Day 291: A Hasty, Half-Assed Article About Military Robots

originally published October 17, 2012

Today’s article is about military robots.

Why am I writing about military robots? Simple – I don’t care about military robots. I care about butler-robots, rapping robots and sex robots (don’t worry honey, I’m only interested in the articles). I read through the article about military robots on Wikipedia. It’s frighteningly dull. But the fact is, it’s nine o’clock at night as I write this, and I just lost over two thousand words of an essay due tomorrow at one o’clock because Microsoft Word failed.

How does that happen? My auto-save is set for every one minute – I’m sufficiently paranoid and I’ve heard too many academic horror stories to want to live through one myself. I hit Ctrl-I to italicize the title of a movie (yes, I take film studies classes because I believe someday they will get me a job that involves watching Manos: The Hands Of Fate). The file closed, and away went my essay. I re-opened it, and found all 500 of the words I started day with, looking up at me with overwhelming mediocrity, no sign of loss or sadness at the inexplicable premature death of their friends.


Fucking gone.

So I’m 16 hours away from zero-hour, and I still have my daily tithe to the Goddess of Insane Writing Projects. I looked at my big ol’ list of possible topics and saw ‘Military Robot’ sitting at the top, right where it’s been sitting since January when I started this list. At one time (I may have been slightly drunk) this struck me as a fascinating topic for a kilograph. Every time I look at the Wikipedia article I wonder why, yet I can’t bring myself to erase it from my list.

Today I get to erase it. Something good will come from this nightmare.

Let’s start with PackBot. No, it won’t fill your suitcase, nor will it chase an insatiable addiction to little white dots through a maze, much to the chagrin of a Benneton ad’s cast of colorful ghosts. There are more than 2000 PackBots humming around Afghanistan and Iraq, defusing bombs, collecting hazardous air for investigation, and localizing gunshots. Somewhere, I’m sure someone has either found a way to utilize the PackBot to retrieve beer from a cooler or programmed it to dance.

You can stick a camera on the PackBot and send it into a dangerous situation for recon. This is great, even if it smells a little bit like the anti-droid racism that infests the Star Wars universe.

You see that? I had to hit Ctrl-I to put that film’s title in italics, and it worried me. I am in nothing but film classes this term, and I talk a lot about movies on this site and whenever I arbitrarily engage in flame wars on my favorite Steven Seagal discussion boards. This means I hit that key combination a lot. Now I’ll feel like I’m playing Russian Roulette with my words. Who knows when there’ll be one in the chamber?

Okay, on to PETMAN, which might be an acronym but Wikipedia won’t tell me what it stands for. Also, it looks like something out of that Herbie Hancock video from 1983. PETMAN is a bipedal robot that moves like a real person and actually sweats, in order to test out chemical protection suits. It’s a sweating robot.

Isn’t the very appeal of robots that we can take out all of humanity’s grotesque squishiness, yet still have someone with whom we can play ping pong? I may be missing the point. Anyway, PETMAN probably stands for Perspiring Electronic Titanium Man-like Anthropomorphic Non-Human. Wow, if I wasn’t still so pissed off at my word processor, I hope I could have done better than that.

In 2009 a bunch of tech experts got together to discuss their concerns over the development of military robots. They worried that the machines could become self-sufficient and begin making their own decisions. Seriously? It took 25 years for these experts to get around to watching The Terminator?

It gets worse. They have robots that can seek out their own power source, and even choose which targets to attack with weapons. Add that to the reality that some computer viruses are particularly adept at avoiding elimination, and really the makings of our demise are pretty much in play.

“Ah, but what about the three laws of robotics?” you ask. Why are you asking me questions right now? I’m watching the clock tick away while the notion of sleep becomes more and more a distant memory, and you’re asking me about the three laws of robotics?

Okay, Asimov. Let’s go through them, and without referencing that Will Smith movie.

  1. Robots cannot injure humans. Bullshit. I just pointed out that we already have robots that have been programmed to kill humans. We have crapped all over that rule already.
  2. A robot must obey its orders, except when their orders would break law #1. Alright, we all kind of hope they do that, but who knows?
  3. A robot must protect its own existence, as long as doing so doesn’t violate either of the other two laws. Presumably the robots that we’ve programmed to shoot people know how to duck behind cover as well.

In short, we are one law away from complete robot anarchy. PETMAN will hunt you down, while PackBot hunts your pets.

The Predator drone falls under the heading of military robots. The Predator is usually used for flying around and taking pictures like an uninvited tourist, but they have also been equipped with Hellfire missiles. What’s the fun in a robot if you can’t load it up with missiles?

You know, I could keep on pretending that I have the slightest interest in these things, but let’s face it, until we get military robots that look like that thing from Robocop or that Grievous guy from Star Wars, military robots are useful – essential maybe – but not my thing.

The good news is, they’re finally off my list. I can happily remove the entry, then turn my attention to the fury and rage that nearly earned my window a laptop-shaped hole tonight. Fuck you, Microsoft Word and your deceptive seductress, Autosave.

Fifteen hours and counting.


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