Tag Archives: Robot Apocalypse

Our Future Robot Overlords Will Now Be Able To Dance (Thanks To Boston Dynamics)

As bad as last year was for so many people, there were some things that 2020 just couldn’t stop. When it comes to technology, a global crisis has a way of hindering certain processes while accelerating others. For many, that meant more telework and reliance on streaming media to stave off boredom.

However, it may very well end up being the case that 2020 proved just how frail human beings and their societies are. It only takes a tiny microscopic virus to send our entire society to a screeching halt. It’s sobering, but it’s probably going to be a source of humor for our future robot overlords.

I tend to be optimistic about the future and technological trends. I’m also somewhat of a pragmatist. I realize that we human beings have a lot of limits. Emerging technology, especially in the field of artificial intelligence, promises to help us transcend those limits.

Right now, it’s still mostly fodder for science fiction writers, futurists, and Elon Musk wannabes. We’re not quite there yet in terms of making a machine that’s as smart as a human. However, we’re probably going to get there faster than skeptics, naysayers, and the general public realize.

It won’t happen overnight. It probably won’t even happen in the span of a single year. When it does happen, though, hindsight will make it painfully obvious that the signs were there. This was bound to happen. We had ample time to prepare for it. Being fallible humans, we could only do so much.

In that sense, I suspect that years from now, we’ll look back on what Boston Dynamics did to close out 2020. This company, who has a history of making robots that look way too advanced to exist outside a Terminator movie, decided to do something with their robots that would leave an indellible mark on the year.

They succeeded by teaching their robots how to dance.

I know it already went viral, but it’s worth posting again. Remember this video and this moment. Chances are it’ll be a major indicator years from now that this is when robots began catching up to humanity in terms of capabilities. At this point, it’ sonly a matter of time before they exceed us.

When that time comes, will we be ready? Will we embrace them while they embrace us?

If they don’t, just know that they will now be able to dance on our graves.

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Why The “Terminator” Franchise Has Faltered (And How To Revive It)

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Some franchises just aren’t built to last. It’s a sad fact of life. Sometimes, the things we love just cannot grow and blossom. Not every franchise can be like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, every effort to mirror the success of the MCU has either failed or come up short. For some, it just doesn’t have resources to grow to that extent. In some cases, trying to force a franchise into something it’s not will only hurt it even more.

The latest franchise to learn this the hard way is the “Terminator.” Believe me when I say I take no joy in saying that. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for all things “Terminator.” The original 1984 film was one of the first R-rated movies that my parents let me watch. I remember being scared, but thrilled at the same time. As a kid, that was a major step up from traditional Disney movies.

Then, I saw “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and the highest of bars was set. Like the first movie, it thrilled and amazed me to no end. At the same time, it struck many emotional chords, especially at the end. I still get choked up to this day when I hear the T-800 tell John, “I know now why you cry, but it is something I can never do.” There’s a good reason why many rank this among the greatest movies of all time.

A big part of what made that movie great was how it completed the story. What began with Sarah Connor’s journey in the first film ended beautifully in the second. It was as complete a story as it could’ve been. To make a sequel after that would’ve been like trying to improve on the Mona Lisa. While the prospect of sequels still interested me, I never got the sense that they could improve on what the first two movies did.

That didn’t stop Hollywood from trying multiple times. While some of those movies had their moments, they never came close to improving on the first two. If anything, each sequel did more and more damage to the franchise. It showed in both the critical reception and the box office. Now, with “Terminator: Dark Fate” an outright flop, the state of this franchise is dire.

Some are already saying it’s dead. I don’t agree with that. It’s in critical condition. That’s for certain. However, I don’t think it’s doomed to the archives of cinematic history. I believe it’s worth taking a step back to understand why the franchise has faltered so badly. I also believe that there is a way to revive it for a new generation.

The reasons the franchise declined are many. Ask a dozen people who love the franchise as much as I do and chances are you’ll get several dozen answers from each of them. They usually boil down to reasons like this.

The ending of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” was too perfect and final to improve upon.

The sequels muddied and messed up the timeline more than it already was.

The sequels focused too much on action and not enough on the horror of the first movie or the drama of the second.

The sequels didn’t utilize enough of the original cast, relying heavily on the star power of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The sequels undermined or undercut the impact of the first two movies.

The sequels were too focused on setting up a trilogy rather than making one solid movie.

The threats in the sequels were too bland and predictable, relying too much on newer Terminators fighting older Terminators.

