The upcoming Terminator: Genisys is many things—a return for Arnold, possibly unnecessary, another unfortunate example of misspelling as a marketing strategy—but one thing that it's not is sci-fi. Because if you’ve been paying attention, the Terminator world of Skynet might not be that far off.
Smart people are warning us about AI
The biggest problems AI (artificial intelligence) used to cause for us involved frustrating video game experiences and disappointing Steven Spielberg movies. Now, people whose job it is to be professionally smart are warning us that it could pose a more significant threat.
Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Stephen Hawking have all expressed concerns about the dangers of AI, with Musk mentioning the Terminator films specifically, and Hawking going so far as to claim that AI “could spell the end of the human race.” When James Cameron says robots are going to take over the world, it’s entertaining. When these people say so, it’s like a James Cameron Oscar acceptance speech—disturbing and ominous.
What do you get when you combine AI with drones? If your guess was the Hunter-Killer warplanes from the Terminator films, you are both correct and, probably, terrified. True, drones currently don’t operate on their own, but given the rapid developments in weapons technology and Google's self-driving cars, it's easy to imagine this becoming a reality somewhere down the line.
DARPA’s Atlas Program
DARPA stands for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which sounds uncomfortably like a supervillain collective. Their job is, essentially, to bring sci-fi technologies to life. Their latest contribution to your nightmares? Atlas, a humanlike robot that can drive cars, climb buildings, and make you sh*t your pants with stunning ease. Thankfully, real human operators are needed in order for the robot to work. For now.
Real liquid metal
Terminator 2 upped the stakes from the first film by introducing a villain made of liquid metal, a synthetic material that could absorb other materials and take on new shapes, moving as if driven by its own intelligence. It was scary, but also ridiculous and bizarre and unrealistic and...dammit it’s totally becoming real isn’t it?
Scientists in China have created a basic liquid metal that can absorb materials such as aluminum and use them as a power source for its liquid motor. Currently, it can only move two inches per second, but knowing that we might have to deal with a slow T-1000 one day doesn’t make it any more comforting.
While we have to admit that all of these advances in technology sound frightening, at the end of the day, it’s not like we’ve seen evidence that robots have actually developed malicious tendencies, have we?
Of course we have. Researchers in Switzerland designed an experiment in which small robots were programmed with a basic artificial intelligence and set loose in a room filled with either “food” or “poison.” Robots were rewarded with points if they found the food and stayed near it. Here’s the thing, though: the robots were equipped with lights that the other robots could detect, which they would randomly flash, resulting in many flashes near the food, where most of them were gathering. The robots would be drawn to these areas when they learned that the others were surrounding the food.
However, subsequent “generations” of robots, created when the researchers copied the artificial "neural" networks of the most successful ones, eventually learned that if they attracted other robots to the food, they would risk overcrowding the area and being jostled out. As a result, they got to the point where they learned to never flash their light when they were near the food, so as to keep it for themselves.
That’s right: robots have learned to be dicks. We’re doomed.