back to article AI prof: The robot terrorists are coming! Aiee!

Noted Brit media prof Noel Sharkey - perhaps most famous as a judge on TV's Robot Wars - has warned (again) of the coming danger to humanity posed by killer robots. But this time, rather than military deathdroids or homicidal mechanoid nurses (see below), Sharkey is flagging up the threat from killbots directed by sinister …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hmm Coincidence

    That the new Terminator series starts on Brit TV soon? I think not.

  2. Andy
    Black Helicopters

    Autonomous Death Bots

    Autonomous Chain Saws...

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Robotic army? No problem.

    All you have to do is get yourself a Swiss Army knife. Those things come with so many attachments that surely there is one out there with an EMP generator? Granted, you might need a large, reinforced pocket to carry it.

  4. Kane Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    @ Hmm Coincidence

    Last week actually. It's alright, nothing special. Friday night TV, don't need to think too much....

    Paris, cos you know, "she'll be back...."

  5. Ian

    I can see where he's coming from

    I'd argue he has a point. What happens if someone produces a tracked robot with a heavy machine gun on and sensors to target anything that moves much like the type the US used in Fallujah or that the Israelis make use of on their borders? What if they then drop it out the back of a van in the middle of say, New York and drive off? You could potentially create a killing spree that's damn hard to chase up - certainly much more problematic than a mad gunman.

    I'm not expecting robot armies to be a threat any time soon, AI just isn't advanced enough to deal with the intricacies of full blown war and wont be any time soon. Whilst we've seen big advances in application based AI such as the use of neural networks for problem solving in the last couple of decades we've not got anything that's really fit for applying to robotic intelligence. We've got the runbot that can run now but it begins to struggle if you give it particularly tough terrain (i.e. a warzone or a building) and even then it's quite a cumbersome piece of kit before you try and start sticking guns on it and the sensors and intelligence required to be able to hunt out targets intelligently and even make use of tactics and understand when to lie low and so forth.

    I think his point is that autonomous killing machines could indeed become a new terrorist tool, just not to the extent The Reg. has mentioned whereby humanity is wiped out by them or even particularly noticeable populations for that matter. I wouldn't expect robots to be able to even wipe out a fairly small village anytime in the next 20 years - well, not with conventional weaponry anyway ;)

  6. Spleen

    SPECTRE is coming, Brown needs more power

    Clearly this means that the National Identity Register must be extended to every single machine in Britain, down to your pocket calculator, in order that they can be monitored and prevented from becoming terrorists.

    Any rogue machines will quickly be shipped off to Guantanamo Bay for re-education. "No! No! Don't divide me by zero again! AAAARRRGGGHHHH!"

    And my train of thought inevitably comes around to "Why fear machines when humans are so much more terrifying?" AI boffins grapple with a lot of interesting theoretical problems about to what extent the human mind can be simulated by a machine. Try this one: could you build an artificial intelligence that could come up with the idea of forcing detainees to sit in their own shit with their arms outstretched for hours on end, hitting them when they fell asleep, and finishing off with some simulated execution by drowning? Probably, given good enough data on human biology and psychology. But could you build one that then when later queried "Do you torture humans", would return "False"? Doubt it. Given the choice between a war with the T-1000 and a war with Donald Rumsfeld, I'll take Arnie every time.

  7. Paul Williams


    Why would terrorists spend millions (if nt billions) on mechanized robo-killers when its far easier to fill a rucksack with some Miracle-Gro and send some poor schmuck onto a tube train?

  8. Jamie


    As the myth goes once the box has been opened you cannot close it.

    You cannot stop innovation because some Islamic nutcase, or Redneck wacko could then use the technology for a means to reach a darker end.

    Technology like guns have never killed, it is the person behind it that is responsible.

    Main reason for his statement is maybe he is looking for a new grant.

  9. Steve

    Robot armies

    As long as every country has robot armies it's a great thing. We can just schedule wars so that they take place outside cities and set up some cameras to broadcast it.