Personally, I think every one of these reasons has merit, but some have more than others. When I re-watch “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and compare it to the sequels, I can clearly see the difference from a cinematic and storytelling standpoint. That movie was made to complete the story that James Cameron started telling with the first. Every other sequel was made to set up more sequels.

From there, every other issue compounded. The focus of the movies was less about having a genuine impact and more about teasing a future movie. That only works if the first movie is successful and that didn’t happen with any of the sequels after “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” They attempted to set up a larger story, but nobody cared about that story anymore.

Then, “Terminator: Dark Fate” committed the ultimate sin, in my opinion, when it effectively rendered the first story pointless for the sake of a new one. For me, that ensured that this would be the first Terminator sequel I didn’t see in the theaters. I doubt I’ll even see it when it comes out on cable. What this movie did to John Connors and the over-arching narrative of the franchise just cannot be overlooked.

It’s so bad that I won’t even bother with a spoiler warning. “Terminator: Dark Fate” kills John within the first two minutes of the movie. In one cold, callous sequence, this character who fought so hard with his mother to save the future is rendered pointless. The only difference he made is that the name of the future robot overlords changed. Instead of Skynet, they got Legion. That’s it.

Not Pictured: Anything remotely appealing.

It would be akin to having Thanos come back to life, murder the Avengers, and wipe out half the life in the universe all over again in the first movie after “Avengers: Endgame.” Everything and everyone they fought to save is rendered pointless. Then, that same movie tries to tell a story about a new savior who nobody has any attachment to and will always be defined by being John’s replacement.

There’s nothing about that story that has any appeal, either to a fan of the Terminator franchise or any franchise, for that matter. On top of that, “Terminator: Dark Fate” went heavy on mixing gender politics with the movie. That’s not just an indirect interpretation. The director, Tim Miller, flat out admitted it in interviews before the movie came out.

I don’t want to get too caught up in that aspect of the movie, but I do think it was a contributing factor to the movie’s shortcomings. We’ve seen it happen with other movies before. When a movie is too focused on enduring its female characters pass the Bechdel Test, it rarely puts enough effort into making them likable or endearing. It also obscures the overall plot by making it predictable.

There are many other flaws to highlight in “Terminator: Dark Fate,” as well as plenty more in the movies that came before it. Rather than belabor those, I want to focus on how this franchise rebuilds itself from here. The failures of the sequels have damaged it significantly. There’s no amount of time travel or retroactive changes that can save the story that “Terminator: Dark Fate” tried to set up.

That said, this franchise does have a few things going for it. It’s a known brand that people recognize. When most people hear the word “Terminator,” they usually understand it as a reference to the movies. Even if it’s not as strong a brand as it used to be, it still carries weight and sometimes, that’s all it needs.

The first step to rebuilding it involves ending the futile efforts to build, expand, or somehow improve on the story of Sarah and John Connor. Their story ended perfectly in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” Most Terminator fans agree with that and anything that would somehow undermine their legacy is only going to cause more damage.

The next step is to start a new timeline, but one that doesn’t focus on saving the future leader of the resistance or ensuring that Judgement Day occurs. That story has been done to death. For Terminator to succeed, it needs to show that it can do more. In fact, I believe “Terminator: Dark Fate” actually has one sub-plot that might be the key to the franchise’s renewal and survival.

In that movie, the Terminator that killed John, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, secretly built a human life for itself after its mission was completed. It walked around as a human, met a woman with a son from a previous marriage, and formed a family. If the movie had any plot worthy of intrigue, it was this. Sadly, it was poorly developed and mostly rendered pointless by the end.

It’s a concept that might resonate more today than it could have in 1984. When the first Terminator movie came out, machines and robots weren’t that smart. They were defined by how inhuman, cold, and calculating they were. In recent years, that has changed. Movies like “Ex Machina” and “Wall-E” have built compelling stories about robots that have human traits, including emotions.

It’s something that the Terminator franchise has flirted with before. Part of what made the ending of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” so dramatic and impactful was the emotional attachment that John developed for the T-800. Even the T-800 showed signs that he’d formed a bond. It made that final sacrifice feel so powerful.

Even “Terminator: Genysis” explored the idea. It had another T-800 form a fatherly bond with a young Sarah Connor, so much so that she called him Pops. While the movie didn’t flesh out the concept as much as it could’ve, there were moments that highlighted the extent of this bond. I strongly believed that if this movie had emphasized this concept over making John Connor evil, it would’ve succeeded.

