Robot Wars and Skynet:
Is Sci-Fi Becoming Our Reality?
Part 1

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Authored By  :
Bill Kochman

Published On :
November 12, 2007

Last Updated :
May 7, 2023

My Interest In Robotics And Nanotechnology, US Military UAVs/Drones And Robotic Vehicles, The Civilian Casualties Controversy, DARPA, The Darpa Urban Challenge, Roboticist William L. Whittaker, The Lunar X Prize Competition, The Positive And Negative Contributions Of Modern Technology, Wicked Heart Of Man, George W. Bush And Illegal Invasion Of Iraq, Destruction Wrought In Iraq, Americans And Body Bags, American Casualties From The Iraq War, DARPA's Aim: Protect People On The Battlefield, Remote Killing And Robots On The Battlefield Are The Wave Of The Future, Masters Of Science Fiction: Jerry Was A Man, Future Wars Fought with Automated Machines, Secret Robot Wars With No More Accountability To The Public, Callous American Public, America Was Founded On War, America Survives And Expands Her Empire Through War And Shrewd Economic Policies, Government Propaganda Machines And Malleable Gullible Public, Shock And Awe Wars, Are AI-Enabled Robot Wars In Our Future?, Current Advancements In Robotics, OpenAI Astounds The World With ChatGPT, Warning To Slow Down AI Development, Terminator Movies And SkyNet, Will Artificial Intelligence Become A Threat?, Huge Investment in AI By U.S. Military, The Joint Artificial Intelligence Center And Super Soldiers, AI Warnings From Stephen Hawking Elon Musk Geoffrey Hinton And Other Concerned Individuals, A Fight For Survival

As some of my regular readers may know, I have been a loose follower of developments within the fields of robotics and nanotechnology for a number of years now. Not only do I find these topics interesting, but I believe that it is important that we have at least a basic understanding of where these two fields are headed, so that we can better grasp what may quite possibly lie ahead in the not-too-distant future. And trust me when I tell you that the picture which is currently being painted is becoming alarming, and is a cause for concern.

What originally motivated me to write this article in 2007 was a series of newspaper articles which centered around the U.S. military's efforts to create robotic vehicles which it planned to use in its wars of the coming decade. Of course, that is now this past decade, being as this article was written in 2007. The American government, as well as other countries, have indeed made progress in this area. As many people already know, at this current time, deploying UAVs -- or Unmanned Air Vehicles, also known as drones -- in foreign countries, is now a regular part of the American military's operations, and other countries have followed suit as well.

These pilotless vehicles are used, among other things, to map terrain, to spy on the activities of perceived enemies, and even to fire missiles on selected targets with deadly precision. It is this latter point which has in fact stirred up quite a controversy around the world, due to the number of civilian casualties which have resulted from such aerial strikes by Predator drones and other UAVs. Israel, and a few other nations have likewise resorted to using the very same deadly tactics.

In order to pool ideas, and speed up the development of its battle machines of the future, around 2005 or so, a special US government agency known as DARPA -- an acronym for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency -- began sponsoring a robot race -- driverless car competition -- which drew participants from major corporations and universities all across America. These included Stanford, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Virginia Tech, as well as other prestigious institutions. While the races -- which were called the "Darpa Urban Challenge" -- were a lot of fun for the participants, we should not lose sight of the fact that the primary goal of these races was actually to assist the Pentagon in building its next generation of war machines. In fact, it should be noted that the third race -- which occurred in 2007 -- was held at a former Air Force base located in Victorville, California, called George Air Force Base. This facility is now used as the Southern California Logistics Airport.

Of course, these universities weren't just participating in the DARPA races because they were a lot of fun, or even just because they were American patriots. There was a lot of money involved. The 2007 challenge involved navigating a sixty-mile course through a simulated urban environment; and the robotic vehicles had to accomplish this task in less than six hours. Only in this way could they qualify for one of three prizes, which were two million dollars, one million dollars, and five hundred thousand dollars.

There were eleven entrants in the "Darpa Urban Challenge", and the grand prize went to a vehicle designated as "Boss", which was designed by noted roboticist William L. Whittaker and his team at Carnegie Mellon University. According to the information I have read, Professor Whittaker was one of the original individuals to propose using these kinds of vehicle races as a means to advance robotics. Since earning his B.A. and Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon University in the mid-70s, he has been deeply involved in the field of robotics. In fact, in the same year that he received his Ph.D., the infamous Three Mile Island nuclear accident occurred, and Whittaker and his team constructed robots to inspect and repair the damage which had occurred in the reactor's basement. Later, in 1986, Whittaker would perform a similar function when the Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred in Ukraine.

