Not too long ago, a powerful collection of scientists, industry leaders and NGOs launched the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, an activist group dedicated to preventing the development of lethal autonomous weapons systems. Among those that signed up for the cause: Stephen Hawking, Noam Chomsky, Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak.
Those high-profile names earned the cause a lot of attention and lent legitimacy to the notion that killer robots, once considered a science fiction fantasy, are actually a fast-approaching reality.
But are they, really? An intriguing study published in the International Journal of Cultural Studies takes a different approach to the idea of “killer robots” as a cultural concept. The researchers argue, in part, that even the most advanced robots are just machines, like anything else our species has ever made. If we’re careful with the components we put in — both technologically and culturally — they won’t just somehow turn on us in a future robot revolution.
“The point is that the ‘killer robot’ as an idea did not emerge out of thin air,” said co-author Tero Karppi, assistant professor of media theory at the University of Buffalo. “It was preceded by techniques and technologies that make the thinking and development of these systems possible.”
In other words, we’re worried about killer robots because that’s the story we keep telling ourselves and the terminology we keep using. The authors cite films like “The Terminator” or “I, Robot,” in which it’s just assumed that far-future robots will eventually turn on the human race. Those same assumptions are informing how we’re preparing for a future of machine intelligence.