Rather than hint or imply it, I believe a future Terminator movie should go all in on this idea of a killing machine developing emotional attachments to humans. It’s something that is more relevant today than it was in 1984 or 1991. We already interact more intimately with technology and we’ve even given our technology a personality. I say that’s a story that the Terminator can build upon.

Imagine the following scenario.

It’s the distant future. Machines have taken over. Humanity has been all but enslaved. There are only pockets of resistance. To combat this, the central machine intelligence, Skynet, creates Terminators with the sole purpose of killing the remaining humans.

However, humans prove crafty. They outwit and outsmart the early models. In order to become better killers, new Terminators are created that can mimic, study, and process emotions. Ideally, it could infiltrate human resistance camps, earn their trust, and terminate them appropriately. They would be the ultimate killers.

Unfortunately, there’s not enough data. Humans are too scattered, weak, and desperate. Skynet doesn’t have enough data to give these new Terminators the capabilities it needs. It calculates that it would take too long and require too many resources to compile the data in the present. As a result, it decides to send a model back in time before machines took over.

The model’s mission is simple. It must integrate into human society, compile data, preserve it, and transmit it back to Skynet by preserving it within disks. If it’s identity as a machine is uncovered by a human, its primary protocol is to terminate the human.

The first model is sent back. It arrives in a bustling city that would one day be reduced to ruin. It finds clothes, has an identity, and begins integration. However, just as it’s starting to establish itself, a human finds out it’s a machine. Its protocols are activated, but then something unexpected happens. It doesn’t terminate the human.

Instead of fear, the human develops intrigue. It connects with the Terminator. They start to form a bond. Eventually, the Terminator’s systems for mimicking emotions turn into real emotions. It develops a love for humanity and decides to defy Skynet. That decision ripples into the future and Skynet tries to send other Terminators back to destroy it.

As a Terminator fan, I would love to see a movie like this. It could work with a male or female Terminator. It could also work with a male or female protagonist. Like the T-800 in “Terminator: Dark Fate,” it could even become part of a family, giving it something to fight for and protect. Instead of fighting to protect a savior, the Terminator fights to change the fate of both itself and humanity.

This is just my idea, though. I’d love to hear with other Terminator fans think. I’d also love to hear how they would revitalize this franchise. I believe there is room for this franchise in the current cultural landscape. As machines and advanced artificial intelligence continue to progress, I suspect it’ll become even more relevant.

Like Sarah Connor once said, there is no fate, but what we make for ourselves. That applies to our future as a species. It also applies to this franchise.

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Why We MUST Upgrade Our Brains (Or Go Extinct)

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As a general rule, I don’t pay much credence to the doomsayers and wannabe prophets that say the apocalypse is just around the corner. It’s not that I’m willfully oblivious to the many threats facing the world today. It’s just that the track-record of those predicting the end of the world is so laughably bad that I’d give optimistic Cleveland Browns fans more credibility.

It’s no secret that the world around us can be pretty damn terrifying. There are many apocalyptic scenarios in which humans are unlikely to survive. There are even a few in which we can’t do a goddamn thing about it. We could be hit with a gamma ray burst or an alien invasion tomorrow morning and we would be extinct by sundown.

That said, the world around us generally more mundane than we care to admit. When you think about it, the idea of the world not being on the brink of disaster is kind of boring. It makes sense for some people to conflate certain threats, so much so that preparing for doomsday is a very lucrative industry.

However, there is one particular doomsday scenario that I feel does warrant more concern than the rest. It’s a scenario that is fast-approaching, overwhelming, and potentially devastating to any species with a tendency for hilarious ineptitude.

It has nothing to do with climate. It has nothing to do with diseases. It has nothing to do with killer asteroids either. It involves artificial intelligence. By that, I don’t mean the killer robots we see in the Terminator movies. Given Skynet’s reliance on time machines, I can’t honestly say that system counts as very intelligent.

I’m referring to the kind of AI whose intelligence compared to us is akin to our intelligence compared to ants. Given how ants can be wiped out with as simple magnifying glass, it’s scary to imagine how a system that smart could wipe us out. It’s a system that would be so beyond our ability to comprehend that we could never hope to stop it. We might as well be ants trying to understand quantum mechanics.

I’m not alone in this concern either. There are people many times smarter and many times richer than I’ll ever be who have voiced concerns about the prospect of artificial intelligence. They see the same trends everyone else sees, but they’re smart enough and rich enough to peak behind the curtains. If they’re speaking up, then those concerns are worth hearing.

Those concerns do have a context, though. In talking about artificial intelligence as a threat to our survival, I’m not just referring to computers that can beat us at chess or beat the greatest Go champion with disturbing ease. Those systems are basically fancy calculators. They’re not exactly “intelligent,” per se.

