Our Robot Overlords

Robots, will they overthrow the world? It’s a common portrayal by the makers of science fiction. But is the future, one of robots travelling through time to change the course of humanity? Well we can’t say for sure that it isn’t, but then, we also can’t say there’s no chance of puppets being inhabited by evil spirits with a hunger for human blood – it is however, very unlikely.

Chris Malcolm (lecturer on AI at Edinburgh University writes ‘Like all the best conjuring tricks, the argument depends on distracting you with astonishing facts while some assumptions sneak past’ (Malcolm, 2001). He points out that the problem with the science fiction view are twofold, for one it anthropomorphises robots, it assumes that they have feelings – some say of contempt, of greed or pity. Ultimately though, if there is one thing that we know about robot’s, it’s that they just don’t care. It may seem sometimes like your PC is out to get you when it crashes just before you can click save, but it has no malice.  According to Malcolm: ‘Intelligence is no more enough to make a real creature than is fur and beady eyes.’ – well put.

The second major problem with the idea of robots taking over is that we are so far from inventing artificial intelligence that it’s embarrassing, our most ‘intelligent’ machines can’t handle doors let alone plot our demise, and although computing power is growing fast, there is absolutely no connection between computing power and to the ability of a computer to think. I  love the idea that AI could lead the way to robots taking over, I wish I could see the future in this way, but since when did intelligence rule anyway?


Robots are already in the home, many people have robot vacuum cleaners or lawn mowers. In Japan, the Wakamaru robot (above) is in the homes of the elderly reminding them to eat and take their medication.

With any new technology there are pros and cons, and Luddites are quick to point out the risks but all in all, robots are very logical and predictable. With a world populated by 7 billion autonomous, mobile, decision making, ‘intelligent’ beings that don’t have the same logic or predictability the worry about the former getting out of hand seems misplaced.

Written by TreeThinker

Passionate about the Earth and those who inhabit it. An engineer (BEng (Hons), MSEE) from Oxfordshire, UK, specialising in designing for a sustainable future. A member of the Society of Environmental Engineers and a keen environmental advocate who volunteers for several grass roots sustainability groups. I work full time as a project manager for a renewable energy company based in Oxford and also run ‘TreeThinker’ (www.treethinker.org); converting previous pasture land into a rich permaculture farm growing produce for sale locally. I deliver workshops on sustainable living, including building renewable energy technologies, as well as workshops for schools discussing 'Energy as a resource' amongst other topics. I am qualified in ‘Information, advice and guidance’ (level 4) and experienced at teaching practical skills. I'm also a keen cyclist and have a love of wordplay - writing a blog on etymology (www.etymologyotd.com).

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