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November 18, 2009

Robots – EEK!


An urgent and disturbing news story came across my desk this week and I felt the need to share it. ROBOTS ARE TAKING OVER THE OCEAN! Maybe I am getting ahead of myself… let me back-peddle.

Oceans cover more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface and the majority of them are unexplored. As oceanographer Robert Ballard put it on the Colbert Report last February, one year of NASA’s budget would be able to fund 1,600 years of NOAA’s exploration budget. Translation: There is a lot we don’t know about our own planet.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, the good folks over at Scripps Institution of Oceanography have been developing a way to explore and monitor the oceans. The solution: robots.

The idea is that large groups, up to hundreds, of autonomous underwater explorers (AUEs) would swarm around in the ocean like a school of fish. They would report data back to larger “mothership” robots.

The potential benefits of this project are great. This type of monitoring can give us a better idea of how certain pollution affects the ocean. It can also give scientists a better picture of where they might advise for marine protected areas.

Right off the bat, that sounds good. But at what cost?

Are we unleashing swarms of drone robots that will someday become self-aware like Skynet? Will these robots rise up in an attempt to establish dominance over the human race?

Okay, so both those scenarios are far fetched. But any time you introduce something new into an ecosystem, be it biological or not, there needs to be a measure of caution exercised… even if the eventuality is not submission to our robot overlords. Just look at Nutria!

This probably is not the start of a robot–led human apocalypse, but just in case I am keeping my dad, John Connor, on call and hoping the people at Scripps consult with Isaac Asimov in their programming.