The printers. A paper jam can be annoying. But one day, they’re going to kill us all.
I’m talking about all machines, even the innocuous ones. The new Terminator is coming out this week. People think about that movie, and they laugh, or they get scared, thinking “this will happen one day” or “no way this is not the future.” I think there’s a third alternative: that our control over our tools is already starting to unfurl.
In our military, dumb robots designed to kill are killing. Unmanned aerial robots in the Middle East are claiming victories and lives, and robots with the same weaponry as foot soldiers—humans—on the ground are ready to do the same. One day, as in the movies, they won’t need us to pilot them. IO9, Gizmodo’s fellow site, will be looking deep into the world of killer robots in sci-fi and reality, this week. But none of us at Giz have been shot in the face by a terminator, to my knowledge. It’s amazing to think about, but this doesn’t really affect most of us in our suburbs and cities far away from the conflicts.
The war, however, is being waged on another secret front, all around us.
From where I’m standing, gadgets and tech almost never listen and cause plenty of havoc as they fail at inopportune times. The more we depend on them, the more power they have over us.
Last year, a man drove his car along a route planned by a GPS, into a lake, and almost drowned. In April, a jet engine sucks in a flock of geese and loses all power. Hard drives commit suicide with the entire record of your life on board. A mobile phone needed to call 911 drops that call. A man sets up his computer for a work presentation and his porn collection pops up on the screensaver, costing him his job. A driver gets rear ended by a man texting while approaching a stop light on a phone with no physical keyboard. Laptops scathe genitals or worse when their batteries explode. OK, people aren’t dying in here, but they still hurt us.
And that’s just how dumb devices—personal tech with no sentient ability, weak motors, and low bandwidth connections—harm our quality of life today. Mass injury is already on its way, as we increase dependence, gadgets increase capability, and Murphy’s Law takes over. We’re fools to think we can control them then, when most of the world can’t even get its personal operating systems to stop crashing. Or, those printers to stop jamming with paper. So, is it so hard to imagine a day when they crave human blood for ink and start noshing on us starting at the neck ties? I don’t think so.
Look around you. Our fight with machines, it has already begun.
Machines Behaving Deadly: A week exploring the sometimes difficult relationship between man and technology.