A hostile robot takeover has long been a worry for modern man, and the Cambridge Project for Existential Risk (along with some help from the Stephen Hawking) is now focusing energy on mitigating a coming cybernetic revolt. But I, for one, welcome our new metal overlords. I say, instead of fighting it, we ought to embrace the change. After all, total robot takeover is inevitable. Here’s how it will happen—in five easy steps.
1. Robots Show Us How Smart They Are. We Feel Too Guilty to Kill Them.
Perceived intelligence in robots makes it morally difficult for people to destroy them. Robot researchers Christoph Bartneck and Jun Hu proved this with their Eindhoven University study, “Exploring the Abuse of Robots,” in 2008, in which researchers asked participants to kill a small robot with a hammer—only to find that the “robot’s intelligence had a significant influence on the users’ destructive behavior.”
2. Robots Learn to Lie. We’re Too Gullible to Resist.
Learning to lie and misdirect mass crowds of people will help put robot rulers into power and keep them there.
A group of researchers at Georgia Tech, headed up by Professor Ronald Arkin and backed by the Office of Naval Research, are teaching robots how to lie—thanks to deceptive squirrels. See, Arkin noticed that squirrels deceive their competitors by setting up false food caches to hide the locale of the real spot. With a newfound ability to learn, building on that experience and mastering such a basic human skill shouldn’t take that long for robots.
3. Robots Manipulate Our Emotions.
Intelligence and the ability to fib, while both good starts, are not complete recipes for worldwide, interspecies domination. Total robot victory will require the ability to play with human emotion. Trust me, though—it’s not hard. We’re generally pretty overwrought, anyway. Controlling the human emotional state will be easy.
Take, for example, the aforementioned Bartneck’s work in the robotic take on the famous Milgram obedience experiment. Participants were asked to shut down a semi-feline robot that begged for its “life,” thereby showing us the current state of human-machine relations. Not surprisingly, cries of “don’t turn me off” delayed the test subject’s goal of powering the robo-cat down—and those are critical seconds in battle. After all, more uptime does equal more time to scheme. If robots can mimic the human form, even better.
4. Robots Get on Our Good Side.
As Apple’s Siri proved upon its release, humans will love any machine with a sense of humor, even if it can’t give them the data they need. A similar approach to robotic world domination will deter a lot of struggle.
Failing that, robots can always exploit the age-old “rule of reciprocity,” which Stanford professor Clifford Nass discovered extends socially to machines back in 1996. Essentially, Nass set up a computer that would be helpful to users half the time, and totally useless the other. After the user finished, the machine would ask for help with solving problems to improve performance. A helpful session garnered the box more help on its end, so take note.
5. Robots Take Our Jobs and Money.
Homo sapiens are hopelessly hooked on labor and economy to function, so, naturally, robots will go after both. Current “dumb” machines are already gutting the middle class, having already eliminated 7.5 million jobs since the start of the Great Recession.
Using their newfound abilities to lie and manipulate human emotion, robots can take over office from our politicians and start making decisions. Trust me, we’ll barely notice the change. From there, in combination with the machine presence on Wall Street, it ought to be pretty easy to ruin the economy permanently.
After all, the Flash Crash of 2010 saw the largest drop (1,000 points) in Dow Jones history thanks to computer trading “errors.” And we still don’t understand what happened there.
Having accomplished that, a robotic revolution—even Skynet style—would be free to happen.
Please, robots, remember one thing: I was on your side even as the fleshy ones ruled. Spare me. After all, every good ruler needs a lap dog.