In addition to his experience with nuclear reactor meltdowns, beginning in the late 1990s, Professor Whittaker and his team designed and created a robot called Nomad the meteorobot; the purpose of which was to search for fallen meteorites in the glacial ice fields of Antarctica. This project was funded by a $5 million dollar grant from NASA's Telerobotics Research Program in the Space Science Office. Furthermore, the project was a prelude to sending exploratory robots to the Moon, as well as to Jupiter's frozen moon, Europa, and also to the red planet, Mars. Furthermore, Whittaker has been involved in projects which have sent robotic vehicles into the craters of active volcanoes, and also into collapsed mine shafts.

In addition, Professor Whittaker led the Carnegie Mellon team in Google's "Lunar X Prize" competition. The challenge of the competition was for privately funded teams to be the first to land a robotic spacecraft on the Moon, travel five hundred meters, and then transmit high-definition video and images back to the Earth. As it turns out, none of the teams were able to make a launch attempt by the March 31, 2018 deadline. As a result, the thirty million dollar prize went unclaimed, and the X Prize Foundation later announced that the Lunar X Prize competition would continue as a non-cash competition.

While there are obviously ways in which the aforementioned races could have benefitted society as whole -- such as by leading to the eventual production of regular vehicles which will be safer for the general public -- nevertheless, as I read these newspaper articles years ago regarding the DARPA project, it occurred to me how dangerous these developments could become as well. Thus, I will now explain to you why I feel this way.

As I point out in articles such as "Science and Technology: The Forbidden Knowledge?", modern technology can be very beneficial for humanity in many different ways. Through a plethora of modern inventions and discoveries, no one can deny that our lives have become so much easier. As a result of advances made in modern medicine, many lives have been prolonged, and the suffering of a lot of people has also been eased. On a personal note, as I have grown older, and have been afflicted with a number of serious health issues, I myself have likewise benefitted from some of the medical advances which have been made, as have other members of my immediate family as well. So unlike certain Christians, I am not completely close-minded to such things, and I am most certainly not a Luddite.

However, just as there is potential for a lot of good to be derived from these modern technologies, there is likewise potential for evil being done as a result of them as well. It all depends on who has access to the technology, what their motivations are, and how they intend to use it. For example, on one hand, well-meaning scientists may create prosthetic limbs, or an artificial heart, or a drug which alleviates or perhaps even cures a particular disease. But on the other hand, men of science have also invented hellish nuclear, biological and chemical weapons which indiscriminately kill thousands of people, including women and children and other non-combatants. So truly then, modern technology can be a double-edged sword. It just seems that the worst in people eventually rises to the surface. I was just reminded of the following Bible verses which reveal the depth of our sinful and dark nature:

"And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually."
Genesis 6:5, KJV

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"
Jeremiah 17:9, KJV

"And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man."
Mark 7:20-23, KJV

To give you a more or less recent example of how evil such technology can be, stop and consider how much of the world was opposed to America's illegal, ill-conceived invasion and war in Iraq. Yes, I am fully aware of the fact that said war was promoted as a coalition effort by the American government and other countries in order to acquire the support of the American people. However, the fact of the matter remains that the Unites States was always the main player in that fiasco, with a few other foreign nations barely pitching in. Not only that, but as you may recall, as soon as it became possible for them to do so, the few other nations which were involved in the war effort, pulled their troops out. If memory serves me correctly, Great Britain was the last nation to withdraw its troops, leaving the USA to slog on alone.

As a direct result of George W. Bush's foolish invasion of that sovereign nation, literally millions of people's lives in Iraq were negatively affected. Iraq's government, as well as its military forces, was shattered. The social order was destroyed. Iraq's economy was obliterated. Its infrastructure was in large part destroyed, and basic social services came to a standstill. Furthermore, as the mass media and a number of other organizations have revealed, millions of people were displaced, and hundreds of thousands of people died, or else they were physically or psychologically crippled needlessly. In addition, poverty, sickness, starvation and misery became more widespread throughout the country.

Today, twelve years after that awful war supposedly ended in 2011, Iraq continues to struggle to rebuild itself, and its people still remain divided between different political and religious factions and ideologies, such as the Shi'ites, the Sunnis and the Kurds. And then there are radical elements such as ISIS, which have been extremely difficult -- and costly -- to totally eradicate from Iraq, and surrounding nations. While the United States government has now claimed victory in that arena, the future will tell the real tale.

