Mark A. Carter

FUTURE WAR: fiction, reality, and robots

World famous Canadian Science Fiction writer Mark A. Carter gives his two cents worth about FUTURE WAR: fiction, reality, and robots.


Nuclear devastation as depicted in The Terminator, directed by James Cameron.

Photo is copyright © 1984 Orion Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

What came first, the chicken or the egg? The answer is easy. Science fiction came first. And because of its power to inspire for both good and bad, the creative and the destructive innovations that are thought of first as Science Fiction ultimately become technical reality.

Jules Verne: "Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real."

It's in our nature to make it happen, to push the envelope, to peer where no one should look, to discover the mysteries of nature. And God help us. Like curiosity that killed the cat, like the naive frog that trusts the scorpion on his back not to sting him, our very natures will prove our undoing because Science Fiction, like some perverse destiny, calls to us. And we can't help but see if we can achieve what has been imagined. And more often than not what has been imagined has been dire. Yet we do not heed the warnings. Instead, we focus on the challenge of achieving the technology without the wisdom to realize that it should never be built.

Several technical innovations have occurred of late that give me the willies because they have been inspired by Science Fiction and do not bode well in any way, shape, or form. And it begs the question: don't these techno-twits get it? They read the Science Fiction. They steal the ideas. And they turn the ideas into reality for the sheer challenge of it. But don't they get the message? Duh? These innovations are dangerous. Come on, guys, I talked about the Frankenstein motif back in 1981 in my thesis: The Doomsday Theme in Science Fiction. Mankind always loses control of his creation. Let me stress the word: always.

Our modern technological creations would spin Mary Shelley's head. They leave Victor Frankenstein's ham-fisted and unnamed creature in the dust. I'm talking The Terminator, baby, because current innovations are bringing us to a dangerous culmination in technology. Yes I mean like in the 1984 film by James Cameron. I'm talking Skynet, self-replicating robots, robot aircraft, and high yield laser weapons. You know that the U.S. will build it, apply it, and lose control of it. It's inevitable. And the human race will quickly find itself in a fight for survival against a form of superior mechanical life that we have created. Just because you can do a thing does not mean you should do a thing. It would be unwise. But do they get it? Obviously not ...

Robotics has been in the works for years. And today, much like what Isaac Asimov wrote about in I, Robot (1950) and in The Rest of the Robots (1964) we use robots for repetitive tasks and for hazardous situations but something always goes wrong. Basic movement, balance, and vision have been achieved. The primitive robotic arms with their brute strength welding car frames together on assembly lines have led to the subtle Asimo robots developed by Honda that demonstrate self-sustained balance, locomotion including running, and vision. As in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) by Robert Wise based on the short story "Farewell to the Master" (1940) by Harry Bates; THX 1138 (1971) directed by George Lucas; Star Trek (2009) directed by J. J. Abrams; and Elysium (2013) directed by Neil Blomkamp, robots are destined to be our policemen. Policing is becoming far too dangerous to have young men and women risking their lives to maintain the peace.

Robot Policemen and THX in THX 1138 directed by George Lucas.
Photo copyright © 1970 American Zoetrope. All Rights Reserved.


I'll be back.
T-800 from Terminator directed by James Cameron
Photo copyright © 1984 Orion Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

When robots work properly, they provide a service to humanity. When they misbehave, and they always eventually do, they are a problem. But when they are built for military purposes and move like large cats, and run amok, they are lethal beyond belief. In Red Planet (2000) directed by Antony Hoffman, the astronauts lose control of their large, catlike, military robot named AMEE, on a mission already rife with disaster, and it begins to kill them. What is truly scary is that I saw a similar robot named Wildcat demonstrated recently that is being developed by Boston Dynamics for the U. S. military. I saw it running or rather galloping at sixteen miles per hour. And I thought of AMEE. Such a robot could run after an enemy or you effortlessly, catch you, and dispassionately eviscerate you. Then there is ATLAS which looks crude but lethal. But PETMAN is a great improvement in design on our road to the T-800 from Terminator. We are so close. And that sends a shiver up my spine.

Computers have increased in computing speed according to Moore's Law every two years, and decreased in size from ENIAC of 1945 which filled a 20 by 40 foot room, weighed 30 tons, and used more than 18,000 vacuum tubes to the CPU of 2013 that is smaller than a postage stamp and could easily fit within the head of a robot to make the machine self-sufficient and sentient. And there is only a small step, mere window dressing, between the demonstration version of Asimo or Wildcat and the full battle ready hunter-killer depicted in Terminator. But that is not the only thing that alarms me.

For a number of years, the weakest part of our modern fighter jets has been the human component. Yes, I'm talking about the pilots. The jets are physically capable of maneuvers that are so extreme that the pilots pass out. Then last week, on the evening news came the story that the first unmanned plane, the U. S. Navy's X-47B stealth attack jet was being launched from an aircraft carrier. So, they finally achieved it. They have taken the pilot out of the cockpit. They have removed him from the equation. Remotely controlled drones have been flying from military bases and carriers for years. But now, like the unmanned combat air vehicle with the onboard artificial intelligence named EDI in the film Stealth (2005) directed by Rob Cohen, we have autonomous robotic fighter jets.

