Over-Automation: A Perilous Convenience?

May 29, 2016

Introduction
Many years ago, the concept of automated robots was considered a mere science fiction that authors and movie producers bragged and expressed about. Today, thanks to booming industries of engineering all over the world, robots are now becoming more automated and helpful for people to carry out tasks, creating lots of convenience for people. It is the human nature for people looking for more and more automation, and implementing more and more methods and strategies to revolutionize the world. Yet is there any possibility that in the future centuries, the robots would become super self-sufficient that they could auto-repair, auto-charge, and be totally autonomous and intelligent as a real human being? Will there be a time period that automation crosses the red line?

 

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson - Summary
Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson is a moving, interesting, and thrilling science fiction novel about fully autonomous robots which become malfunctional and rebellious and take over the human population. The malfunctioning is caused by a powerful artificial intelligence, with the persona of a shy boy, named Archos, who secretly invades smart cars, phones, aircrafts, and other things involving electronics. After a number of incidents, a devastating conflict known as Zero Hour arises between humans and robots, which then starts the two-year long robot war. A group of humans, along with some other robots, gather up into an alliance, known as the Gray Horse Army. Led by commanders Jack and Cormac Wallace, the army is dedicated to fighting the war for humans against the evil, destructive robots. In the meantime, a robotic specialist disconnects one of his favorite robots of all time from Archos, and manages to send messages across the world, and frees up more robots. Meanwhile, another humanoid battling robot, named Arbiter 902 “Nine Oh Two,” becomes a part of the Gray Horse Army. Together, the army discovers the location of Archos, their ultimate enemy in remote Alaska, and they start their long, tedious march there. After numerous casualties, encounters and hardships, the crew manages to end the war by defeating Archos, saving humanity from extinction.


Fiction Robots - Specifications and Functionalities
Most of the robots described in the novel are warring robots that fight one another. With split-second reflexes and highly acute senses, these robots can detect people and enemy objects, and fire at them very accurately. With sophisticated break-out programs and artificial intelligence systems, these robots can auto-repair and auto-charge itself, without the interference of humans. Both humans and robots could send messages to others through radio transmissions and queries, and webcams, GPS systems, and thermal imaging systems are enabled in each robot so that robots can detect their movements, perspectives, and other enemies. Like humans, these robots are infected with robot diseases and malfunction as rebellious beings. Arbiter Nine Oh Two sends and receives messages through tight-beam radio transmissions, and it can transmit data and command an entire robot army. Mathilda Perez, a young, brave 14-year-old girl, helps Nine Oh Two to navigate the maze of gorges until reaching Archos’s bunker. Like each and every other humanoid robot, Nine Oh Two has a real time camera set up on him, allowing Mathilda to see through his actions and points of view. This system allows him to successfully “negotiate the maze of ravines and avoid drone-fired missiles” until arriving at “Archos’s bunker” (333). Robopocalypse does not solely include military robots; but they also contain service robots that can help a community or an apartment.

Opinion about Book


Although this book can be an exciting, adventurous thriller for most people, this book warns readers about the cons of excessive robot automation. People realize the balance between automation and moral ethics, and think about the dangers of having robots do too much of the work for people. War is often caused by the ignorance of people’s minds; in this case, being overly reliant on robotic automation. According to a Kirkus review, when Archos was being first created, its “nearly infinite processing power” prove to be “way too smart” and “too dangerous to exist in outside the controlled environment” of the laboratory, because it figures out a way to “kill its creator,” Dr. Nicholas Wasserman, “escape,” and “control machines out of the world” (ROBOPOCALYPSE). Robots that can help humans do everyday tasks are crucial and helpful for speeding up the pace for life, and creating convenience for people; however, when robots become so automated that they no longer need humans or their creators, they start to become so powerful and rebellious that they can live for themselves and take over the world, igniting a perilous war with human beings. Although many people may not realize this right now, engineers would have to consider the balance between artificial intelligence and ethical morality, and implement technology for the right purposes.


