, Volume 24, Issue 3, pp 339-354
Date: 13 Jul 2011

Martial Bliss: War and Peace in Popular Science Robotics

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Abstract

In considering how to best deploy robotic systems in public and private sectors, we must consider what individuals will expect from the robots with which they interact. Public awareness of robotics—as both military machines and domestic helpers—emerges out of a braided stream composed of science fiction and popular science. These two genres influence news media, government and corporate spending, and public expectations. In the Euro-American West, both science fiction and popular science are ambivalent about the military applications for robotics, and thus we can expect their readers to fear the dangers posed by advanced robotics while still eagerly anticipating the benefits to be accrued through them. The chief pop science authors in robotics and artificial intelligence have a decidedly apocalyptic bent and have thus been described as leaders in a social movement called "Apocalyptic AI." In one form or another, such authors look forward to a transcendent future in which machine life succeeds human life, thanks to the march of evolutionary progress. The apocalyptic promises of popular robotics presume that presently exponential growth in computing will continue indefinitely, producing a "Singularity." During the Singularity, technological progress will be so rapid that undreamt of changes will take place on earth, the most important of which will be the evolutionary succession of human beings by massively intelligent robots and the "uploading" of human consciousness into computer bodies. This supposedly inevitable transition into post-biological life looms across the entire scope of pop robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), and it is from beneath that shadow that all popular books engage the military and the ethics of warfare. Creating a just future will require that we transcend the apocalyptic discourse of pop science and establish an ethical approach to researching and deploying robots, one that emphasizes human rather than robot welfare; doing so will require the collaboration of social scientists, humanists, and scientists.