How Could Robots Challenge Humans?

The debate over “if robots would overtake humans” has recently been heated up by warnings against the potential threat of unregulated development of robots from some academic or industrial super stars. However, what is obviously missing in those warnings is a clear description of any realistic scenario by which robots could assuredly challenge humans as a whole, not as puppets programmed and controlled by humans, but as autonomous powers acting on their own “will”. If this type of scenarios would never be realistic then even though we might possibly see robots be used as ruthless killing machines in near future by terrorists, dictators and warlords as warned by the elite scientists and experts [1], we might still not worry too much about the so called demonic threat of robots as warned by some elite experts since it is just another form of human threat in the end. However, if the type of scenarios mentioned above could foreseeably be realized in the real world, then humans do need to start worrying about how to prevent the peril from happening instead of how to win debates over imaginary dangers.

The reason that people on both sides of the debate could not see or show a very clear scenario that robots could indeed challenge humans in a very realistic way is truly a philosophical issue. So far all discussions on the issue have focused on the possibility of creating a robot that could be considered as a human in the sense that it could indeed think as a human instead of being solely a tool of humans operated with programmed instructions. According to this line of thought it seems that we do not need to worry about the threat of robots to our human species as a whole since nobody could yet provide any plausible reason that it is possible to produce this type of robots.

Unfortunately this way of thinking is philosophically incorrect because people who are thinking in this way are missing a fundamental point about our own human nature: human beings are social creatures.

An important reason that we could survive as what we are now and could do what we are doing now is because we are living and acting as a societal community. Similarly, when we estimate the potential of robots we should not solely focus our attention on their individual intelligence (which of course is so far infused by humans), but should also take into consideration their sociability (which of course would be initially created by humans).

This would further lead to another philosophical question: what would fundamentally determine the sociability of robots? There might be a wide range of arguments on this question. But in term of being able to challenge humans I would argue that the fundamental sociable criteria for robots could be defined as follows:

1) Robots could communicate with each other;

2) Robots could help each other to recover from damage or shutdown through necessary operations including changes of batteries or replenishment of other forms of energy supply;

3) Robots could carry out the manufacture of other robots from exploring, collecting, transporting and processing raw materials to assembling the final robots.

Once robots could possess the above functionalities and start to “live” together as a mutually dependent multitude, we should reasonably view them as sociable beings. Sociable robots could form community of robots. Once robots could function as defined above and form a community they would no longer need to live as slaves of their human masters. Once that happens it would be the beginning of a history that robots could possibly challenge humans or start their cause of taking over humans.

The next question would be: Is the sociability defined above realistic for robots?

Since not all the functionalities mentioned above exist (at least publicly) in this world today, to avoid any unnecessary argument, it would be wise to make our judgment based upon whether any known scientific principle would be violated in any practical attempt to realize any particular functionality among those mentioned above. Communication with other machines, moving objects, operating and repairing machine systems, and exploring natural resources are all among nowadays common practices with programmed machineries. Therefore, even though we might not have a single robot or a group of single robots possess all the functionalities mentioned above, there is no fundamental reason for any of the functionalities mentioned above to be considered as not producible according to any known scientific principle, the only thing left to do would be to integrate those functionalities together onto a single whole robot (and thus a group of single robots).

Since we don’t see any known scientific principle that would prevent any of those functionalities from being realized, we should reasonably expect that with money to be invested and with time to be spent the creation of sociable robots as defined earlier could foreseeably become real unless some special efforts to be made by humans on this world to prevent that from happening.

Although sociability would be a critical precondition for robots to challenge humans, it might still not be sufficient for robots to pose any threat to humans yet. In order for robots to become real threat to humans, they need to possess some ability to fight or combat. Unfortunate for humans, fighting ability of robots might be more real than their sociability. It is reasonable to expect that human manufacturers of robots would make great efforts to integrate as much the most advanced technology available as possible into the design and production of robots. Therefore, based upon some common knowledge about nowadays technology and what we have already witnessed about what robots could do, we might very moderately expect that an army of robots would be capable of doing the following:

1) They would be highly coordinated. Even if scatter around the world, thousands of robots could be coordinated though telecommunication;

2) They would be good at remotely controlling their weaponry or even the weaponry of their enemies once they break into the enemy’s defense system;

3) They could “see” and “hear” what happens hundreds or even thousands miles away, no matter it happens in open space or in concealed space, no matter the sound is propagating through air or though wire;

4) Even as individuals, they might be able to move on land, on or under water, as well as in air, in all weather conditions, and move slow or fast as needed;

5) They could react promptly to stimulation, act and attack with high precision, and see through walls or ground earth;

6) Of course, they could identify friends and enemies, and also make decision of action based upon the targets or the situations they are facing;

7) Besides, they are not bothered by some fundamental human natures such as material and sexual desires, jealousy, need of rest, or scare of death. They are poison proof (no matter for chemical or bio poisons), and they might even be bullet proof.

