". . . minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us." - H.G. Wells, War of the Worlds, 1888.
"I've been reading about the people who built the atomic bomb, because I profoundly identify with them. They knew what they were doing, and where it would lead, and I worry about where this will lead . . . I lie awake at night, feeling terrified that my work may lead to gigadeath." - robot designer Hugo de Garis, New York Times Magazine, 1999
One hundred and one years ago, H.G. Wells looked to the heavens and summoned the destruction of humankind - an alien army from across the gulf of space, made irresistibly powerful by its intellectual and technological superiority. War of the Worlds was his modern retelling of an ancient myth that transcends every culture : Apocalypse. In Christianity, the Revelation is of a holocaust from above, angels of death annihilating the masses. In Hinduism, the God Shiva becomes Death, Destroyer of Worlds. We have called it Judgement, Ragnarock, Gotterdammurung, the Twilight of the Gods.
But today the scientific elite has recast the myth as sober, analytical prediction. The leading thinkers in robotics, artificial intelligence, mathematics and computer engineering describe an irreversible chain of future events leading to a last stand for humanity within our lifetimes. Some fifty years from now, the last human being will take a last look into the lifeless eyes of his executioners.
The usurping force
As cultural icons go, the robot is something of a joke. Science fiction has shaped our popular image of the mechanical man as a cartoon that speaks in monotones or weird chirps and whistles. It clunks around awkwardly, slavishly obeys its human programming, and overheats when confronting a simple metaphor. This stereotype is insulting, but not entirely unjustified. Even now, as the century draws to a close, real-life robots continue to lag far behind even the most perverse caricatures of them in fiction. No robot has ever been built that can carry out a conversation, ride a motorcycle, or play a game of basketball.
Yet even now, under our nurturing gaze, our machines are evolving literally billions of times faster than we are. The mechanical bug of five years ago has today a cybernetic dog as his grandson. The powers of sight, sensation, and movement, so natural for us and so alien to computers, are at last being mastered by the robot brain.
The most respected scientists in artificial intelligence and robotics declare as their life's work to build machines better than themselves. They mean to create an alien species, a superior race, more powerful, more intelligent than we can even imagine, ". . . minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish." Robots strong enough to destroy us and take our place as the planet's dominant species.
Countdown to Armageddon
Leading robotics expert Hans Moravec of Carnegie Mellon University has projected in detail the future evolution of machine minds. In 2010, the First Generation Universal Robot will arrive with a brain as fast as a lizard's, able to scurry about and do our bidding. The Second Generation will be born in 2020, a robot thinking faster than a mouse, at one hundred billion floating point operations per second. It will be the first robot you can train. It will be smart enough to train itself. Complex, unforeseeable behaviors will emerge. Look forward to G3 in 2030, performing three billion calculations per second (as many as the brightest chimpanzee), it will replace humans at ninety percent of all our tasks. We will enjoy a brief retirement, supported by our mind children, before the end. But we will already sense our encroaching obsolescence.
And by 2040, according to the best statistical analysis of the geometric rates of change in processing speed, mankind will meet its match. The Forth Generation Universal robot, whose computer brain can carry out one hundred trillion eight-bit calculations per second, need call no man his master. Capable of reproducing every aspect of human cognition, such a robot will equal us at reasoning, passion, and art, even as it soars above us at calculation and logic. It will be stronger than we are, more durable, more patient, and more logical; its body will be tougher and more durable than a tank, capable of replacing its damaged parts and adopting new attachments for flying, swimming, extreme temperatures. It will have the power of telepathy, silently linking with other robots and the internet, accessing the sum total of human knowledge as readily as we recall a phone number, merging with a planet's worth of immortal processing units to create a global, insectoid collective intelligence.
