I've always thought about the nexus of the ever more sophisticated robotics field and the dabbling of the military establishment in such technologies
as a hotbed for emerging industry. Right now these things are developed in laboratories and colleges. In the future, however, it will trickle into
industry in general in all likelihood. Once that happens, more vigorous bidding wars and contract competition will happen, and that competition will
eventually lead to something either bipedal or quadrupedal being effective and advanced enough for the military to actually purchase and deploy it,
like we do today with unmanned drones.
If we already have proprietary unmanned drones capable of carrying out precision air strikes, I have little doubt that at some point in the next 100
years, we will have animal-like robot infiltrators that can actually function effectively as infantry, and can communicate at the speed of light
bottlenecked only by their processing power. It seems virtually inevitable to me.
Once that's the case though, then there's the other component necessary for a true rise of machine intelligence: the advancement of truly cognitive AI
consciousness. We have a lot of theories as to how that might be implemented, from hardware neural nets, to software emulation of intelligence. But I
strongly suspect we aren't likely to truly achieve this until we have a cognitive hierarchy similar to that of the human mind. By that I mean, an
executive processor of stimuli and decision making capable of communicating, managing, and delegating functions to, other "organs" of the mind such
as memory creation and recall, creativity, symbolic interpretation and recognition, language, mathematics, and especially a "subconscious" that
renders all of the above as a compressed "background" and "abstract" version of the information contained within the larger cognitive system. That way
it can also have, in theory, intuition (or some semblance thereof) and something logically - if not subjectively - similar to what we think of as
emotion and reason.
As you can imagine, that seems like a much, much more daunting task than creating organically inspired and functional remote controlled robots that
function in a networked fashion on the battlefield. I suspect at first this kind of machine intelligence will be nascent, and not amount to much more
than, "differentiate between friend and foe, target foe, engage and destroy foe," and, "coordinate position and formation with fellow units." I.e. it
won't actually be able to "think" about what it's doing or "comprehend" it, but will have programming enabling it to perform the functions we need it
to. When machines can not only do these tasks, but understand and think about and improvise
them, then we will be at another level. But even
then, arguably, what they're able to think about will be limited to those behaviors.
We have to create a fully realized, freethinking, self-aware consciousness in software, that is aware of and fully in control of the hardware it
operates on, before we'll be at the stage where we really need to worry about losing control of our creations. But I see that as somewhat inevitable
too, and I actually believe it's possible we may achieve this by total accident. Possibly even by making some of the assumptions I do above, that
consciousness cannot emerge as long as we don't design systems to "think" beyond a limited range of options available to them. Emergent behavior is
something that can happen unpredictably and dynamically. If we make machines and AI complex and granular enough in the future, is it an inevitability?
But while I believe the machine portion of this inevitability, and possibly even the intelligent aspect of it, could be within the next 100 years, I
would give us perhaps as long as 500 years before we actually achieve true artificial consciousness (not just intelligence.) It seems like a much more
difficult problem, and one that may have to happen emergently and unintentionally before it can truly be the threat we imagine it to be. We also have
to consider the way technological advancement while, perhaps in terms of the mean progression, is somewhat exponential, there are facets
technology that have been stunted and stifled for various reasons over the course of that progression. For example, when a technology seems promising,
but another bidder finds a way to do something similar but different for a lower cost. Or when the military has its heart set on a certain kind of
force multiplier or capability, and cuts funding to another promising tech because they simply don't need or want it at that time.
So I think it could be a while, but I certainly think - if we continue to advance indefinitely, and assuming it's possible, which I believe it is - it
will become inevitable beyond a certain point in my opinion.
edit on 11/26/2012 by AceWombat04 because: (no reason given)