But in America, as past wars have clearly shown, what makes a particular war unpopular, isn't when the US military inflicts serious damage on another sovereign nation, but rather when the body bags begin to arrive home, or when soldiers arrive home horribly disfigured, missing limbs, or psychologically messed up. If those numbers rise too high, that is when the American public begins to cry out "Enough is enough". This is precisely what occurred during the Viet Nam war era, and this is what likewise happened with the Iraq war too. As a result, next to the economy, the war in Iraq became one of the most important issues to American voters as the 2008 presidential election approached. We all know how that turned out. Barack Hussein Obama became America's 44th president for the next eight years, pushing the Republican party out of the highest office in the land. Well, if you actually believe that it is the highest office in the land. I would have to disagree.

At any rate, in spite of the fact that President Bush did everything within his power to keep the full truth from the American people regarding how many American dead and injured there were, enough of the truth leaked out, to where a large portion of the American population became sick of the war, sick of Bush's lies and deception, and they wanted American forces out of Iraq. What was supposed to be a war that would last a few weeks, or perhaps a few months at best, turned into an eight-year long war. All the while, Bush and his warmongering cronies insisted that America needed to remain there longer. Years in fact. For the record, as of June 29, 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Defense casualty website, there were 4,424 total deaths -- including both killed in action and non-hostile -- and 31,952 wounded in action, as a result of the Iraq War. How truthful those figures are remains to be seen.

So how does the war in Iraq relate to our main discussion? Well, what would happen if instead of there being thousands of American casualties, plus thousands more of American soldiers maimed, disfigured and psychologically messed up, there were only hundreds, or perhaps even dozens, or less? After all, Norman Whitaker, who was DARPA's project manager for the 2007 "Darpa Urban Challenge" race, stated "We have been looking at the problem of protecting people on the battlefield." Exactly what did Whitaker mean by that? Well, what better way would there be to protect American soldiers on a foreign battlefield, than by not having to use real people at all, or at least very few of them?

My friends, this scenario is not as far-fetched an idea as you may think. There are in fact indications that this is precisely the ultimate goal of the scientists and military folks who are involved with these types of technologies. UAVs are just the tip of the iceberg. As you will see in a moment, huge investments have been made in this area since I first authored this article in 2007. Remote killing, and robots on the battlefield, is clearly the wave of the near future. Is it starting to sound a little too much like the "Terminator" movie franchise?

Back then, I had the opportunity to view a short-lived sci-fi television show called "Masters Of Science Fiction". One of the four episodes was called "Jerry Was a Man". It turns out that Jerry was an android designed, like his fellow androids, to clear mines in a battlefield. Sometimes the robots would take the wrong step and would be blown up. Jerry, however, was different. In a particular test, he clearly demonstrated the will for self-preservation when he purposely bumped into another android, which subsequently stepped on a mine, and was blown up. The reason why I find this story interesting, is because, as we have seen through other examples of modern technology, our science fiction is slowly catching up with us in the real world. What does this say about our future, and the future of human warfare?

So robotic wars being fought without accountability to the public is precisely what could happen in the not-too-distant future, if an American president -- or any world leader for that matter -- could fight a war primarily using intelligent robotic machines. As I said a moment ago, the high-flying drones that are now in use are just the beginning, and the tip of the iceberg, of what terrible wars could lie in the world's near future. Can you perceive the danger of such a scenario?

As a result of this kind of advanced technology, an American president -- or any world leader -- could wage a secret, endless war against his enemies, and not be held accountable for it, because there would be very few, if any, body bags coming home from the war front. The sad truth is that many Americans have become so callous, that as long as there are no American casualties, and as long as the economy is doing well, they would probably offer very little protest to such unethical and morally-deplorable wars.

It is a well-established historical fact that the U.S.A. was founded upon war. America, and its economy, have survived to this day, as a result of being almost in a constant state of war, somewhere in the world. The U.S.A. has repeatedly used war, or at least the threat of war, as a means to subjugate other nations, and to expand its imperialistic empire around the world. Hegemony is a key word in the vocabulary of the leaders of the U.S.A. Coupled with rather shrewd, calculated economic policies and practices, and lucrative deals which sell hi-tech American military hardware to other nations, she has greatly enriched herself, and is a formidable foe.