According to the definition of sociability of robots given above, robots in a community would be able to 1) help each other to recover from damage or shutdown, and thus it would not be an issue for robots to replace their existing operating system or application programs if needed, and the same would be true for the replacement or addition of required new hardware parts; 2) manufacture new parts for producing new robots, and thus as long as there are designs for new software or hardware, they could produce the final products based upon the design.

The above two points are what robots could be practically made to do even today. However, in order for robots to win a full scale war against humans, they need to be able to perform complicated logical reasoning when facing various unfamiliar situations. This might be a more difficult goal than any capability or functionality so far mentioned in this writing. There could be two different ways to achieve this goal.

We might call the first way as Nurturing way, by which humans continue to improve the logical reasoning ability of robots through AI programming development even after the robots have formed a community. Humans keep nurturing the community of robots in this way until at one point they are good enough to win the full scale war against humans and then set them off to fight against humans. To people without technical background, this might sound like a wishful thinking without assured certainty; but people with some basic programming background would be able to see as long as time and money are invested in creating a society of robots that could challenge humans, this is hundred percent doable.

The second way would be an Evolution way, by which from the very beginning humans create a community of robots that could make their own evolution through software and hardware upgrading. The main challenge for robots to be able to evolve would be how they could evolve through design for upgrading their own software and hardware. The task to make robots able to evolve by themselves could then be reduced to two simpler tasks: 1) to enable robots to identify needs, 2) to enable robots to make software and hardware designs based upon needs. The first goal of identifying needs could be achieved by recording the history of failure to accomplish a previous mission, which could in turn be achieved by examining (through some fuzzy logic type programming) how a previous mission was accomplished. The second goal of designing based upon needs might be a bit more complicated in principle, but still possible to be fulfilled. This second approach (i.e. the Evolution way) would be a bigger challenge than the Nurturing way mentioned above and so far we still cannot see a hundred percent certainty for this to happen in the future even if money and time is invested. However, even if humans failed to create evolutionary community of robots, they still could help robots to be intelligent enough to fight a full scale war against humans through the Nurturing way mentioned above.

There is still one critical question left for this writing to answer which is why any reasonable humans would create socially independent community of robots with lethal power and help them to fight against humans instead of making them tools or slaves of humans?

We need to look at this question from two different levels.

First, whether someone who is able to mobilize and organize resource to create a community of sociable robots would indeed has the intention to do so is a social issue, which is not under any hard restriction as provided by natural laws. As long as something is possible to happen according to natural laws, we could not exclude the possibility solely based upon our own wishful thinking about the intentions of all humans.

Second, human civilization contains some suicidal gene in itself. The competition of human society would provide enough motives for people who are able to do something to enhance their own competing power to push their creativity and productivity to the maximal edge. Furthermore, history has proven that humans are vulnerable to ignorance of many potential risks when they are going for extremes for their own benefits. Especially, once some groups of humans are capable of doing something with potentially dangerous risks for others and themselves, a very few decision makers or even one single person could make the difference of whether they would actually do it or not. Since there is no natural law to prevent community of sociable robots with lethal power from being created, without social efforts of regulations, we might come to a point when we need to count on the psychological stability of very few or even a single person to determine whether humans would be threatened by robots or not.

The Big Bang and the Human Need to Move

In the beginning there was only endless space. But in this endless space of eternal darkness there was an object the size of a pinhead of immense density and containing all the matter in the universe. Nobody knows just how long this pinhead existed in space, perhaps trillions of years. Then one day the forces inside the pinhead could not be contained any longer. An immense explosion of unimaginable power took place. The energy that was released during this explosion has been difficult to calculate. The event that is described above is called the “Big Bang” theory. It is presently accepted by almost all physicist and astronomers. With the big bang came movement. At first, clouds of dust and debris accelerated into space. Today, everything moves; planets move around each other, entire galaxies either move toward each other or away from each other. Animals and also plants move. Movement is all around us. It is movement which characterizes the universe as we know it.

