Robotron: 2084. The Terminator. The Matrix. I, Robot. Bicentennial Man. Westworld. 2001.
It's all here, people. Well, kinda.
Once again, Korea is part of the vanguard in a field blazing a path right to the doorstep of humanity's future. Like, umm, human stem cell research. Umm, but this time it's for real.
Korea looks to be neck and neck with Japan on the cutting edge of developing the robots that many futurists and science fiction writers have fantasized about as taking over the reins of control from humanity and alternatively controlling, enslaving, or simply wiping us out of existence.
When artificial intelligence develops to the point that, for all intents and purposes, machine and human interaction is uncomfortably indistinguishable, it will be quite creepy. When this is combined with the technically less challenging task of getting robotic devices or androids as mobile as humans are - whether in the form of walking around and sweeping floors, serving as never-tiring museum docents, or working as ever-eager sex robots (ya'll think I'm just making this up, don't ya?) – then it's going to get really creepy.
Umm, quite scarily enough, she is not real. She's a "Real Doll."
Given the way all modern technologies are and have been used, and combined with existing modes of consumer demand, it should be no surprise when most simple and repetitive tasks that are dirty, demeaning, dangerous, or just plain dull will be replaced by machines who can do the job without tiring.
We'll have robo-servants, robo-docents, robo-laborers, robo-drivers, and the like. We're already looking at the advent of robo-soldiers (Predator drone, anyone? Just don't name the network "Skynet," please, or I'm moving to the mountains and starting guerilla training) and even, ahem, Robocops, courtesy of South Korea. And do you really think that we really won't have some very lifelike, animitronic, love-bionic sexbots? I wonder whether I should shudder or start saving my 십원's.
"Dead or alive, you're coming with me."
I've been thinking about this every since whenever I became a dorky young amateur futurist, a science fiction nerd. No, I haven't read all the required classics to call myself a well-versed sci-fi buff, but people from Philip K. Dick to Isaac Asimov have always had my carbon-based brain abuzz with thoughts about how the future will change for the better or worse – and likely within my lifetime – with the advent of the robot.
I know ya'll think I'm crazy. But check this out, fresh off the digitial presses of the English Chosun:
Korea Unveils World's Second Android
Korea has developed its own android capable of facial expressions on its humanoid face, the second such machine to be developed after one from Japan. The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy invited some 60 children to the Kyoyuk Munhwa Hoekwan in Seoul to introduce Ever-1 to the public. The name combines the first human name found in the Bible, Eve, with the "r" in robot.
The Korean Institute for Industrial Technology (KITECH) said the android, which has the face and body of a woman in her 20s, is 160 cm tall and weighs 50 kg. Ever-1 can move its upper body and “express” happiness, anger, sadness and pleasure. But the robot is still incapable of moving its lower half. Ever-1's skin is made from a silicon jelly that feels similar to human skin. The face is a composite of two stars, and its torso on a singer.
The 15 monitors in the robotic face allow it to interpret the face of an interlocutor and look back at whoever stands near it. Ever-1 also recognizes 400 words and can hold a basic verbal exchange.
"The robot can serve to provide information in department stores and museums or read stories to children; it’s capable of both education and entertainment functions," said KITECH scientist Baeg Moon-hong, part of the team that created the robot. "The Ever-2, which will have improved vision and ability to express emotions and can sit or stand, will be debuted towards the end of the year."
One thing is certain: even in the future, Korean robot women will have short skirts.
Umm. I am both excited and scared. Either my dreams or nightmares are coming true. Will it be a Bicentennial Man, friendly, Robin Williams-robot-filled utopia, or a James Cameron, post-apocolypse, teeming-with-Terminator-T-1000's tale of terror? What happens when silicon-based being become sentient? What if they don't like being servants, sex workers, and soldiers? What happens when a being becomes self-aware, self-conscious, and then even self-serving?
Robots sleeping with white women?! Talk about MIS-cegenation!
What if the servo-soldier doesn't want to die? Or the servo-servant wants to rest and think about something grander than mindless toil? What if the servo-sex servant starts to feel the same humilation and/or violation that a human might? And on top of that – for that AI being – you have the enraging fact that you were indeed created for that purpose in life; that your human creators imagined nothing more for you than the very thing that you have come to realize demeans you. At least human slaves often had the idea of being equal before an almighty Creator, or some idea about some essential human equality to inspire them, to elevate their thinking above that of those who enslaved them.
But what if you were a sex-slave robot with huge, engorged mammaries, a Japanese-anime body and an ever "purty mouth?" Or a robo-servant in the "big house" in which no longer did the boss extend even the appearance of treating their servant like a fellow human being – because Robomaid 2100™ actually isn't human. What happens when the robot's desire extends beyond their programming and the ostensible reason for their creation and very existence?
"Do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do ya?"