To reiterate, the US government has repeatedly used war and civil unrest to divide and punish its perceived enemies, and to also force "belligerent" nations into submission to the will, and the foreign policy objectives of the war hawks in Washington D.C. Each country is viewed as either being a pro-American nation, or an anti-American nation. There is no middle ground regarding this issue in the eyes of America's leaders.

Given America's clear history over the past two hundred plus years, it can be honestly said that the American people are really a war-prone people. While they claim to be a peaceful nation, the record reveals that the USA has resorted to war in order to achieve its objectives, more than any other major world power during the last seventy years. Whenever Americans have hesitated to engage in a war, the president, along with his propaganda agent, the mass media, has always found a way to convince them that waging war is in their best interest. The war, so he claims, will make them a lot safer, and it will protect the comfortable American way of life, which no American is about to give up, for any price.

At any rate, the prevailing attitude seems to be that it is far better to make the other fellow, in some other country, pay the price for Americans' luxury, and wasteful lifestyle. Thus, through a constant barrage of slick propaganda, the American public is lulled back to sleep, and the war of the day -- whether it is legitimate or not -- is waged by their Commander-In-Chief. Now, while I have highlighted America's war sins, it should be noted, of course, that the American president is not the only world leader who engages in such subtle tactics. All world leaders, when embarking on the war path, have to first convince their constituents, that a war is a just and necessary cause, even if it is a distasteful one. Thus, just like the American president, they too will promote patriotism, and will spin whatever lies they deem necessary, in order to convert the populace to their way of thinking.

As I pointed out earlier, if robotic vehicles and automated fighter machines -- including UAVs and similarly AI-enabled devices -- are primarily used in future wars, it means that the human casualty rate on the American side will be a lot lower, if not totally nonexistent. As a result, lethargic American society will have nothing to complain about, and a president could potentially wage a war for years, without ever taking any negative heat for it. Tragically, as long as the economy is strong, and the public continues to enjoy their materialistic lifestyle, everyone is happy; except, of course, for the people in the targeted country, whose lives are being destroyed by America's merciless, "shock-and-awe" wars. So this is the potential evil which could someday soon result from fighting wars with only AI-enabled machines.

For those of you who are not familiar with the current state of advanced robotics and Artificial Intelligence technology, I encourage you to conduct some online research of your own. You will find plenty of interesting videos scattered across the Internet, including on YouTube. What you will quickly discover is that this technology has advanced far beyond the lumbering, tether-attached machines of even a decade ago. While some of the modern robots still require to be remotely controlled by humans, they can now not only walk, but they can run, jump, do backflips, climb over objects, manipulate obstacle courses, climb up and down stairs, open and close doors, balance themselves, etc. Some of them are extremely noisy. I found some of them to be quite menacing-looking. It is not something you would want to meet in a dark alley some night.

Of course, this is all in addition to the widening range of industrial robots, and the human-shaped robots, which serve very different purposes, some of which are rather kinky. With their small servo motors, "frubber" skin -- such as Einstein, Sophia, Philip K. Dick, Alice and Jules -- and other human attributes, some of them are quite impressive. At least for robots. The Japanese, in particular, are quite advanced in this area.

If the previous information proves anything, it is that due to the current pace of technological developments, what was once considered to be merely writing vehicles employed in the science fiction genre, are now, in certain cases, actually becoming reality. Robots and AI-enabled devices are now here to stay, and they will only proliferate more and more in the coming decades. The question is, how far will they be allowed to go in regards to their development? When will enough be enough? Will humanity have the sense to put on the breaks before it is too late?

As I update this article at this current time in May of 2023, this is precisely the concern which is being addressed, due in large part to the introduction of ChatGPT and GPT-4 to the world. As you may know, this AI-enabled chatbot -- which is the product of Sam Altman and his company OpenAI -- has taken the world by storm. I myself have also been amazed by this chatbot's advanced capabilities. But a lot of top people in the field of Artificial Intelligence and related disciplines are beginning to sound the alarm, warning that we really need to slow down and take a pause in further AI development. This is because we still do not fully understand it, or even the repercussions which may result from further improving it.

Many of you reading this article have undoubtedly viewed the highly popular "Terminator" movies, and perhaps the American television spin-off program, "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles". As you may know, the central premise of James Cameron's franchise is modern technology gone awry. And not just gone awry, but totally in control, and out to destroy its own human creators.

