What Could Go Wrong?

(Image courtesy of Festo.)

(Image courtesy of Festo.)

A German company is building an army of robot ants:

Festo has created a fleet of bionic ants capable of working together, as well as function on their own, in order to complete tasks, just as their real-life counterparts do, according to Business Insider. The objectives for these ants will focus on automating factories.

These tiny machines, developed under the company’s Bionic Learning Network, were born through the process of biomimicry, which combines nature and robotics to create machines.

Festo said back in March that the insects are built with 3D-printed plastic powder melted by a laser, as well as 3D printed circuitry. Their legs are ceramic and their pincers are flexible actuators that can move quickly without using much energy.

Other features include a stereo camera and floor sensor that work together to help the ant figure out its location and identify objects that it needs to grab. The robot also comes with an antennae that charges its lithium batteries.

The ants are tasked with objectives such as transporting large, heavy loads that they wouldn’t be able to lift on their own.

SkyNet fears aside, what becomes of the human race when our every whim is catered to by robots? Arthur C. Clarke (see Childhood’s End) predicted that effortless wealth would lead to a global blossoming of peace and artistic pursuits — but in that story the mysterious Overlord aliens were around to keep a lid on our baser drives.

I should note that poverty isn’t what usually drives people to violence on a mass scale;  ideologically driven desire for power does. Would effortless wealth cure that desire? I don’t know, but decades of experiments with “spreadin’ the wealth around a little” aren’t encouraging. It may well be that for most people (including yours truly), the biggest benefit of working for a living is keeping them out of trouble.

Or suppose Clarke did have it right. Japan and Europe have had it pretty easy since the end of WWII, with the U.S. military playing the role of the Overlords, but those results aren’t encouraging, either. In Clarke’s book, the Overlords brought peace, prosperity, and artistic freedom — but they also portended the end of humanity. Humanity quickly evolved into a non-corporeal collective which eventually consumed the Earth to provide energy to join the intergalactic Overmind. It’s the Progressive idea of Heaven, I suppose, and it’s rather sad. In Europe and Japan the outcome is proving much the same, if less dramatic. Those societies are breeding themselves out of existence, or rather choosing not to breed themselves into continued existence. In the Great Northern Swathe from Spain in the West, through Europe, the Steppes and Siberia, all the way to Japan, entire peoples are evolving into nothingness. And it isn’t just about reproduction; in Japan, young people can’t even bother themselves to get laid anymore.

Do we lose the will to live when we lose the thrills of living?

There was a scientific vogue in the 1970s and early ’80s, back when sharp minds like Carl Sagan were scaring us with warnings of nuclear winter and all the rest. The thinking was that there was a danger period for all intelligent species on any planet, a time when they would master the technologies of mass destruction before they would evolve past the need for fighting wars. We were told we were in that period, with the Western and Soviet blocs bristling with nuclear missiles and always on the brink of war. The solution of course was a more “scientific” society in which people would conform to the views of progressive scientists.

(Also see The Shape of Things to Come by H.G. Wells, where the Earth is saved from endless war and poverty by a benevolent dictatorship of Flying Science Commies. The movie version starring Raymond Massey and scripted by Wells himself is an unintentional hoot. I’d also add that not all scientists or sci-fi writers are Progressives like Wells, Clarke, Sagan, etc. — far, far from it. Progressives, due to their rancid ideology, tend to be the loudest shouters in any field.)

This Progressive thinking goes back to Plato and his Republic: Centralize the economy, abolish religion, raise children by the state, mold Perfect People. That’s more or less what Europe has attempted in the postwar period, but instead of molding Perfect People they’re running out of people to mold, period.

The irony is this. Progressives believe that religion is a danger to humanity’s continued existence, and in need of tempering (at the very least) by the State. But if religion really is contra-survival, then why do religious societies tend to thrive while officially atheistic ones do not? This isn’t an endorsement of any particular god or religion, but it is a perfectly valid observation about human nature.

As an intelligent species, without the hope provided by spirituality and the excitement provided by struggle, maybe we’re just no damn good.

Some, including many Progressive scientists, find that hope by listening to the stars for evidence that something, somewhere is Out There. So far, and much to my own chagrin, they listen in vain. Here on Earth, the future of intelligent life appears to be more and more robots tending to fewer and fewer human beings. I’m a big fan of leisure, but not so much a fan of what David Goldman calls “genosuicide.”

The question in my mind is whether an intelligent species can have the former without the latter. Maybe the reason we haven’t detected any alien societies is that they died of boredom before they could reach the stars.