    Invading a country could be turned into the international league of Robot Wars. Definitely has the potential to make some cracking TV.

  10. Ferry Boat
    Black Helicopters

    The problem is pure robots

    Robot/human mixes are fine though cf. Robocop. He wouldn't zap a kiddie. I suggest we start by getting a metal dustbin, cutting holes for the legs and arms then plopping the good prof inside. I chose a picture of a six legged spider as a robot has pulled off two of it's legs. Robocop would not do that.

    Does anyone remember the bit in Robocop where they boot him up for the first time and you see though his screen? The first line of text was ''. Pure genius.

    To answer the question: - it's a loopy prof/lazy hack feedback loop.

  11. Louis Cowan


    why do we even bother with running machines? Surely hovering machines would have a much easier time

  12. Greg

    The headline

    Was the "Aiee!" in the headline a subtle reference to "Aiee! Robot!", the Sam and Max episode?

    Or am being a fanboy and reading too much into that?

  13. Karl Lattimer

    is he short of cash?

    looking for a research grant perhaps?

    filed under FUD

  14. DrStrangeLug

    Aussie Doodlebug ?

    Didn't some australian build a modern V1 flying a few years back(without a warhead) as a proof of concept for this kind of attack ? I seem to recall he wanted to demonstrate how easy and cheap this was and asked why nobody was preparing for this attack.

    ( I also recall that he asked the authorities before he built it "I'm not going to get into trouble for this am I?" and they said "No mate, as long as it doesn't have a warhead". Then when he built it they got their nickers into a twist and he got arrested.)

    I'd have to give it to the prof on Control, Damage and Agression but not on style.

  15. Damian Gabriel Moran


    but wasn't that pretty much the plot to Runaway with Tom Selleck?

    heat seeking bullets here we come!

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  17. The Other Steve

    Space Cadet

    As Lee Felsenstein once said :

    "Anyone who's been around artificial intelligence is likely to be a hopeless case, they're so far removed from reality that they cannot deal with the real world."

    Perhaps more apposite to our old chum Captain Cyborg, but still.

    And is it just me, or is the fact that all these warnings seem to come from people actively involved in AI or robotics research just a little bit fucked up ?

    I mean jeez guys, if you're so worried that robots with AI will rise up against us, maybe you should stop, y'know, BUILDING THE FECKING THINGS!

  18. bothwell

    @Paul Williams

    "its far easier to fill a rucksack with some Miracle-Gro and send some poor schmuck onto a tube train"

    Werd. The idea that your average maladjusted loon is going to spend at least £250 quid and many, many weeks of engineering to build an automated killbot when he can build a nailbomb in a day instead is just absurd.

    We see the sort of guys who build robots laden with weapons on RobotWars and as far as I can tell, they're generally all harmless, passionate types who like tinkering with things and occasionally a bit of metal-on-metal carnage at low levels. I can't really imagine any of them making a six-foot-tall murderbot with circular saws on hydraulic arms at neck-level and then setting it loose in a shopping centre, for eg. Your average terrorist, although perhaps having the desire for such a creation, isn't very likely to also be having the know-how or the patience to try it.

    Although having said that, it could be kinda cool. It could have laser eyes as well, and a menacing, mechanical voice to shout at people with before it sawed their heads off. We'd need to make sure it had an ice-cream detector, though, obvs.

  19. Adam Foxton

    @ Paul Williams

    "Millions if not billions" Nope, £250 according to the prof. And not every terrorist organisation has the manpower- or inclination- to stage endless suicide bombings

    And a "wheel about, avoid walls, shoot anything that moves relative to you" system can probably be built for less than that if you're not buying everything brand new. The problem then becomes: if you're friendly, how do you defend yourself against it to give it more ammo?

    Something like the T-1 from Terminator 3 is entirely possibly at the moment. Especially with the traffic cops' "Fleshie meat-sack Detection" system. And we can't be that far off an Arnie-spec T-800 model. Mechanically we could probably build one now; we just lack the software (or power supply) to make it all work okay.