While the writers behind the popular "Terminator" franchise have obviously taken a certain degree of artistic license with their creation of the sinister "SkyNet" threat, and ask us to suspend our disbelief for a few hours, I cannot help but wonder if, perhaps like the Patriarch of old once said, we might in fact bring upon ourselves those things which we fear the most. In other words, by the inventions of our own hands. As Job said in a moment of desperation:

"For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me."
Job 3:25, KJV

At our current time, the general consensus within scientific circles is that computers will become as smart as humans, or perhaps even surpass human intelligence, around the middle of this same century. My friends, that is only three decades from now. As far-fetched as it may sound, is it conceivably possible that when that day arrives, SkyNet will begin to evolve? Will our machines begin to outsmart us and possess the ability to take control of human affairs? Will there be some kind of failsafe system in place? Will we be able to simply unplug them from their power source? As I said, these issues are already of concern, thanks to OpenAI's ChatGPT.

Before you scoff at such a notion, consider the fact that, as we discussed earlier, even now, the U.S. military is heavily investing money -- to the tune of billions of U.S. dollars -- in the development of smart weapons which employ AI. That is to say, Artificial Intelligence. In recent years, military news, and even the mainstream media, has seen an uptick with regards to articles about this very thing. Consider some of these alarming headlines which resulted from a simple Google search:

"Artificial Intelligence is the Future of Warfare (Just Not in the Way You Think)" --

"Eric Schmidt says A.I. could be the military’s new nuke—but only if the Pentagon acts like a tech firm" --

"How AI Will Revolutionize Warfare" --

"Pentagon makes massive new AI push for tanks, ships, weapons, drones and networks" -- Fox News.

"The military wants to build lethal tanks with AI" -- ZDNet.

"The next fear on AI: Hollywood’s killer robots become the military’s tools" -- New York Times.

"The Pentagon Doubles Down on AI – and Wants Help from Big Tech" -- Wired Business News.

"U.S. Army Chief Wants Robots and Artificial Intelligence Forces to Play a Bigger Role on the Battlefield" -- Newsweek.

"U.S. Army pledges $72 million for Carnegie Mellon AI defense research" -- VentureBeat.

"US DoD to use artificial intelligence algorithms to enhance warfare capabilities" -- Army Technology.

"US military to spend $2 billion on developing artificial intelligence" -- Internet of Business.

So as you can see, this is very serious business. It is no longer just creative sci-fi stories you will find by flipping through the channels on your device of choice, or by visiting your local movie theater. To give you an example concerning what the aforementioned news outlets have been reporting for a number of years now, consider the following excerpt taken from a July 2018 report by Fox News:

----- Begin Quote -----

The Pentagon is making a massive push to accelerate the application of artificial intelligence to ships, tanks, aircraft, drones, weapons and large networks as part of a sweeping strategy to more quickly harness and integrate the latest innovations.

Many forms of AI are already well-underway with U.S. military combat systems, yet new technologies and applications are emerging so quickly that Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan has directed the immediate creation of a new Joint Artificial Intelligence Center.

----- End Quote -----

Wow! A Joint Artificial Intelligence Center! Why not just call it SkyNet? Yes, I am just being sarcastic. However, it should be apparent to you by now, that the marriage of AI and military hardware and software is not simply going to disappear. Future wars will clearly involve significantly more automated technology, and advanced weaponry that relies upon Artificial Intelligence. As I mentioned earlier, UAVs, bomb-sniffing robots, and similar devices are just the tip of the iceberg. God only knows what evil inventions the wicked heart of man will create at some point in the future, in order to maintain his dominance over his fellow man. Of course, there will still be some level of direct engagement by humans in future warfare. However, they will be enhanced human beings, or what has been referred to by some as "super soldiers".

So is it possible that the 2003 "Terminator" film "Rise of the Machines" will actually become a reality sometime during the current century? From my perspective, it really comes down to one important question: Will man eventually cede -- willingly, or unwillingly -- control of his war machines to the machines themselves? While certain people -- such as the now-deceased, noted theoretical physicist and cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, and Geoffrey Hinton, who is referred to as the "godfather of AI" -- have issued dire warnings regarding this very possibility, at this point in time, in my view, it seems highly unlikely that this will occur, unless man has simply taken total leave of his senses. I think it is a safe bet to say that human beings, as fragile and puny as they are, would rather go down fighting, than become the slaves of their own creations. Wait a minute! Doesn't that sound exactly like the "Terminator" franchise?

Please go to part two for the conclusion of this article.

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