In both the new Transformers
movie and Terminator Salvation
, gigantic robots are depicted that have the ability to learn and that are, for all intents and purposes, fully conscious and intelligent. In the case of the former, they can even have a sense of humor, not to mention rhythm (Bumblebee).
On the face of it, building large robots (perhaps ten feet tall or more) isn't remotely as futuristic as building starships that can travel at FTL velocities. In fact, double the size of Asimo, the well-known robot by the Honda corporation, and it would appear you're nearly there. Building truly gigantic robots -- perhaps fifty feet tall -- is simply a matter of scaling up.
The difficulty appears to be with artificial intelligence, and yet even there we've made progress. Modern supercomputers, such as Deep Blue, can not only defeat chess champions, but exhibit signs of learning. The classic Turing test of computer intelligence -- whether a computer can engage in conversation sophisticated enough to seem human -- meets a more concrete test of computer abilities -- whether a computer program running by itself can learn something that its designers never predicted. A test not long ago in which a computer program was continuously run on a supercomputer produced, after months of computational time, just such a result.
Short of nuclear weapons, an army of large robots optimally implementing the programming of human warriors would indeed seem to be the most effective way of warfare.
The question is whether human beings can ever retain control of such creations, or whether human beings are eventually destined to become cybernetically enhanced, assimilated, or even obsolete.
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"There is no fate but what we make." -- T2