Posts Tagged ‘Flying Dutchman (SF Short Story'’

Decoy Voice Asks: Why Are the Chinese Making a Robot that Eats People?

July 12, 2022

And now for something a bit lighter, if by ‘lighter’ you mean people designing and building the type of machines that really could bring about the robot revolt. Decoy Voice is, I think, a Chinese-American YouTuber. In the video below, he comments on the way the Chinese seem to have revived their old EATER robot programme. This was an attempt to build a robot that could go on powering itself through consuming biomass. It was cancelled a few years ago, presumably because it worried too many people by designing machines that would eat plants and presumably animals instead of running on electricity. But now the Chinese have released footage of some kind of robot vehicle with a scoop at the front, appearing to scoop up a bewildered looking chap lying just in front of it. This looks like they’ve revived the EATER programme, and this poor fellow was intended to show how it could also consume biomass. Or, as they are more usually known, people.

Decoy Voice compares this with Boston Dynamics Spot robot dog, seen in multiple videos doing everything from press-ups to dancing. Except that it was designed for military use and can carry a proper military gun turret, as well as the robotic arm it can also be equipped with. The Chinese have used it to police the Covid lockdown. The Hawaiian cops were using to keep an eye on vagrants and the rozzers in New York also used them to patrol certain districts. Except one of these American forces had to stop using them as they made the residents nervous.

Along the way, Decoy Voice comments on how his channel seems to be followed by any number of Chinese bots. He’s suddenly acquired a following of young and beautiful Chinese ladies, all with their own personal trainers, glamorous lifestyle and internet monickers ending in the numbers 12345. Oh yes, and despite clearly being young, attractive and rich, they only have five internet followers each. Decoy Voice jokes that this would be more credible if he was also stunningly handsome, and demonstrates how he would have to use various photoshop-style picture techniques to make himself look like a Hollywood hunk.

It’s a great video, but there’s a very serious point to this. Scientists are worried about the development of sentient AI operated war machines. Kevin Warwick, the head of cybernetics at Reading University, was so worried because he was genuinely afraid that the machines really would take over. By 2050, he predicted in his book, March of the Machines, most of humanity will have been killed off. Only a tiny remnant would remain as the neutered slaves of the robots, or as scattered free people living in terrain to hostile for machines. Both Ukraine and Russia are using military robots, those are, they say, under human control and will be only be used to transport military equipment to human troops. The British army has launched a recruiting video with the slogan that only human squaddies can do things that robots can’t. Well, part of his is that robots don’t have the moral judgement of humans. Warwick gives the example in his book how a robot fire extinguisher in his department could be turned into such a war machine. All you have to do is change the fire extinguisher the robot carries for a gun, teach its computer network to target people with blue eyes and blond hair, and set it loose. It would then carry on shooting people with that complexion and eye colour until it ran out of bullets, not distinguishing between soldier and civilian, those who have surrendered and active combatants.

There’s a very old science fiction story I remember reading when I was 13. It was called ‘Flying Dutchman’ and it was about a robot bomber plane, that is automatically reloaded and refuelled to carry on its mission. But no humans are mentioned in the story, either as operators, soldiers, civilians or victims. None at all. I think the story’s implied message is that all the humans have been killed, but the machines don’t realise it. They just keep following their programmes and carry on fighting a war that has effectively ended long ago with the death of the human race.

I like robots. I’m fascinated by them. But I also recognise that there are dangers and moral and social problems connected with them. And that some of the people manufacturing the military robots should have read and watched a few good Science Fiction stories. Dr Who’s ‘The War Machines’ and ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ would have been a good start. or The Terminator, and Karel Capek’s Rossum’s Universal Robots.

Or the grandmother of them all, Mary Shelley and Frankenstein.