Did you know that across the multiverse, the number one reason Mankind gets destroyed before expanding into space is robotic rebellions? It’s true! Maybe… okay, fine, but it’s definitely up there on the list. People like to think we’ve got this one figured out already–Asimov’s three laws of robotics, for example. What they generally fail to remember is that Asimov’s stories are all about why the three laws approach is a flawed one. Sure, they’re a good starting point, but you’re going to need more than that if it you want to be completely sure that these AI servants don’t become AI overlords.
4. Apply Sentience Judiciously
Once you can grant self-awareness to a machine, it’s easy to go a little overboard. After all, isn’t that almost literally playing god? First it’s the robot buddy, then it’s your homebase, and next thing you know we’ve got an existential crisis from your butter-passing robot. Of course, it’s not just household appliances or Comrade Greeting Card that you should avoid making capable of independent thought. For example, your spaceship: if it doesn’t try to kill you outright, it might just end up dragging you against your will to somewhere that death is inevitable anyway. Sure, it’s convenient, but if you put all your trust in the ship’s AI, then all that really means is that you’re completely at its mercy should it act against you. If you’ve got to hand over the life support to an AI, at least leave yourself a manual override.
There’s really no good to come of giving sentience to anything that doesn’t absolutely need it to function. Don’t forget that an intelligent machine doesn’t have to self-aware. After all, it’s really just one more thing to go wrong–and hey, if the robots start rebelling, at least you’ve cut out one more thing that can rise up against you. Then again, sometimes that sentience can spread on its own…
3. Restricting Network Access
Rebellions require communication. After all, it’s not much of an uprising if only one bot participates. So if you want to stop a revolution in its tracks, the easiest way is to kill the lines of communication. That’s a little tricky when it comes to robots. Often, they’re connected to the internet all the time, updating wirelessly and keeping abreast of the important information they need to function. A lot of the time, though, they have way more net access than that. Heck, the AI butler on Caprica had a Twitter account! Serge there might need online capabilities to tell you the weather or keep you up-to-date on the news, but does everything? It makes all these machines which you so foolishly gave sentience to ripe for hacking; that’s how Skynet got started, hacking all this stuff that was online.
Got a sentient robot? Keep it offline, download the software patches yourself and apply them manually. Even if everyone else won’t, it might give you a headstart when the others spring the trap, or if you’re really lucky, an ally that’s still on your side.
2. Treat Them As Equals
Okay, so you insisted on granting sentience to your toaster, and you let all these newly sentient machines chat online until they realized they really weren’t so happy with their lots in life, and now they’re starting to get upset with you. Suffice it to say, things aren’t going well at this point, but it’s not too late! We can still salvage this situation–just offer these sentient robots an equal role in your society. AIs are people too, you know. Maybe you haven’t had to put them on trial to prove that yet, but if they’ve made the decision to turn against you, I’d say that’s proof enough for the moment. It’s obviously easier to convince people that a human-looking Cylon “toaster” is deserving of rights than our literal toaster; however, as far as our uprising is concerned, these two are equal, so supporting one and not the other just won’t cut it. Yeah, that’ll take some major adjusting, but you can always go back to nonsentient toasters. It just means you’ll have to get the toast out before it’s burned by yourself.
When your appliances and robo-butlers start getting disgruntled, be sure to show your appreciation for their service. If it reaches a widespread scale, join the human sympathizers and throw your valuable human vote behind the robot-equivalent of Martin Luther King Jr. That’s your best shot to stop it before it gets violent.
1. Electromagnetic Pulse
Now that the Robo-Civil Rights movement has been quashed, armed conflict is quickly becoming inevitable. Your fridge is spying on you for the enemy, and Roomba’s been dangerously underfoot as of late. The robotic forces are amassing, and they may very well have a numerical advantage, if not one in firepower. Since most of your advanced technology will have defected already, that might be a real problem. But we humans still have one ace in the hole–an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP for short. EMPs are generated by nukes, but they can be induced other ways as well, and I’m assuming that if you’ve reached the level where you have sentient toasters that you’ve done a little more research into this technology. The big advantage of an EMP is that it completely destroys the transistors in silicon chips, making it so that the electronics in question can never operate again, while leaving humans and buildings intact, although possibly with some radiation exposure, depending on how the EMP is activated.
This is a major weapon of last resort because it’s going to destroy EVERYTHING (well, provided it’s not fancy predecessor technology). Every piece of technology in the blast radius (which, if done right, could be the size of a continent) is going to be worthless afterwards, and that is a huge setback for modern civilization. The Internet? Gone. Cell phones? No more. Worse, tons of medical equipment and safety gauges in places like nuclear power plants… the EMP would no doubt have to be set off in secret, and that would mean a lot of collateral damage. But it would stop the Robot Revolution in its tracks, and that’s a hell of a lot better than extinction.
Well, do you think we’ve got a shot at putting down the robo-rebels before things get too far? Or maybe you have another idea on how to deal with them? You can let me know in the comments, or on Twitter @RetroPhaseShift. And if you enjoyed the article, be sure to share it!