Will you welcome your new robotic overlord?

A new, excessively creepy "smartphone" started me thinking that I don't even want to contemplate what kind of viruses it could contract or what precise purpose custom-made malware infections might have. In fact, after wondering what-were-they-thinking to create it, I hoped not to bump into anyone even carrying such a mobile device. Although this new phone doesn't strike me as being nearly as useful as typical Droid smartphones, the "pocket-sized fetus-like robot" phone might become the next big thing?


IEEE Spectrum reported on "Elfoid, a miniature anthropomorphic robot" from Japan that's a cross between a cellphone and a human-like robot; it's meant to transmit voice as well as "human presence." Created by Japanese roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro, famous for dragging us all closer to the uncanny valley with his look-alike Geminoid series of realistic android robots, this tiny Telenoid can be carried around in your pocket. "The idea is you use a motion-capture system to transmit your face and head movements to the Elfoid, which would reproduce them, plus your voice, on its own little body, thereby conveying your presence." The Elfoid was designed to appear "fetus-like" so it can be either male or female, of any age, leaving personal tweaks to users' imaginations.

Even the video simply looking over the Elfoid seems a bit creepy.

While we are on the subject, the latest Geminoid DK is fairly fantastic; it was created to mirror the looks of Associate Professor Henrik Scharfe of Aalborg University in Denmark. This robotic clone is remote-controlled to mimic the expressions and body movements of its human user. The Geminoid DK "slave robot" even has a beard, appears to breathe and blinks in a creepy impersonation of its "master" the Danish professor.

Are you ready to welcome your new robotic overlord? The Navy wants to develop a "swarm of micro-robotic fabrication machines." There are autonomous vehicles such as Google's auto-driving Toyota Prius which was shown off at the recent TED conference. There are robots in space, robots predicted to replace humans in working conditions, and even robots on the battlefield. As we move closer to robotic and computer-driven everything, I'm curious what security features are built into all these things? 

Maybe in the future, soldiers won't need to put their lives on the line as war might be fought in cyberspace? Taking down the smart grid, taking over traffic control, turning off water, attacking a nuclear or chemical plant, there are all kinds of scary cyberwar scenarios. As Liam O'Murchu, manager of operations for Symantec Security Response, told the Christian Science Monitor, "The next time we want to go to war, maybe we wouldn't even need to bomb a country. We could just, you know, turn off its power."

But maybe in the future, the human element won't be needed at all? What if we send robots programmed to kill in place of soldiers to do the fighting? At least in science fiction, robots are supposed to work within the Three Laws:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

With androids, humanoids, Geminoids, and generic robots doing the "grunt" work, could humans become obsolete? If robots take all the jobs, it's unlikely we can live in a state of perpetual vacation. From the first accidental human casualty by a robotic lawnmower, to the steady death count starting to pile up due to unmanned drones, maybe all that will be left for humans will be to fight Skynet? 

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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