I saw this video clip a few weeks back and tried to park it in the back of my brain. It keeps pushing back to the front. As an optimist who generally sees the positive side of progress, the ramifications of this clip are somewhat troubling. Man has made a consumer-friendly, flesh-eating robot.
Even if you are skeptical about this example, a quick Google search will turn up stories about government funding of battlefield robots design to operate on biomass. The press quickly spun this fact into battlefield robots consuming biomass in the form of flesh from fallen soldiers. The creators of the technology tried to point out that the technology would have some built-in sensors to distinguish one form of biomass from another, but isn’t the genie out of the bottle by that point? Does your garbage disposal let you know when something gets “consumed” that shouldn’t have been?
Whether or not a biomass consuming robot or the mouse-eating table is real is not exactly the point. The point is that we have arrived at the time when we can have this conversation without talking about some nebulous future.
Thinkers like Bill Joy and others raise serious concerns about what could go wrong with technology. Over 10 years ago, a lot of time in the world of Moore’s Law, Joy wrote his hugely influential essay “Why the future doesn’t need us.” If and when artificial intelligence becomes self-aware, wouldn’t we be seen as a competitor for scarce resources? This is a scenario that Joy and countless other sci-fi writers have envisioned.
I’m pretty sure that the group responsible for “Carnivorous Domestic Entertainment Robots” didn’t program the mouse-eating table with Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics built into the CPU. I always thought we were supposed to be wiped out in an Artificial Intelligence directed nuclear disaster or that the human race was to be used as batteries or something when the robot masters take over? Are they really just going to eat us?