It seems like every week, there is a trending story about some new leap forward in robotic technology. It’s often a cool new prosthesis, or perhaps a unique military drone. This week, it was the Marine Corps’ new GuardBot, which is basically a rolling sphere with cameras. It can travel 3 mph in the water, and 6 mph on land, where it can tread over a wide variety of terrains.
When it’s ready to be deployed, it’ll be able to use sonar, detect radiation, and sense bomb-making materials. Supposedly, this will give the Marines a significant advantage during any amphibious invasion (though they haven’t taken a single beachhead since World War Two, but that’s a story for another day).
However, given the rapid advance of robotic technology, drones like the GuardBot may look quaint in the next few years. We’re on the cusp of a new age of warfare that will be unlike anything we’ve seen before. In the future, the superpowers of the world will fight their wars with autonomous robots and, unfortunately, most people are completely unaware of what this might mean for their children’s generation.
Not too long ago defenseone.com wrote about this very subject, and I must say, they hit the nail on the head. They pointed out that, historically speaking, we’re living in the age of the gun. Before firearms made their debut on the battlefield, war was dominated by noblemen on horseback. Elites held the vast majority of financial and military power, and the lower classes didn’t stand a chance of influencing their controllers.
That all changed with the advent of the firearm. It no longer mattered if you spent every day of your life training for combat, and it didn’t matter if you rode into battle on a horse, decked out in the finest armor money could buy. One peasant with a few weeks of training and smoothbore firearm could put you in your place.
The Age of the Gun is the age of People Power. The fact that guns don’t take that long to master means that most people can learn to be decent gunmen in their spare time. That’s probably why the gun is regarded as the ultimate guarantor of personal liberty in America—in the event that we need to overthrow a tyrannical government, we like to think that we can put down our laptops, pick up our guns, and become an invincible swarm.
From that point on, the power players couldn’t do anything without at least the tacit consent of the population. Even if they tried to create a totalitarian state, they still needed the people to voluntarily submit to their oppression. The people needed convincing in one form or another, or else they’d surely take to the streets with muskets and guillotines, and do what had to be done.
But the age of robots has the potential to drag us back to the Middle Ages. If the elites can build armies of autonomous killing machines, they no longer need the consent of the people, and they no longer need to worry about the police and the military aligning with the masses, and rising up against them.
The day that robot armies become more cost-effective than human infantry is the day when People Power becomes obsolete. With robot armies, the few will be able to do whatever they want to the many. And unlike the tyrannies of Stalin and Mao, robot-enforced tyranny will be robust to shifts in popular opinion. The rabble may think whatever they please, but the Robot Lords will have the guns.
The article correctly points out that governments which fund themselves with resources rather than labor, like Saudi Arabia and Russia, are notoriously corrupt and tyrannical. Their elites don’t really need their population as much as other countries, and they act accordingly. It’s safe to assume that a government with a horde of cheap, expendable killing machines will be even more ruthless towards the people, and may not have any qualms about outright exterminating them.
When we think of the “rise of the robots,” we usually think of Skynet and Agent Smith–the evil of artificial intelligence. But that’s not who we should be worrying about.
A.I.’s–if they ever exist–may or may not have any reason to dominate, marginalize, or slaughter humanity. But we know that humans often like to do those things. Humans already exist, and we know many of them are evil. It’s the Robot Lords we should be afraid of, not Skynet.
So where does this leave the rest of us?
It leaves us in the (possibly literal) ash bin of history. That is, unless we act now. Not to stop these advances in technology (that cat is already out of the bag), but to ensure that the elites don’t outlaw them for us. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how terrified the government is in regards to hobby drones. It won’t be long now before they begin to pass legislation to ban these machines for the average consumer.
And that will be just the beginning. It’s not a stretch of logic to assume that as this technology becomes more advanced, the elites will continue to outlaw these high-tech gadgets for the public. They want the autonomous killing machines all to themselves, for the reasons listed above.
Which brings me to the Second Amendment. Every constitutional scholar worth his salt, knows that the right to bear arms isn’t about hunting and self-defense, or even fighting off a foreign invasion. At its heart, the Second Amendment is the final check on government power. When all else fails, we know that we have the means to fight domestic tyranny, should it come to pass.
But, unfortunately, this right has yet to be applied to drones. While there are millions of Americans who are willing to stand up to the government’s usurpation of our gun rights, very few people recognize the threats posed by drones in government hands. The technology is so new, that no one realizes the potential it has to enslave us. Thus, there is no “NRA” for drones.
Which is a shame, because if these machines are ever restricted to government use, it sets a very dangerous precedent. If they aren’t recognized as a tool that could be used to compete with government power, then someday the elites will be the only party on the global stage that will be equipped with drones. And once those drones are capable of autonomy, look out, because the world will turn into despotic nightmare unlike anything we’ve seen before.
We can carry this dystopian thought exercise through to its ultimate conclusion. Imagine a world where gated communities have become self-contained cantonments, inside of which live the beautiful, rich, Robot Lords, served by cheap robot employees, guarded by cheap robot armies. Outside the gates, a teeming, ragged mass of lumpen humanity teeters on the edge of starvation. They can’t farm the land or mine for minerals, because the invincible robot swarms guard all the farms and mines. Their only hope is to catch the attention of the Robot Lords inside the cantonments, either by having enough rare talent to be admitted as a Robot Lord, or by becoming a novelty slave for a little while.
This sounds like nothing more than a fun science fiction story, but why shouldn’t this happen? Human civilization was somewhat like this for most of our history—aristocrats feasting in their manor houses, half-starved peasants toiling in the fields. What liberated us? It might have been the printing press, or capitalism, or the sailing ship. But it might have been the gun. And if it was the gun that liberated us, then we should be very worried. Because when the Age of the Gun ends, the age of freedom and dignity and equality that much of humanity now enjoys may turn out to have been a bizarre, temporary aberration.
Joshua Krause is a reporter, writer and researcher at The Daily Sheeple, where this first appeared. He was born and raised in the Bay Area and is a freelance writer and author. You can follow Joshua’s reports at Facebook or on his personal Twitter. Joshua’s website is Strange Danger.