What is it about Killer Robot Overlords?

We were doing a presentation this week, at an angel investor meetup. The presentation on our security robot business model went well, although their format forced us to use only 5 minutes. So we spent hours paring down the words to fit into 300 seconds. A great exercise, and well worth the effort. Of course, after the lightning speed presentation, came the questions.

I enjoy the questions, I like the back and forth that occurs – it is more like a conversation than a lecture. But there is a moment I dread. It almost always comes up towards the end of the question period, and, perhaps, I am to blame. I do not come across as a formal speaker, I think that we communicate more effectively if we can communicate informally. I think that that mode encourages thought and engagement, and opens pathways for a more free-ranging conversation. Which, when talking about intelligent, autonomous robots, seems to lead, inevitably, to the question.

It takes many forms, depending on the speaker and their cultural refferents, but the thrust is always the same: What about Killer Robot Overlords? This night it was in the Terminator motif; “Jim, what if the robots ask ‘Where is Sarah Connor?’” If the speaker was older it might have been a direct Terminator reference, or perhaps “Klaatu barada nikto”

But, regardless of the exact form of the question, it always comes down to “What about Killer Robot Overlords?” It is kind of weird, I mean, we build robots – design their brains, I know just how smart they are. And they are a looong way from being as smart as a person. But, more importantly, why would they become killer robots? Of course, we, as people, are simply projecting our fears of technology and change onto the hardware. But where did it come from?

Robots have not been with us very long, but the idea of robots is very old.  It goes back beyond the word “robot” which came into use in the 1920’s. The first use of the word is generally ascribed to Karl Capec’s play “R. U. R. – Rossum’s Universal Robots” in which humanoid autonoma were used as workers, and eventually rebelled.  This was generally believed to be an extension of the Jewish Golem mythos – servants crafted out of clay and instilled with pseudo-life. The servant rebellion was a common theme, which, when brought to robots, leads to the robot rebellion, which seems to inevitably lead to killer robot overlords.  But even this model is a relative newcomer.

In the Greek mythos, Hephestus, the blacksmith to the gods, manufactured robotic carts that carried food and drink around the home.

WLMA robot in a home setting

WLMA robot in a home setting serving tea

Here is photo of one of our robots doing a job that has been around for perhaps 3000 years. In addition, Hephestus made robotic ‘golden maidens’ to work the parties as well.  No sense of Robottic Overlords in ancient Greece, these were reliable, helpful assistents, that help people (well the Gods at least) live better lives.

So, that is the concept that leads us to our vision:

Creating a world in which people live better lives assisted by affordable, reliable, helpful robots.

No killer robot overlords will come out of our shop.

Where is your robot? Ours are be made by Gamma Two Robotics


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  1. #1 by ari summerland on March 10, 2012 - 11:42 am

    Food for thought, and interesting as always, Jim! Honestly, if Gamma Two ever *did* go into business manufacturing “robot overlords”, I would not mind. If they were anything like their creators, we’d be a peacefully and enjoyably-ruled world!

  2. #2 by Linda Hughes on March 28, 2012 - 8:12 am

    I agree with Ari – the first thing the Gamma Two Overlords would do is offer an ice cold beer! Very interesting on the historical context. Leaves me with lots to consider when you mentioned that it stems from a fear of change. Also kind of a drag to know that every time you speak you will have to face that question.

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