Heaven help us because machines are not as subtle at making decisions as we humans are. But if the mentality is shoot first and ask questions later, if civilian losses are the price of waging war or of doing business, who cares? Right? Well, we should all care because these damn machines may very well be coming after us.

Four other science articles set off my bells and whistles because I could see them all being incorporated into the bigger picture. And taken together they bring the future scenario depicted in The Terminator that much closer to reality. John Romanishin at MIT CSAIL developed the first self-assembling robot. They are primitive cubes, at this point, but that will not last long. Ibon Ordriozola at CIDETEC in Spain developed self-healing polymers. So, I can see robots having skin that heals like ours except faster and better. Milos Popovic at CU-Bolder had a breakthrough in silicon photonics that takes the copper and gold out of computer circuitry to be replaced by light channels that are impervious to electromagnetic pulse. Mikhail Lukin at Harvard and Vladan Vuletic at MIT created a new form of matter. Inspired by the light sabers in Star Wars, they were able to create photonic molecules. What that means is that they were able to give mass to bundles of light. To me that makes the pulsed charges seen in phasers from Star Trek that much closer to reality. And add to that the breakthrough of Yuriy Stepanenko at IPC PAS who developed a desktop 10 terawatt laser. OMG. Do you realize how powerful that is? The pulses of his laser are more powerful than the output of all the world's nuclear power plants. The future is now.

In Colossus: the Forbin Project (1970) directed by Joseph Sargent from the novel by D. F. Jones, we were warned about putting the control of our nuclear arsenal into the hands of a computer. We were warned in The Terminator too. In Colossus, after dropping a nuke to make its point, the computer named Colossus together with its Russian counterpart Guardian takes control of the human race to see us through our evolutionary adolescence. The cost is living under the totalitarian control of a machine. In The Terminator, Skynet decides that we are the enemy, nukes three billion people, and sends out an army of robots to mop up humans not killed in the initial conflagration. In this case, it goes beyond man versus machine. It becomes biomechanical life form which are us versus electromechanical life form which are the robots in a Darwinian competition for survival or rather our desperate attempt to survive the purposeful genocide of human beings by the superior Frankensteinesque electronic monsters of our own creation. Good luck with that.

The first working 3D printer was created in 1984 by Chuck Hull at 3D Systems Corp. It was used for prototyping. The worry now is that 3D printers are being used to create firearms that are undetectable by airport security. The news is that modern aircraft carriers are going to be equipped with military level 3D printers to turn the ships into large mobile factories to replicate parts damaged in battle and perhaps to replicate entire planes. They apparently have already replicated simple drones. My worry is that, given the program for a complete robot soldier, and given 3D printers falling into the hands of robots, if they turned against us, the printers could well be used by robots to manufacture a robot army.


Atlas - Boston Dynamics
Organizations worldwide, from DARPA, US Army, Navy and Marines turn to Boston Dynamics for help creating the most advanced robots on Earth.

Everything that a robot life form needs to replicate itself and to wipe us off the face of the Earth is here now. The imagination of Science Fiction writers and the unstoppable curiosity of very unwise engineers, scientists, and technicians have made it possible. Pilots have been taken out of aircraft. Soon, soldiers will be replaced on the battlefield by robots. As NASA itself predicts in a paper entitled: The Future is Now! Future Strategic Issues/Future Warfare [circa 2025] technical innovation and warfare itself will occur so quickly that we will be left in the dust. We will lose control. The question is will humanity survive?

Kyle Reese: "Skynet saw all humans as a threat; not just the ones on the other side, and decided our fate in a microsecond: extermination." - The Terminator (1984)

News as of December 17, 2013 is that Google, of all companies, has suddenly bought several robotics companies. Why? Perhaps Andy Rubin at Google read Isaac Asimov's 1950 collection of robot stories entitled I Robot, and decided that U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc. was a better name for a company than their current moniker. Or maybe they are just expanding into a growth industry in a Darth Vaderesque kind of way. According to an article written by Chris Crum entitled "Will Google's robots change business or just scare everybody?" published online by

Android chief Andy Rubin was behind the project, and that Google had acquired Schaft, Industrial Perception, Meka, Redwood Robotics, Bot & Dolly, Autofuss (specializing in video production) and Holomni. The news of the weekend was that Google has added Boston Dynamics to the list. This is one of the most famous (if not the most famous) robotics companies on the Internet. Its robots have gained a massive amount of attention in recent years, and with good reason. They're truly amazing, and in most cases deeply terrifying on a "holy crap, this Terminator thing is really happening" kind of way.

I should say so. Look quickly over your left shoulder. The future is now. And it has just become truly scary and very real.

Read: Artificial Super-Intelligence
Can a machine think?
Create a New Universe
Fail Safe or Strangelove?
Hologram Universe
IBM Builds Brain
Killer Robots
Robot Takeover
We may exist in a Simulation.
Why we need Nuclear War.

Now you know.

from the imagination of Mark A. Carter - writer

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