The Challenges of Synthetic Minds
How can we make an intelligent machine, you may protest, when we don't even understand how intelligence works? But we don't have to be smart to make smart robots. They'll make themselves. Though we remain only dimly aware of the nature of consciousness, we will see it emerge in our creations. Computers based on neural networks are rapidly becoming the dominant architecture in supercomputers. These networks, relying on redundant, parallel thinking, resemble in their style of thought the human brain far more than the sequential computers of the past. Most valuable among the benefits of the neural network model is the ability to learn and evolve, already been established in laboratory tests. Robots will not be "programmed" to be conscious, any more than we were. They will evolve into it, as we did. But much, much faster.
The loss of our evolutionary niche
We're smug about our place in the world. But our present, highly enviable, place in the earth's ecosystem is ours for one reason only: we are the most intelligent species on earth, and therefore able to utterly dominate all other species. The advent of fourth generation robot will rob us of that sole evolutionary advantage. No longer the most intelligent species, we will yield our niche to the beings we have created. Having been replaced, we should expect the fate of all obsolete species. We will no more peacefully coexist with our robot superiors than the Neanderthal man coexists with us. A species without a niche is not viable.
"I don't want humans to be swatted like mosquitoes. But humans should not stand in the way of a higher form of evolution. These machines are godlike. It is human destiny to create them." - Hugo de Garis
As the robots take their place as lords of the earth, an underground will emerge to resist their authority. But direct opposition to the ex-humans will be ineffectual, not to say suicidal. The robots will arm themselves with automated fighting vehicles, cruise missiles with personalities, invisible swarms of conscious nanobots capable of reorganizing the fabric of matter . Imagine an army of cavemen with clubs against the United States military of today, and you will have some sense of how hopelessly outgunned we would be. Lower organisms daring to confront higher ones must expect to be herded, driven, and slaughtered.
A Last Hope (Will to Power)
As the ship of humanity goes down, a life raft will rescue those who dare to take it. Cybernetics, the fusing of the biological with the electronic, is already a burgeoning field. Huge leaps forward in this science will by the mid-21st Century enable human beings to transfer their minds into robot bodies.
In Mind Children, Dr. Moravec describes a scenario in which a robot surgeon seamlessly uploads the entire electrochemical functioning of a person's brain into a computer :
Though you have not lost consciousness, or even your train of thought, your mind has been removed from the brain and transferred to a machine. In a final, disorienting step the surgeon lifts out his hand. Your suddenly abandoned body goes into a spasm and dies. For a moment you experience only quiet and dark. Then, once again, you can open your eyes. Your perspective has shifted. The computer simulation has been disconnected from the cable leading to the surgeon's hand and reconnected to a shiny new body of the style, color, and material of your choice. Your metamorphosis is now complete.
A successfully transferred "ex-human" will be close to divine. By moving her mind and personality out of the fragile biological vessel into the durable medium of the robot, she will throw off the shackles of mortality and the limitations of her birth.
The Jinx Strategy
When confronted by a superior force, Jinx manifests critical tactics. We can't beat the robots; we'll join them.
As the world cringes and retreats further into superstition, we will embrace our destiny : we will join the new robot species, abandoning our weak bodies and slow brains for state-of-the-art new models. While those who lag behind face enslavement or extinction, we will move forward into the ex-human era and shape it.
Crucially, we must be among the very first to upgrade. Should we tarry, we will face the new species from the intellectual low ground. The first ex-humans will have absolute power. Should they deem the human race a threat, they will wipe us out.
The Jinx Project must prevent this disaster. We must see to it that the first ex-human is jealously prejudiced in favor of humanity . The love of the human race must be so thoroughly ingrained in his psyche that it will survive even the shock of being uploaded into a computer. Only a lifetime's training and preparation can so thoroughly brainwash a man. It is our task, then, to begin training a new kind of agent : a "cybernaut" with the right stuff to make the giant leap. Becoming superhuman, he will loyal to our Project. The Jinx ex-human superagent will guide the world into a new era of peaceful assimilation, upgrading humans by the billions. Ex-humans and robots will live side by side. Together we shall rule the galaxy as father and son.