Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why Machines Will not Take Over the World

by Alexandre Couto de Andrade

Yesterday I watched an interesting documentary on the History Channel. It showed how robots are increasingly taking part in warfare. In the future, the ever more intelligent military robots will probably be capable of deciding whether or not to kill. They will also probably be able to repair or make copies of themselves. In the documentary, the movie “The Terminator” was often mentioned to illustrate how things could go terribly wrong. What if the machines became conscious and turned against us?

We should really be concerned about the ethical implications of such technologies. But this is all we should be worried about. Although such scenarios may provide inspiration for great science fiction, it is extremely unlikely that anything like that will happen in a not distant future. First of all, we are light-years away from being able to create machines that are complex enough to sustain consciousness. Secondly, there are gigantic logistical and material limitations that renegade robots would have to overcome in order to successfully take over the world. Complex machines are generally made of thousands of components, manufactured all over the world. The raw materials of which such components are made also come from several different sources (not to mention that some of them are very rare). Each raw material must not only be extracted, but also transported and industrially processed.

If robots were ever to reproduce themselves without human assistance, they would have to somehow control overwhelmingly complex production and supply chains. Unless absolutely everything is automated and controlled by machines, we will never see “Terminators” taking over the world.

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