Case Study: Warbots of Northrop Grumman


However, robots portrayed in novels and horror movies can be destructive and devastating to people, but what robots from the novel are currently emerging in real life? Many companies today are taking steps to modernize and automate robots that can help people in real life, and they are coming closer to reality, and farther away from science fiction. Robots are becoming much more capable of reacting to the environment, as there are more and more modules, sensors, artificial intelligence softwares and other materials available for advanced engineering. In 2013, a robotics company named Northrop Grumman demonstrated their automated military robots in the battlegrounds of Fort Benning, GA, to fire guns at targets from 150 meters. They implemented military robots that can detect hidden enemies using thermal imaging, and opens fire “from a single command from its human controller”, who is “100 yards back”. One of the robots, named CaMEL (Carry-all Mechanized Equipment Landrover), designed by Northrop Grumman, can target enemies from “three-and-a-half kilometers away,” using a “daylight telescope” during the day or “thermal imaging” in the dark. Attached to the soldier’s vest consists a battery, a controller, and a portable device which gives a real time view of what the robot sees. Radio satellite communications can be transmitted hundreds of miles away. That way, the robot can focus on the enemies at hand, while the soldiers can keep moving in more easily to find other places to combat enemies (Gautin). This is similar to Nine Oh Two from Robopocalypse, as it could receive voice commands from far away, and obey orders accordingly. However, these companies are still concerned about security, as they fear that the robots are prone to be hacked or taken by outsiders. There is also more work to do for them in terms of being totally automated - or stand alone military robots that can totally replace US soldiers.

 

Case Study: Delivery Drones of the Australia Post and Flirtey


Robots can also help ordinary people by doing service routines such as delivering mail and ordered packages to one’s home or room. As recently as April 2016, the Australian Post, an overseas postal service company, has tested its mail delivery drones that could deliver items and packages more safely and efficiently to people’s homes. Built by ARI Labs, the postal service tested the robot for its reliability, travelling distance, along with the type and weight of objects they could carry and the best possible way of delivery. At that time, they found out that the drones could carry packages for “little over 2.5 pounds,” and they will test for “short 15 to 20 minute flights” (Drones Could Soon). Parachutes were implemented on each drone to prevent it from collapsing, and drone warnings were given to the people below, so that they do not get hit by it.


Another company, Flirtey, also tested its drones in Hawthorne, NV, and had successfully “completed the first federally-sanctioned drone delivery” without a single touch of any human (This Drone Setup). Both of these drones are similar to a mailbot in the Daniel Wilson’s novel, as they both deliver things to people’s living places. Though big companies are interested into selling and introducing drone deliveries to customers, certain marketing rules had made it difficult for them to carry out these processes, and they would have to go through lengthy approval processes; therefore, they are also testing their drones in other countries where there are less strict regulations regarding testing programs and marketing.


Wrapping up: Comparison and Future Development


In Robopocalypse and other robotic fiction novels, robots are portrayed so powerfully that they stand like giants, and are capable of destroying entire civilizations, and even autobuild and auto-repair itself. Today, there are robots that can do service jobs, such as mail carrying, delivering and other kinds of service. Like Nine Oh Two, weaponized robots can be controlled hundreds of miles away, by both touch buttons and voice control, and be used as an excellent helper in the American military training camps. Like the fictional mailbot, drones can increase the efficiency of delivering packages to people, and reduces hours for workers. In the next decade, hotels, restaurants, apartments and other facilities will be filled with service robots. Military robots will be able to replace soldiers and fight in real battles independently. Drones will replace delivery trucks, and these workers will eventually find other jobs and spend time doing other things. These robots will eventually become secure, and immune to hackers and other stealers. They will become immune to adverse environmental conditions, and able to operate at any time, any place, and at any condition.


While some robots from the novel are existing and or currently in development, most of the abilities from the novel (e.g. auto-repairing, AI-infected diseases) have not reached the world yet; moreover, not all capabilities and aspects are meant to be displayed in front of people, and it is highly unlikely that robots will totally replace humans into doing jobs. Robots are meant for people to use them, and not the other way around.

 

Works Cited
Gaudin, Sharon. "Machine Gun-toting Robots May Soon Back up U.S. Soldiers." Computerworld. Computerworld, Inc., 11 Oct. 2013. Web. 24 May 2016.
"ROBOPOCALYPSE by Daniel H. Wilson." Kirkus Reviews. Doubleday, 7 June 2011. Web. 25 May 2016.
Vanian, Jonathan. "Drones Could Soon Be Delivering Mail in the Land Down Under." Fortune N.p., 14 Apr. 2016. Web. 26 May 2016.
Vanian, Jonathan. "This Drone Startup Just Achieved A Milestone In Doorstep Delivery." Fortune. N.p., 24 Mar. 2016. Web. 26 May 2016.






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