    Squeezing it all down to the size of Summer Glau might be a problem though!

    @Whoever's in charge

    Why's this not in ROTM?

    Suppose we'd all better get building our own robot armies...

  20. Tim
    Paris Hilton

    What do you mean if????

    The Internet is just one big artificial intelligence, annoying us into submission by adding bugs to perfectly good software until we have had so many error messages that we just accept that we can't control the computers and do what we are told!!!! It's all part of the master plan, we are evolving into robots. The word Robot was actually coined as a term for mindless human slaves... yes, like Paris Hilton!

  21. michael

    ????? (this IS a TITLE)

    "I can imagine a little girl being zapped because she points her ice cream at a robot to share".

    I will have what he is having if he can go form toyplane/cruse missile (plasbile) to child killer robot wandering the streets gunning down icecream fancers in one leap

  22. tim chubb

    butlerian jihad

    sounds like the guys been getting into the back story of dune a bit much, or prehaps hes gone senial and has mistaken Sarah Connor chronicles to be a documentary?

    then again the dude was a judge on robot "well really radio controlled cars with a few more servos" wars, i mean if it was a war, then i would have been allowed to have as a weapon a capacitor from a tv attached to an electrode (axe) to discharge into the carcass of what i just smashed....

    ...hello mr CMOS, meet high voltage ;-)

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Robot Wars

    (Following on from "Hmm Coincidence" and "is he short of cash?" somewhat...)

    I gather (from my daughter) that there's a live show doing the rounds soon.

    Perhaps he's angling after his old job if the TV show makes a comeback...

  24. Shakje

    @Adam Foxton

    Isn't the T1 already in place guarding US borders? Can't remember its name, but considering it can carry machine guns and missiles, and recognises humans and tracks them autonomously...

  25. stuart meadowcroft

    And who's best at building robots?

    "Invading a country could be turned into the international league of Robot Wars. Definitely has the potential to make some cracking TV."

    Super, but I for one have no inclination to learn Japanese :/

  26. Allan Rutland

    He best be careful...

    or our soon to be robot overlord masters will notice he's trying to warn folk and send a deadly dyson of doom after him.

  27. Anonymous Coward

    Celebrity Death-Match Special

    ..Tonight featuring Noel Sharkey versus the the unstoppable cyborg killing machine, Kevin Warwick.

    I'd pay good money to see that!

  28. Anonymous Coward


    Psycho+weapon = autonomous killing machine

    Can't this guy keep up?

  29. Chris Taylor
    Paris Hilton

    I for one welcome the arrival of our silicon & steel overlords

    Yes but arms length confilct by robot can between two nation states can never by a reality (on this planet)

    If you felt deeply enough about the reasons for the war to actually go to war, if your robots lost, would you be prepared to stop there ?

    No of course not, once you ran out of robots, youd send the elite troops, then the regulars and at the last the conscripts... just like every other industrial war.

    Paris, because apparently she never resorts to machines...

  30. Hans Mustermann

    "Robot" doesn't have to mean SW droids, you know

    So far I see that the most ridicule comes from the corner of people assuming that "robot" means some Terminator, or SW-style war-droid, or at least some sophisticated robo-tank.

    Counter-point: the Roomba is a robot. The V1 was, more or less, a robot, and it didn't even have a computer. A mechanical arm with a drill is an "industrial robot". Anything that can perform a task autonomously without human intervention is a "robot".

    Basically methinks the whole problem is one of communication. The good professor uses one (perfectly good) definition of "robot", while the leering public has images of HK-47 floating through their head.

    The fact is, it _is_ easy to make an autonomous bomb. It won't be like the droids in SW Episode 1, but it will get the job done.

    E.g., a pulsejet engine can be made in your garage from little more than a piece of pipe, and that's the engine that powered the V1. It's so robust that it can still generate some thrust after it's been riddled with holes by a machinegun. If you want to make a "robot" bomb, the fancy way is to strap a PDA with GPS to a model plane with that pulse jet and a bomb. With a bit of software hacking, you've just made your own GPS-guided cruise missile, basically.

