Don’t Fear the Robots

There are too many sci-fi scenarios of future dystopias dominated by evil robots to count on one hand.  The basic thread common to most of those is that computers eventually advance to a point where the Technological Singularity is reached, sheparding in an era in which this new class of better-than-human intelligence quickly starts to despise, revile, and eventually seek to destroy all of humanity. If it should seem odd that fiction rarely portrays the robot overlords as beneficent, well, there’s a reason for that — that would largely be boring.

Anyway, I was prompted to think about the possibility of a robot takeover recently in that both my work and home computer (one mac, one pc, so don’t start getting uppity about your personally preferred brand being better than the other) have started expressing symptoms of impending failure. That neither is particularly old is saddening, but also not terribly unexpected. SquareTrade, which is a provider of computer warranties, released a survey of 30,000 laptops to find that one in three laptops will fail within the first three years of use (pdf). Three years is a bit shorter than for desktops, but the particularly short life-span of laptops is due to the components being crammed into a small space while still having to have a number of movable parts (e.g. – screens that flip up, etc.). Add to this that components are continuing to become more complex while at the same time being pushed to become smaller and cheaper to manufacture, and we have a trend toward even faster failure. Extrapolate this even a short distance into the future, and it starts to look bad for the robots.

After all, the traditional conception of a robot is a very complex, self-contained, mobile system. This means all of the worst of laptop wear — lots of components crammed into a small amount of space and a large number of moving parts — with the additional destructive factors of frequent stress and vibration on the components through the mobility of the machine. Robots are bound to break down almost more frequently than they are in good operating form. Sure, they can probably be repaired, but, if you think about your last automobile, by the time you are repairing one part, another part is getting ready to go.

Strangely, in my remembering, I can’t recall having seen a movie representation of a robot dystopia that gets this aspect of hardware failure down. I say strangely, because I feel this sort of realistic treatment would actually make for a good degree of unreliability that could play well into a horror or suspense/thriller film. Will the robot hive-mind continue to kill all humans, or will it experience a BSOD event from a failing motherboard?

What can we conclude from this?  Pretty simple — if robots ever get the urge to take over, we could easily defeat them by just laying low for a few years until the robots break down on their own. Thus, robot takeover averted.

Now, cyborgs, on the other hand…

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