How close to terminator Cylons are we?

Bruce Simmons wrote an interesting blog article for ScreenRant called The Technology Of Science Fiction Is Here Now. He asks if it’s possible for us to develop the technology to create a SkyNet and terminators — or, as any BSG fan knows, Cylons.

Self-aware machines have been threatening mankiind through our fiction in many guises for decades. As a computer programmer I have often scoffed at the idea of machines becoming so self-aware that they would want to compete with us for resources and control. When I was a young man in technical school I laughed at the idea of computers becoming intelligent enough to take over the world. How would they do their own punch cards, I asked?

I am so arrogant on some days.

The idea that we might integrate computer technology with the human brain was a concept I never warmed to. It just seemed crazy to me that people would stick electrical wires into their brains and expect the chemistry to meld with the technology. You’d be more likely to fry your way back to the 60s than to join with a global network.

Hm. Well, it seems that recent research has been working on bypassing our usual biofeedback connection to machines in order to help people plug directly into their prosthetic limb replacements. That is, we are connecting devices to human nerve systems and teaching people to manipulate the devices.

That’s pretty close to plugging in to the cyber network, but there are still many huge steps that would have to be taken to protect the human brain. For one thing, static electrical charges can blank a computer’s CPU. I’ve often watched the pretty colors fly across computer screens when I’ve touched them after walking across a carpet.

Do you really want to plug your head into that environment? The retro-60s won’t be all that good to you, man.

Sure, medical science will seek to develop technologies to protect our brains from static charges and sudden power losses, but we have a lot yet to learn about the human brain before we go plugging in to the Internet. In fact, I don’t think the Internet is a very safe thing to plug into even with dumb computers.

Let’s suppose, however, that we connect our brains to personal agents that stand between us and the Internet? An agent (or call it an avatar) might stand between us and disaster just long enough for us to unplug and protect ourselves from malware and other vicious attacks. Maybe.

But the push to develop independent machines that can think for themselves and do for us is really the question that “mainstream” science fiction wrangles with. We watched “Johnny Mnemonic” and decided that maybe it was a little too corny for real science fiction afficionados. We have had more fun with Cylons and Terminators.

The idea that we can create an army of tank-heads to do our killing for us is not so far-fetched as the idea that we might become Iron Men. We’re already using remote-controlled aircraft and other vehicles to do our killing and certain combat tasks for us.

Can a killing machine go rogue, and if so can it develop its own agenda? It would not be in their best interests to destroy us until we give up the ability to design and build them.

So that’s the last advantage we’ll have over our creations. As long as they need us, they won’t have any incentive to destroy us.


SF-Fandom is a fan-run moderated Web discussion community devoted to science fiction, fantasy, history, and mythology. Founded in 2001, SF-Fandom is part of the Xenite.Org Network of science fiction and fantasy Web sites.

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