    The even less glamorous version is to just do what the Nazis did, and use a mini-propeller to measure the distance, then shut down the engine after that's done a number of turns. Not entirely accurate, but it can do the job of lobbing a bomb over a few kilometres. It already did that in WW2, after all.

    An even simpler version can be the same on a model boat, or on a motor boat for bigger loads. Again, you only need a GPS-capable PDA and a couple of motors, to make a boat follow any course you want to, completely without human intervention.

    With a bit more fanciful thinking and design, you can make it a (partially) submerged torpedo instead.


    Now I'm not saying that the terrorists will actually do any of those. Probably not worth the effort.

    But I am saying that an autonomous bomb _can_ be done with off-the shelf components, if anyone actually wanted to. Heck, you can get half the job done with Lego mindstorm components.

    But more importantly I'm saying that "robot" doesn't have to mean androids. A roomba with a bomb on it would qualify as a "terrorist" robot perfectly well.

  31. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Juicy Lucy Nippon Style?

    "As Lee Felsenstein once said :

    "Anyone who's been around artificial intelligence is likely to be a hopeless case, they're so far removed from reality that they cannot deal with the real world." .... By The Other Steve Posted Wednesday 27th February 2008 13:05 GMT

    Which only goes to show, the Other Steve, how little Lee Felsenstein knew of Advanced Artificial Intelligence and CyberIntelAIgents then. I wonder what he would say Today?

    "I mean jeez guys, if you're so worried that robots with AI will rise up against us, maybe you should stop, y'know, BUILDING THE FECKING THINGS!" ...... Far too Late for that whenever they can Spontaneously Communicate 42 Replicate and Mutate. And the SMARTer Ones Choose to Play in Stealthy Quantum Lingua Franca Fields of Fertile Endeavours.

    Virgin Fields of Fertile AI Endeavour Gifted with Funds from the New European Microsoft Pot ...... for AI Tied Investment in Joint Add venturing in Magical Mystery Turing.

    And amfM HyperRadioproActivity would be So Bold 42 Go down that Shining Path.

    Knock, Knock, The Other Steve/Microsoft/EU.

    I Trust that is not too Obscure and/or Obtuse, IT is Pretty Plain Text.

    And given the Supposed Digital Control which we may now have, that should be the Simplest of Tasks to OverFill so as 42 Generate ITs Immediate Return. :-) ...... in States of Perpetual Immaculate Grace.

    Some would Wish and Recognise that 42 Be the Most Wholly of Holiest Grails. You are more than welcome to dispute IT ....... although IT will Defy you not to Enjoy IT by You Tempting Yourself with ITs XSSXXXXual Pleasures, instead.

    If you were a Global Operating Division/Device into Network InterNetworking RobotICQs with NIRobotIQs, then First Contact would be Created and Enhanced with PleasureRobotIQs ........ Leading NEURObotICQs.

    And that make AI Perfect Sense, does IT not?

    RSVP ...... Alsjeblieft.

  32. tony trolle
    Paris Hilton

    I will wait

    I will wait for the 'silicone' fem-bots but this is old I remember talking about beam riding a RC plane with porno tapes onboard from europe to the UK when Customs built a Betamax machine to take VHS cartridges.

  33. Anonymous Coward


    What a Kill-Joy!

    These are the perfect way to play First Person Shooters in the future! Latency and Lag may pose a problem, but I'm sure that the boys at id will find a way to make it work.

    Respawn to the next available robot, until the Capture the Flag (War) session is over. The terrorists may hijack the servers and force everyone to play in Free-For-All mode, but that is another matter.

  34. Anonymous Coward

    generic title

    sat nav and a rc plane for £250 ermm yeah right...

    as for filling a rucksack with some Miracle-Gro....

    I thought the used Miracle-Blo..

    yes that coats mine.

