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Aardvark Daily

New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

Content copyright © 1995 - 2019 to Bruce Simpson (aka Aardvark), the logo was kindly created for Aardvark Daily by the folks at aardvark.co.uk



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Terminator Nano is coming

30 September 2021

The dystopian future predicted by the Terminator series of movies seems to be more likely by the day.

Artificial Intelligence (AI or "machine learning") now plays a part in almost everyone's, thanks to the widespread use of such systems by Google and a bunch of other tech giants. A ubiquitous network of orbiting "SkyLink" satellites grows in scale on an almost daily basis, allowing near-instant connectivity across the entire face of the globe.

And... several countries have announced that they are working on, or already have, autonomous weaponry in the form of drones that can assign their own targets and make firing decisions without human intervention.

How many more pieces of the puzzle are needed before... well you've seen the movies, right?

Now Amazon are about to release the first of the robots that may eventually become mankind's worst enemy.

Well maybe not.

However, they have announced Astro, the home robot that could lay the ground for much bigger, more competent devices to come.

In fact, it was while I was looking at a picture of Astro that I realised one very important thing: the future has arrived!

As a kid I was a science fiction addict. I would read every bit of scifi I could get my hands on and just about the only movies I would spend my valuable pocket money on were those involving space, aliens, rockets and laser-guns.

I recall that as a lad of just eight or nine years old, I dreamed of what the world would be like in the magical year 2000. Based on those visions of the future I'd seen in books and on the movie theatre screen, I could picture those flying cars, robots and all those fantastic bits of technology that were "just around the corner".

Well we almost have flying cars, in the form of the multirotor-based aerial urban transport vehicles being proposed and tested by a bunch of companies that are happy to waste money thrown at them by venture capitalists. Fortunately, I am now old and wise enough to realise that the concept of a flying car might sound great but in reality it's far from a sensible idea.

Neither I, nor any of those scifi writers ever predicted the smartphone or the other incredibly powerful bits of computing and communications equipment we now all have stuffed in our back pockets though. Back in the 1960s, computers were huge things that required entire rooms or even buildings to house them. The concept of fitting one in your shirt pocket or on your wrist was too much for even the most outrageous writer of science fiction to imagine -- yet here we are.

Video-phones were not something you stuck in your pocket, even in the dreams of Asimov or Clarke. As those who watched the TV series "The Jetsons" back in the 1960s will attest, video communications was done via a screen built into a console because surely nobody could miniaturise something that complex into a pocketable device.

There were a lot of robots in those 1960s scifi stories though. By now, mankind was supposed to have off-loaded a great deal of its work onto humanoid machines that obeyed our every command and served our every need. The robots of Star Wars even had intelligence and personalities.

Could Astro be the start of this prophecy being fulfilled?

Maybe.

For now, Astro seems to be a bit of a gimmick without enough value for me to even contemplate throwing US$1,000 away for.

However, as we all know, sometimes technology moves very quickly and in unexpected directions. It may be just a few short decades before we really do start seeing the mechanical excellence of the machines from Boston Dynamics combined with the powerful machine learning being developed elsewhere.

Once that happens you can be sure that the military will throw billions at creating armies of robot soldiers and then, once they start controlling them via orbiting satellites... well "hello Arnie!".

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