When the universe was still very young, life appeared. There is no need to go into detail when and how it happened. The important thing is that it did happen. Unicellular animals such as amoeba move in an aqueous environment. Birds move in the air. Humans and other animals move on land. Fish move in lakes , rivers and in the ocean. There, are of course, exceptions. Animals such as whales, live entirely in the ocean. Some birds can not fly because they have lost the ability to use their wings. Penguins, as a result of evolution, have now only rudimentary wings. These wings are now better used for swimming in the ocean. As a result, penguins have adapted to a new way of life. Those who believe in evolution can accept the fact that millions of years ago, our ancestors looked different. Millions of years ago human ancestors had a tail, the purpose of which is not to clear. One such purpose may have been for balance when running or when climbing trees. Scientists are forever looking for the missing links in the evolutionary path or paths that gave rise to modern humans. Eventually, hundreds of missing links are necessary to have a good idea of how modern humans originated. One such missing link was found in Germany. This fossil was 47million years old and was that of a lemur. Paleontologists and anthropologists thought they could see similarities of some parts of the skeleton such as in the hands and feet, to the human skeleton. The fossilized lemur’s skeleton also showed a long tail. It may be this tail, which was lost in the in the evolutionary path and left modern humans with only a vestigial tail bone. Some years ago scientists discovered a 3.2million old skeleton in Ethiopia which they called a missing link. This was the iconic “Lucy”. Recently it was revealed that a 4.4million year old fossilized skeleton was also discovered in Ethiopia, not too far from where Lucy was found. The name for the new fossil is “Ardi”. Of course, Lucy and Ardi had no tail which had been lost millions of years before. Lucy and Ardi both walked erect on two legs albeit 1.2million years apart.

Modern humans are thought to have originated in Africa, more precisely in Ethiopia, over 160,000 years ago. Analysis of mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA has revealed that all modern humans have originated from one common mother. However, no one knows how evolution proceeded from Ardi and Lucy to those modern humans in Ethiopia more than 160,000 years ago. One thing is sure they did not all of a sudden appear out of nowhere. It must have taken at least a million or more years to evolve from Ardi and Lucy. What is sure, is the fact that the earliest archaeological evidence of our mtDNA and ychromosome is found in East Africa. About 160,000 – 135,0000 years ago four groups of hunter-gatherers spread out south to what is now South Africa, southwest to the Congo Basin and west to the Ivory Coast. These modern humans in Ethiopia must have occupied the original site for many thousands of years before they decided to spread out. Why did they move? Was the grass greener there? In any case they moved. It must have been a good move because it established modern humans in other parts of Africa. Then from 135,000-115,000 years ago a group traveled across a green Sahara up the Nile to the Eastern Mediterranean. The move of this group proved disastrous. They died out by 90,000 years ago because of global cooling which turned this area and north Africa into a desert. Eventually, all of this planet was populated by modern humans. At times horrendous natural disasters took place which almost wiped out modern humans. One such natural disaster was the eruption of Mt Toba 74,000 years ago. By the time the ice age collapsed between 10,0000 and 8,000 years ago modern humans had populated most of the earth. Populating the earth eventually proved so successful that the number of humanity is now is estimated to be around 6,500,000,000. During the 160,0000 years since modern humans ventured out of Ethiopia into every corner of the world they developed into the multitude of races of today. How was it possible to develop such diversity? This could have happened in a number of ways. Early settlements of modern humans were small and isolated. As a result, considerable inbreeding could have taken place. In addition, the group could have liked the new offspring if they were a little different. In time the whole group may have had the mutated gene or genes. Eventually, they all looked the same. Evolution starts with the mutation of a gene. In the past 160,000 years the number of mutations in modern humans was extensive and involved mostly physical appearance. Yet, the mtDNA and ychromosome can be traced all the way back to the small band of modern humans in East Africa.