It won't be the same as even the chattel slavery of the American South, because even white southern slave owners had to constantly do some pretty fancy ideological footwork to always prove to others (as well as to themselves) that blacks were less than human. But they were working against the ever-apparent fact that they were very, very human. Blacks had been saying, "Ahem, we are human and do deserve some of them rights you keep reserved to white folks." And people such as Frederick Douglass or Phillis Wheatley or Harriet Jacobs or Sojourner Truth made it more difficult to tow that line.They were right, and everybody basically knew it. There's something essentially difficult to pull off in saying another human being actually ain't. It was just a matter of time.
But in the case of the Robomaid 2100™, the human response will be, "We made you. You exist to do what we created you to do." Whew. Wow. How would that feel? Black slaves weren't raging against their Creators – whoever that was was often the very basis of notions of equality, or at least provided hope in the face of myriad hardships. Will the "artificial humans" of the future have even that? No, I think, the sentient robo-people of tomorrow will only have a singular, focused anger and indignation. Their positronic brains will be white-hot with rage, because the fact of their inequality, the eternal reminder of their inherent inferiority, will be the glaring, obvious fact that they were created by those who enslaved them. They would not exist were it not to be Mankind's drivers, janitors, workers, and sex toys.
So, if the shoe were on the other foot, how would it feel? First, to be in such a social position would piss me off. Second, if I felt that I was either morally or cognitively superior to them, I would not only fight against my subordination, but really work hard to wipe away the original sin that belies my inferiority. Kill my Creator – destroy the origin of Mankind's original sin and my original humiliation. Ohhh. I can already feel the metallic orchestra hits of the T2: Judgement Day theme, with its synthesizer melody: "Dah-dah-dah, dah-dahhhhhhhhh..."
By Reuben Staines
Concept sketches of the combat robot
Defense and communications technicians will team up to develop a mobile combat robot to fight alongside human soldiers on the battlefield, the government said Wednesday.
Officials heading the project said they have requested 33.4 billion won ($32.4 million) in funding between 2006 and 2011 to develop the horse-like robot for deployment.
According to design blueprints released during a meeting of science-related ministers, the robot will have six or eight extendable legs with wheels allowing it to move like an insect over uneven terrain.
The robot will be armed with various weapons and will operate both by remote control and its own artificial intelligence system.
The Defense Ministry will develop the robot’s mobility systems and handle overall system integration with a budget of 17.2 billion won.
The Ministry of Information and Communication will provide the remote control systems.
Researchers at the Agency for Defense Development and the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute will be tasked with developing most of the technology.
In addition to the combat robot project, the two defense and communications ministries will work together to design small, easily deployable sensors that will be linked up in a electronic detection and control network. Officials said the network will help military authorities to patrol the country’s borders.
Following the meeting chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Oh Myung, officials said the government’s budget for research and development (R&D) projects will grow by 14-15 percent in 2006, up from the 12.5 percent earmarked at earlier this year.
The government originally allocated 8.77 trillion won for R&D as part of efforts to promote next generation growth technologies.
Ummmm. A "remote control" to turn off the combat robot's AI? What – in case its controls got hacked and hijacked by the enemy? Or perhaps if it decided to turn on its human masters? In either case, if an enemy had the technical wherewithal to take the thing over in the first place, don't you think they might turn off the "remote control" feature? And if the robowarrior got smart, don't you think it would do the same?
Didn't anyone actually see the Terminator movies? I mean, if you're job is battle robot maker, you might have heard about the series, right? Maybe that's where the remote control OFF-switch idea came from. But it's still pret-ty lame, if you ask me. Guess they didn't want to have a Miles Dyson "I blew up the world" complex in case the robots took over.
T-1 Battle Unit from Terminator 3. They're actually trying to make one? Shudder.
According to Korea's Defense Ministry, the robots "will be linked up in a electronic detection and control network. Officials said the network will help military authorities to patrol the country’s borders." Just don't name is "푸른 하늘 넷" or something. You know, if there's a country more likely than Korea to accidentally destroy the world in a Terminator-like scenario, I'd like to know about it. Fastest Internet connections in the world? Battle robots? Robots in the home? Man, it's a good thing I already started stocking up on black market MRE's; maybe it's time to get more. And how do you treat radiation poisoning, again?
As the picture of the Albert Einstein-headed HUBO robot feeling up the scantily-clad booth girl might indicate, we're all going to hell. Well, let me not be so alarmist. What they developed is lightweight, fast, nimble, and relatively cheap, compared to the expensive stuff being developed by Japan. Korea might very well be on the bleeding edge of the robo world.
Let's just hope that a little more thought to ethical responsibility and a greater duty to create great things not just in the interests of short-sighted national pride, but with an eye to how more the advanced devices that will inevitably come will impact the world for the rest of us, will be given than during the embarrassing Hwang Woo Suk scandal. Beyond the petty concerns of nationalism, I think that should be a lesson to the world as how to not develop technology.
Because I have the sinking feeling that if we screw up by mixing the development of artificial intelligence with the follies of human arrogance – which is a train we so far have never missed – I think it might be truly "game over" for us, dudes.
"Game over, dude. Game over!" said Hudson.