LHC-type doomsday scare. And similarly, it will probably fizzle out in time. But in case the worst happens, I would strongly suggest for you to be one of the first to bend the knee before our new robot overlords. Maybe they won't be interested in your pathetic protein body.

Oh, wait.

I guess we can always hope the Navy will make a blunder, and the robots will run out of IPv4 address space, before they cover every square millimeter of earth's surface. Or that after short period of utopian robot communism, they’ll go through perestroika and form a play-by-the-rules capitalist state. 


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Article Author: Chris Piskorski

Chris (or Krzysztof) Piskorski is a freelance computer journalist, blogger, and a recognized Polish SF&F author, currently working as a Design Team Member of ambitious StormDriver project. He's interested in popular science, technology and internet life. …

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