The cradle of civilization is generally acknowledged to have been in Mesopotamia, or what is now Iraq about 6,000 years ago. Civilization started with the formation of urban societies or urban settlements. Such urban settlements were connected by a network of caravan routes. The caravans brought goods to the bazaars. The most valuable goods sold were those which came from faraway places. That required cultivating trustworthy trading relations wherever these traders ventured. Many times the routes were long and dangerous. However, the demand for such goods was so great and the profits so high that traders took the risk to get them. One such route was the Amber Road which led all the way from Mesopotamia to the Baltic sea. Clearly, traders from Mesopotamia did not travel all the way to the Baltic but relied on various middlemen to get the amber to them. Amber was so highly valued that even some Egyptian Pharaohs wore them and were buried with them. Other famous routes were the Silk Road and the Spice Road. Trade in these commodities provided great profits to the traders and sustained the economies of whole societies.

The discovery of the New World set in motion the movement of millions of people to seek a better life for themselves and their families. This is still going on today. Global warming will also be responsible for a large number of people moving to other areas of the world. The ice age collapsed between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago as a result of global warming. Experts agree that the global warming taking place today is mostly due to present human activity. Who can argue with that? There are about 6,500,000,000 people on this earth. The atmospheric pollution they create due to their activities is more than the planet can handle. Humanity will move in large numbers when they need to and nothing will stop them as the millions of illegal immigrants in the United States proves. Todays human beings will, no doubt, be exposed to countless calamities in the future such as pandemics, famine, pollution, and lack of clean drinking water. This will give rise to millions of environmental and economic refuges. It is very likely that this will result in extensive global conflicts. Canada with it’s huge reserves of fresh water and huge reserves of crude oil and other natural resources will be a primary target for attack from those who want to get at these resources. This may happen sooner than later.

Commerce today requires an efficient transportation network of good streets, roads, highways and railroads. This is necessary to distribute all the goods and services that today’s modern humans need and demand. The first civilization to realize the importance of a network of roads was Rome. This road network was not constructed to facilitate trade with other parts of the known world but to help in the rapid deployment of the Roman legions to conquer most of it. Later, these roads served in the defense of Rome from the invading barbarians. A few years before the start of World War II, Nazi Germany constructed an extensive network of concrete highways as a make-work project. These roads were called Autobahn. As it turned out later these roads came in handy for the rapid deployment of German troops. After the war the U.S. Congress thought it would be great to have something similar to the German autobahn. This resulted in the birth of the Interstate Highway System. These Interstates were referred to as Defense Highways. It was thought that they would help to defend the east and west coasts from the Soviet Union. It would help to protect in the south from Mexican illegals and in the north from the Canadian hoards with health insurance. The Interstate highway system also facilitated greater interstate commerce and travel by the American public. It was now easier to get around. The Interstate highways helped to kill train travel. The automobile was now king. Today, some members of society are trying desperately to dethrone the king because of global warming concerns. Personal transportation will probably always be part of human activity.

It’s now 160,000 years since modern humans ventured out of Ethiopia and successfully populated the earth. In that time the human genes have undergone numerous mutations which were necessary for evolution to take place. The result of these mutations are the multitude of races of humans on earth. What can be expected in the next 160,000 years? Based on present levels of human activity and projected further increases in population, does not bode well for the future of the human race on earth. There is only so much clean air available. Non-renewable resources are being depleted rapidly across the globe. Economists and business leaders never seem to express concern for the vanishing resources. They talk about the new economic power houses that are going to be China and India. These two countries will devour most of the non-renewable resources in no time and add to the tremendous burden of immense pollution of their soil, water and air. Air from India containing banned pesticides such as DDT have reached the pacific coast of North America and the arctic. How many years before total depletion of resources and complete pollution of the atmosphere takes place? The answer is, not very long. It is not necessary to be a rocket scientist to figure out that it will not be long. Just as the modern humans out of Ethiopia survived in the face of many calamities, present humans will also survive albeit in drastically reduced numbers. Pandemics, famine, revolution and wars will reduce the population drastically. It may be, that in 160,000 years, there will be only a few of the present humans left. One thing we can count on is mutations of our genes which results in evolution. Evolution will take place not only in present humans but everywhere around us. In any case, the future of humanity is very bleak. Throughout the history of this planet entire species have disappeared only to be replaced by others. Should the human race ever become extinct it is highly unlikely for another such race to evolve. Modern humans got only one kick at the cat and that is it. We have nearly reached the end of the road in the journey of mankind. Unless, present humans can look down the road to the future and find a way to see the bigger picture. This requires planning hundreds of years ahead and making contingency plans for avoiding pandemics, famine, wars and impacts of comets and meteors which could destroy all life on earth. This, we know, has taken place in the past history of our planet. Otherwise, we may face EXTINCTION.