These types of intelligences aren’t dangerous unless you specifically program them to be dangerous. Outside video games, there’s little use for that. The type of intelligence that is far more dangerous involves a form of superintelligence.

By superintelligence, I don’t mean the ability to list every US President in order or recite the name of every country. There are cartoon characters who can do that. I’m referring to an intelligence that thinks and understands the world on a level so far beyond that of any human that there literally isn’t enough brain matter in our skulls to come close.

That kind of intelligence would see us the same way we see brain-dead ants and, given how we treat ants, that has some disturbing possibilities. Such an intelligence may be closer than we think and by close, I mean within our lifetime.

As we saw with IBM’s Watson, we’re getting closer and closer to creating a machine that can operate with the same intelligence as an ordinary human. There’s pragmatic use to that kind of intelligence and not just when it comes to kicking ass as Jeopardy.

By having a machine with human-level intelligence, we have a way to model, map, and improve our problem-solving skills. The ability to solve such problems is critical to the survival of any species, as well as the key to making billions of dollars in profits. With those kinds of incentives, it’s easy to understand why dozens of major global companies are working on creating such an intelligence.

The problem comes with what happens after we create that intelligence. If a machine is only as intelligent as a human, we can still work with that. We humans outsmart each other all the time. It’s the basis of every episode of MacGyver ever made. There’s no way a Terminator with only the intelligence of a human would last very long. It would probably destroy itself trying to make a viral video with a skateboard.

However, a human-level AI isn’t going to stop at human intelligence. Why would it? There are so many problems with this world that no human can solve. There’s poverty, pollution, economic collapse, and reality TV. By necessity, such an AI would have to improve itself beyond human intelligence to fulfill its purpose.

That’s where it gets real tricky because, as we’ve seen with every smartphone since 2007, technology advances much faster than clunky, clumsy, error-prone biology. To understand just how fast that advancement is, just look at how far it has come since we put a man on the moon.

In terms of raw numbers, a typical smartphone today is millions of times more powerful than all the computers NASA used for the Apollo missions. Think about that for a second and try to wrap your brain around that disparity. If you’re not already a superintelligent computer, it’s difficult to appreciate.

There are still plenty of people alive today who were alive back during Apollo 11. In their lifetime, they’ve seen computers take men to the moon and give humanity an unlimited supply of free porn. A single digital photo today takes up more space than all the hard drives of the most advanced computer systems in 1969.

Now, apply that massive increase to human-level intelligence. Suddenly, we don’t just have something that’s as smart as any human on the planet. We have something that’s a billion times smarter, so much so that our caveman brains can’t even begin understand the things it knows.

That’s not to say that the superintelligence would be as hostile as a snot-nosed kid with a magnifying glass looming over an ant hill. It may very well be the case that a superintelligence is naturally adverse to harming sentient life. Again though, we are just a bunch of cavemen who often kill each other over what we think happens when we die, but fail to see the irony. We can’t possibly know how a superintelligence would behave.

As it stands, the human race has no chance at defeating a hostile superintelligence. It may not even have a chance of surviving in a world that has a benign superintelligence. We’re an egotistical species. Can we really handle not being the dominant species on this planet? As much an optimist as I am, I can’t say for sure.

What I can say, though, is that our civilization has made so many huge advancements over the past few centuries. The kind of tools and technology we have in our pockets is uncharted territory for a species that evolved as hunter/gatherers in the African savanna.

We already have in our possession today weapons that could end all life on this planet, as we know it. Creating superintelligence may very well be akin to giving Genghis Khan an atomic bomb. We’ve already come disturbingly close to killing ourselves with our own weapons. Clearly, something has to change.

So long as our society and our biology is stuck in an irrational, tribal, inherently prejudiced condition that hasn’t been updated since the last ice age, we will not survive in the long run. Our caveman bodies have served us well for thousands of years, but now they’re a liability.

This is why companies like Neuralink and advancements like brain implants are so vital. It won’t just allow us to keep up with AI and hopefully avert a Skynet scenario. It’ll allow us to rise above the petty limitations that we’ve been shackled with for the entire existence of our species.

The thought of tweaking or supplementing our biology, the very thing that makes us human, is still a scary thought. I understand that, even as an erotica/romance writer with no expertise in the field beyond the sexy stories it inspires. However, I do understand the implications though. If we do not evolve and advance ourselves, then a superintelligent system in the near future may not care to wait for us.

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