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The Robot Revolution… Closer Than Terminator Salvation‘s Premiere

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To celebrate the upcoming release of Terminator Salvation, let’s take a look at the state of real robotics: Are we facing the rise of the machines? While it’s unlikely that Toshiba’s new household robot — the cute ApriAttenda — is plotting your death or that a rogue Roomba could do much damage, advances in artificial intelligence this month alone should be enough to get you thinking about specs for your fallout shelter.


On April 1, Honda announced it had developed a robot that’s controlled using only human thought (with a special helmet attached to a top secret machine). When a New York Times blogger suggested it might be an April Fool’s joke, most readers agreed. There’s no way a robot can be controlled by human thoughts alone, right? Wrong. The only misleading aspect of the story is the suggestion that brain-machine interface (BMI) technology is something new. It’s real and it’s been around.

This astounding innovation, which connects the human brain directly to a computer, is quietly being developed in a number of laboratories and will lead to a true melding of man and machine. A monkey can already move a robotic arm simply by thinking about moving his own arm, and eventually humans will join the ranks of the bionic in the same way. It’s easy to imagine why a Terminator like Marcus Wright might think he’s human — at one point he might have been.

There’s no way to stop such progress — it’s too good. Using BMI, people once paralyzed will walk by rerouting their brain signals to their muscles using a computer; those with disabling diseases like ALS will talk and everyone else will open the car trunk just by thinking about it. The question is will it lead to judgment day? As long as humans are doing the thinking, we should be fine.


OK, we’re screwed: In other news this month, a robot named Adam is conducting its own scientific experiments. Using artificial intelligence, “Adam” hypothesized that certain genes in baker’s yeast code for specific enzymes which catalyse biochemical reactions. The robot devised experiments to test these predictions, ran the experiments using laboratory robotics, interpreted the results and repeated the cycle. On its own, it discovered twelve new functions for genes. Professor Ross King, who led the research at Aberystwyth University, says “Ultimately we hope to have teams of human and robot scientists working together in laboratories.” The team is now working on a computer named Eve. I think you can see where this going.


In addition, the creators of the Child-robot with Biomimetic Body (CB2) have announced that their ‘bot is developing social skills by interacting with humans and watching thier facial expressions, mimicking a mother/child relationship. Over the past two years, CB2 has taught itself how to walk with the aid of a human and in the next two years the goal is to have it speaking basic sentences, matching the intelligence of a 2-year-old.

Still not convinced Skynet’s poised to take over? The robot space race is also on. Last week, Japan announced it was going to have a two-legged robot walking on the moon by 2020. Some say it’s all talk, but that’s also what they said when Kennedy first announced his goal to put a man on the moon. Face it: Lunar robots are coming and when they do it will be one giant leap for tin-kind.

Horror fans have a survival plan in case of a zombie attack, so scifi fans should prepare for the possibility of a real robot revolution. Start by reading How to Survive a Robot Uprising: Tips on Defending Yourself Against the Coming Rebellion — before your Kindle 2 gets wise and erases it. And, of course you’ll want to watch and learn from the man that’s trained his whole life for such an event: John Connor (Christian Bale), who returns to the big screen next month.

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