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Killer Robots
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June 2008

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Two of my family members are involved with military UGVs, unmanned ground vehicles. UGV is a euphemism for "Killer Robot," which soon will be able to operate autonomously (without human remote control). This means we soon will have killer robots able to run around killing without needing a human for permission to engage a target.

These things always eventually start talking and team up with each other to destroy a common annoyance (Mankind), in recent movies like Terminator and I Robot, and numerous earlier science-fiction stories.

The scary part is that I just watched Terminator for the first time since I saw it in the theaters. I looked at the timeline. The future was 2029 in The Terminator. Terminator was made in 1984, putting 2029 closer to us today than 1984 was. We're almost there, and I have family members doing everything they can to make these smart and deadly UGVs.

There was no commercial or consumer Internet in 1984. Even in 1992, "EDI" hardly worked to let companies place orders electronically. In 1984 the public had no idea that our computers would be able to email each other, much less have our telephones, water purification plants, cable TV, power generation, broadcasting, sewage treatment, bank accounts, food production, home mortgages and property records and everything would ever be hooked together via the Internet talking to itself. Today I can't do anything personally without the Internet itself, much less everything else connected to it.

The Internet was originally invented by DARPA in 1969, the same people sponsoring the UGV completions today.

In 1951, at the start of consumer television, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 showed that in the future, everyone would spend their days and nights glued in front of flat screens that they considered as family. Well, that's what you're doing right now reading this. The wife can't pull herself away from idiotic reality shows and expects me to listen to her recant them as if we know these people. Men spend their time posting to online forums as a replacement for real human contact.

In the 1960s, we thought Dick Tracy's two-way wrist TV was a crazy idea. 50 years later, half of you are reading this website on your cell phone. Your cell phone is smaller than Dick Tracy's clunky wristwatch. In the 1950s, we didn't even have portable radios. Radios had tubes and would have needed batteries the size of cars. Today our kids can't imagine a time when they couldn't send videos back and forth between their phones.

In 1984, The Terminator showed us how our machines could run amuck. Not to scare you, but Terminator was a remake of an episode of The Outer Limits from twenty years before. All the crazy stuff, like moon flights, foretold in science fiction has always come true about 50 years later. 2029 is coming soon. I'm going to hate it when my kid is stuck some dark, rat-infested underground bunker in 2029 looking at old movies by the light of burning tires and realizing that we all knew this was going to happen, but didn't do anything about it. Most Sci-Fi predicts good things so we're not accustomed to having to do anything but going to work each day to make it happen.

The Terminator shares one of the most important messages of our time. Its message must be heeded. The message is that our machines can and will turn on us.

While I'm worrying that something is going to come back from the future and kill me before I publish this, others are more concerned about spelling errors in the movie.

The Internet is loaded with dweebs churning out web pages about trivial and irrelevant inaccuracies in movies. The only way to see these things is to be watching the same DVD in slow motion twenty times in a row. The real message, which is that our creations are going to kill us all and we're cheerfully developing them today, is far more important.

For instance, these guys worry that the wrong Sarah Conner's house number didn't match the numbers in the phone directory used by the terminator to hunt her down. These errors are invisible to anyone actually watching the film. These dweebs are completely missing the message of this and every other film they take apart.

Minor errors like the spelling of "Clearance Sale," shown for a fraction of a second on the window of the Alamo gun store as the terminator walks in to arm himself, don't in any way detract from the film. The clowns who worry about these trivialities don't understand that signs on stores in crummy parts of town are usually loaded with misspellings.

The guys compiling these lists, just like the guys who post on photo chat sites, have no real experience in the topics they're discussing. For instance, they misunderstand a 40-Watt phased plasma rifle to be as impotent as a 40W bulb.

1.) Plasma rifles are rated on output, not input. A 40W bulb puts out less than 1/2 W of light, and it's not phased. 40 real Watts of light, even unphased, is a crapload.

2.) The terminator asked for a phased rifle, not a regular one. The 1/1,000 W laser pointer on your key ring can shine a bright dot a mile away because it is phased, while a 40W bulb, which is unphased, can't light anything more than 20 feet away.

Phasing a rifle makes the beam into a coherent, non-spreading beam. Lasers are also phased beams.

3.) Soldiers refer to plasma rifle ratings in Watts. Women count calories, but scientists know that the actual units are kilocalories. Those who design plasma rifles likewise characterize their outputs in kiloJoules (kJ), or kiloWatt-seconds (kWs). Plasma rifle outputs and calories are actually 1,000 times what people call them casually.

4.) A plasma rifle's output rating refers to the energy of a single pulse-mode shot in kiloWatt-seconds (kWs or kJ). What a soldier calls a "40W" rifle puts out the same energy in one shot as 40kW for one second. Plasma rifles have pulse widths of about one millisecond (1/1,000 of a second, just like an electronic camera flash). Thus, for that one-thousandth of a second, a nominally 40W plasma rifle is putting out 40kW x 1,000, or 40 million watts.

When you take these four multiplying factors into account, a 40W phased plasma rifle can easily take down a transport plane miles away with one shot in pulse mode, and simply swiping the beam from side to side in continuous mode can take out all the fighter support protecting that transport plane.

If you don't design weapons systems for a living, try to avoid commenting on their performance publicly. The gunshop didn't have any plasma rifles, even unphased. Plasma rifles are nasty. That terminator had to make due with traditional guns.

As well as missing the grander message, these same detail-hounds miss the important stuff they should have seen.

The first time we saw Terminator in 1984, we all laughed when the terminator used a drop down menu of possible replies to come up with something obscene to reply to a motel clerk. In 1984, the computer world hadn't even made it to the C:\> command line. There were no consumer hard drives, which were the C:\> prompt. The world was still working from A:\> and B:\> prompts from the 5-1/4" floppy drives from which programs ran.

When I watched Terminator the second time last weekend, only then did I realize that the reason that obscene reply was on the robot's drop-down menu was because it had heard that reply from the new-age punks up at Griffith Observatory when the naked terminator first came out of the time warp! The robot was learning and adapting to its situation far faster than any human or child could.

Did detail dweebs ever notice that the terminator's obscene automated reply was a learned response? No. These darn robots are adapting and getting smarter, while others are splitting irrelevant hairs.

Here's where this ties into photography. Some dweebs spend their time looking for (or just chatting about) flaws and meaningless details like lens sharpness, while all the normal and creative people are looking at the meaningful things contained in photographs.

Someone's house number not matching a phone book that wasn't shown long enough to read doesn't affect the story. A good photograph stands on its own. It doesn't matter if its fuzzy or sharp so long as the message is there.

You can live in your parents garage arguing online about how many episodes were really in the original Star Trek series, or you can get out and shoot.

Fox News: Kiler Robot Rebellion Coming and the same thing elsewhere.


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