Whenever I'm watching a science-runs-amok style horror flick, I'm always baffled that the scientists involved seem completely unaware of, say, the almost two centuries of culture and art that have passed betwixt the publication of Shelley's Frankenstein and now that state, fairly unambiguously, that mad science is almost always a shitty idea. You never see a researcher pause, turn to his lab partners, and say, "Hey, does anybody ever wonder if making these sharks bigger, stronger, smarter, and psychopathic is really a good idea? I mean, sure, everybody needs bigger sharks. That a given. But psychopathic? Does anybody even remember why we decided that? Just seems, you know, ill-advised."
Lab partner: "Wait, are you accusing us of playing God in a dangerously irresponsible way? Are you saying we're like Frankenstein?"
Scientist: "I'm sorry. I'm completely unfamiliar with one of the most common metaphors for the dilemma of scientific ethics in Western culture. Forget I said anything. Let's get back to work. We're burning daylight and these sharks aren't going to make themselves into unstoppable killing machines!"
But, apparently, it isn't a lapse on the part of filmmakers. Mad scientists seem to actually work that way.
Last Wednesday, Short Sharp Science, the blog of New Scientist magazine, reported that the Pentagon has put out a bid request for something they're calling a "Multi-Robot Pursuit System." The short description: they want researchers to develop robots that will hunt down things using the same pack logic that wolves and dogs use.
Currently, remote weapons systems are spiffy and all, but a one-person-per-machine ratio means that you take a soldier off the field for every machine you deploy. What, say the brilliant minds at the Pentagon, if you could tip the ratio? One soldier could control an alpha robot and several other robotic weapons systems would follow its lead the same way pack hunters organize their efforts around an alpha hunter. From Short Sharp Science's post:
What we have here are the beginnings of something designed to enable robots to hunt down humans like a pack of dogs. Once the software is perfected we can reasonably anticipate that they will become autonomous and become armed.
We can also expect such systems to be equipped with human detection and tracking devices including sensors which detect human breath and the radio waves associated with a human heart beat. These are technologies already developed.
As if this wasn't Rise-of-the-Machines enough, the phrasing of the request is equally unsettling. The stated function of these robo-packs is to "search for and detect a non-cooperative human." While the language actually means "a test subject who is actively attempting to avoid detection," it is a turn of phrase that makes it sound as if some quisling AI researchers have already decided to welcome our new Skynet-driven overlords.
Lest ANTSS be accused of not going after the low hanging fruit, here's the robo-revolution's version of L'Internationale: