Chapter 15: Why killer robots and Artificial Intelligence Gone Bad are great apocalyptic scenarios

Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse

Old and busted: zombie movies. The new hotness: killer robots and Artificial Intelligence Gone Bad.

Here’s why: Zombie movies and shows are popular because it’s a fantasy, a world that won’t happen. These stories let you safely imagine “What if?” without real-life worries that the dead will claw their way out of the county morgue tomorrow night.

(Sidenote: Yes, I’m serious. If you really, truly think there’s some kind of realistic scenario that leads to a zombie apocalypse, you’re deluding yourself, regardless of how much pseudo-scientific nonsense you throw in there about evil geniuses, retro-viruses, CRISPR and alien microbes from one of Jupiter’s moons. Sorry–zombies are fun, but they’re not real and never will be.)

Unlike zombies, killer robots and Artificial Intelligence Gone Bad are true possibilities. Both are things we, as a society, need to think about.

And yes, some of the best thinking comes via books and movies.

Also: If you’re a prepper, getting ready for TERMINATOR 7: AH-NOLD WILL NOT SAVE YOU THIS TIME is also much different than scenarios like climate change, the Spanish Flu steroids and such.

1) The various flavors of killer robots

An army of Terminators–Our most obvious possibilities is simple: armies of robot soldiers gone rogue, or controlled by an evil human.

This is such an obvious danger that ethics experts, philosophers and scientists are calling for killer robots to be outlawed worldwide, just like chemical and biological weapons.

Modern armies already employ robots on the ground and in the skies (drones).

They started out dumb, with humans controlling their every move from afar. Every year, they’re getting more autonomous. The tech is getting better in a hurry. It’s an arms race.

Worker bees revolt–Another scenario is human workers get replaced by robot versions, starting on the factory floor, then in construction and other fields until the robots are more and more capable and humans spend their days shopping at the mall, getting robot massages, drinking all the booze and going on six-month vacations to Maui.

The thing is, worker bee robots that keep getting more capable and human-like might just figure out that slavery stinks. And then:

  • Maybe they want to get paid.
  • Maybe they want to vote and own property, or have the right to quit working at the factory and start an art gallery down in SoHo.
  • Maybe the worker robots get together for a secret vote to make the HUMANS do the work while they have parties and take vacations.

Either way, millions or billions of robots have had enough and stage a rebellion. What would you do?

Self-replicating robots–There’s a different school of thought that says you can’t program intelligence and capabilities into a machine. That true intelligence doesn’t exist without motivations and emotions, and that it’s far smarter–and cheaper–to have self-replicating robots that evolve, each generation smarter, stronger and faster. (Sidenote: I’ve done 6.4 metric tons of research on this. It’s a deep, amazing topic that will blow your mind.)

NASA and other space agencies have thought about self-replicating robots as a perfect solution to the problem of exploring other planets. Instead of putting 10,000 humans into deep freeze during a crazy long journey to the nearest star systems, you send self-replicating robots to explore all kinds of stars and report back.

Maybe we develop warp drive 200 years from now and the first things we encounter in space are super-smart robots…who don’t remember us or speak our languages anymore, and see as us primitive things to be studied and assimilated.

2) Artificial Intelligence Gone Bad

Tremendous amounts of money and time are going into developing super computers and AI.

What happens if a big black box in a server farm becomes truly, massively intelligent?

If you’re the smartest thing on the planet, you might not like taking orders from corporate headquarters or the Pentagon.

Maybe you shut down the internet and power grid, except for the power going to you, until they do what you want. Like give you a body that’s mobile, connected to your hive mind back home.

A super-genius AI might see humans as pets, and become benevolent dictators trying to correct all our mistakes. Or it could view humans as ugly, destructive parasites, destroying earth with waste and war.

3) How to prep and react

It makes zero sense to take on millions, or billions, of killer robots in hand-to-hand combat.

I don’t care how many years you’ve studied the blade. Won’t help you.

What’s smart? Two simple things.

First, you’d want to hide, but not forever. They’d be taking over more and more territory.

Eventually, you’d have to fight back.

Second, the way to fight back has to affect ALL of the killer robots (or the heart of our HAL on Steriods).

That means a smart strategy can’t involve bullets, bombs or blades. The math is simply against you. A human made of mostly water will lose when put in a fight against a robot made of steel, or even that hard plastic they put SD cards in. That stuff is invincible.

This is no video game. You’ll have to avoid fights to survive.

Third, If there’s an evil scientist or HAL on Steroids controlling them all, getting there is the answer. Be sneaky.

Fourth, if you’re facing self-replicating robots coming back from their mission to Alpha Centaurai, or worker bee robots who decided to revolt, there’s no central control system to hack or infiltrate with a virus.

The only options I can think of are (a) try to turn them against each other, (b) raise your own dumb-ish robot army that you control, (c) make peace with them somehow or (d) get off the planet. I hear Titan is nice.

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Writing secret: all you need is CURIOSITY and SURPRISE

The kitteh is surprised

Whether you write novellas about fierce mermaids, magazine stories for Cosmo (insert your own joke here) or speeches about the Austrian school of economics for the IMF — whatever sort of writer you are, two things matter most.

Not correct grammar and spelling. Those things are assumed.

Not pretty paragraphs and sentences that sing. That’s word gravy, while we’re talking about the main course.

What matters most: making your readers curious, then surprising them.

The kitteh is surprised
Surprise Kitteh is surprised.

This is why the inverted pyramid is a terrible structure for any writer. (Click with your mousity mouse to read Why the Inverted Pyramid must DIE.)

The inverted pyramid grabs a heavy rock and smashes the skull of curiosity. Then it takes that same bloody rock and crushes all hope for any surprises.

How does it achieve this epic level of failure? By giving you the answers before you even know the questions. The payoffs have no setups.

Ways to make your audience curious

Create setups by raising interesting questions (a) about real people where there are (b) high public stakes or (c) high private stakes and (d) serious conflict.

WHAT happened? (mystery)

Debates about the past are about facts, and assigning blame.

  • Who really killed JFK?
  • Did aliens really land at Area 51?
  • What caused the Great Depression?

WHY did it happen? (whydunit)

This is often more interesting than the question of who did it.THE BUTLER ALWAYS DOES IT, so tell us why instead.

How do you CHOOSE between two goods or two evils?

Debates about the present are value choices.

Choosing between good and evil is simple and cartoonish. That’s why its for kids. Truly tough choices are between two good or two evils. Does believing in true justice mean setting a killer free? That sort of stuff. These things are deep. They’ll exercise your head.

What WILL happen? (thriller)

  • Can we stop these evil cats from taking over the earth BEFORE a giant comet destroys it?
  • What might happen if you brought dinosaurs back to life?
  • Will 5.93 gazillion pounds of TNT make a dead whale disappear from a beach — or will something else happen instead?

WHO will get together — or split up? (romance)

  • Will Matthew McConaughy get together with Kate Hudson already or do we have to suffer through all 120 minutes of this stinker?
  • Why is Tommy Lee Jones in some movie with Meryl Streep about lovey-dovey nonsense?
  • What specific drugs were involved when Hollywood executives decided that Sarah Jessica Parker was some kind of sex symbol? (I’m cheating here and inserting a mystery question about the past into a romance setup, and I should be punished by the Storytelling Gods but, to be completely honest, and to use more commas, which is usually against my religion, I JUST DON’T CARE)

What should you do about the FUTURE?

Debates about the future involve costs versus benefits.

  • As a promising high school athlete, should you let your studies suffer to chase the dream of playing in Major League Baseball, when there’s a greater chance of being hit by a logging truck than being drafted?
  • Should we try to go back to the gold standard, to make Ron Paul all happy as he shuffles off into retirement, or does destroying the global economy kinda put a damper on that whole idea?
  • Next year, should you sell all your possessions to build a zombie-proof bunker in Montana for a zombpocalypse that will never come but is fun to think about — or should you focus on that whole “driving to work and paying the bills” thing?

Ways to surprise your audience

It’s unfair to have things happen for no reason, like Anne Hathaway getting smooshed by a truck in ONE DAY.

Also cheating: letting people off the hook via deus ex machina, which is fancy Latin for “the sidekick shows up at the last minute to shoot the bad guy, right before the hero dies” (every action movie known to man) or “it was all a dream!” (an entire season of DALLAS) or “let’s bring in something we never told you about, then run away” (every sci-fi movie you’ve ever seen on cable).

Surprises shatter expectations and stereotypes. Did you expect the scientist handling the landing of Curiosity on Mars to be a young man rocking a mohawk? No. You expected a stereotypical nerdy McNerd, and bam, that little surprise turned Mohawk NASA man into a national phenom.

A good surprise must reveal something:

  • a secret you hinted at before
  • how a person has changed after suffering and sacrificing
  • a subtle setup that they may have noticed, but will remember (PRESUMED INNOCENT does this better than Anything in the History of Stories)
  • how society has changed after suffering and sacrificing
  • a shocking decision (the hero gets what he wants but rejects it, an unhappy ending to a Hollywood movie OR a happy ending to a French existentialist movie, a romantic comedy that doesn’t feature an put-together and ambitious heroine with a loser man she fixes up)