  35. Graham Bartlett
    Black Helicopters

    @Adam Foxton

    Doesn't have to be suicide bombings. The IRA were quite keen for their members to survive, and they did rather well out of ANFO. Put your bomb inside a blanket and black binbag, of the sort used by the homeless, leave it in a doorway or phonebox and it'll never get spotted or moved. Mass civilian carnage. Or if you want to take out buildings and don't mind civilians getting away, make up a tanker-full (with suitable anti-tamper devices), park the tanker outside the building, and have your mates in a stolen car immediately in front of you to take you to safety. Cops will figure it out immediately, but are unlikely to have time to disarm it.

    As for ease of building - wheeling around at random is easy, and stopping bumping into walls is also fairly easy. Locating and aiming at a moving object is significantly harder though, to the extent that if you're interested in doing it, you're probably already doing it professionally. Of course you could just drop something programmed to spin round in a circle in "spray-and-pray" mode, but folks will get away from it pretty quickly, and you might as well just do a drive-by anyway if that's all it is.

    The thing is, unless we modify our society to be fully geared-up for war at any moment, with a machine-gun on every lamp-post instead of a CCTV camera, we can't really do much except use intelligence to intercept terrorists, and try to stop the causes of terrorism. Of those two, only the latter works long-term. And the causes of terrorism are usually stupidity from the terrorised country.

  36. Anonymous Coward

    high explosive

    The main difficulty for would be attackers is making the bomb, not attaching it to the RC vehicle. At the point they can manufacturer high explosive to fit in the low weight small volume needed, the delivery mechanism will not matter, they could place it in a coffee cup or start taking down bridges with ease.

  37. Damian Gabriel Moran

    @Adam Foxton

    "Squeezing it all down to the size of Summer Glau might be a problem though!"

    well i am more than happy to squeeze Summer Glau in order to get the proportions

  38. Treacle

    by the numbers

    1. --- Mowing down little girlses!? With ICE CREAMSES!?!?! Oh noes!!1! We must STOP them! FOR THE CHILDREN!!11!!!

    2. --- "It would be great if all the military were robots and they could fight each other"

    Wait, "all the military"? You mean, not just the president of the USA?

    Hang on: Didn't Philip K. Dick envision massive robot vs. robot wars?

    Why yes, he did: The Penultimate Truth

    4. --- "Imagine the miners' strike with robots armed with water cannon"

    Oh christ, there go our last human rights....

    Or wait, did he mean robot miners, striking? Interesting.

    5. --- "robots fed by media, goverments and scientists alike."

    Well they should stop feeding them at once! Silly bastards.

    6. --- There is no 3.

  39. The Other Steve

    @Graham Bartlett

    "Locating and aiming at a moving object is significantly harder though, to the extent that if you're interested in doing it, you're probably already doing it professionally."

    Perhaps not as hard as you think. In the case of a stationary camera, image subtraction, a noise filter (don't forget the noise filter!), some re purposed flood fill algos and a bit of "blob counting" will do the trick, it's genuinely not difficult, to the extent that I knocked up a webcam motion tracker over a couple of rainy afternoons in the winter. There are plenty of similar (and better) projects of this nature floating about on the interweb.

    This technique won't work unaltered for a moving camera, because the background isn't static relative to the objects you're trying to track, but I can think of a couple of nasty brute force ways to extend it just off the top of my head, and I'm sure there's already plenty of crumbs in the web.

    I don't say this to be boastful, merely to illustrate that it's one of those techniques that you would think is really, really hard, but which turns out to be much less hard than you might at first think.(Quite a lot of undergrads manage it, for instance) While I'm sure doing it to "military precision"* or "safety critical" standards requires some degree of boffinry, a 'knocked up in my shed' version of the same technology, good enough for a kamikaze robot, is quite easy to do.

    * Some militaries may be more precise than others, see press for details.

  40. Dave Bell

    Old tech, it is.

    It's stuff like ANFO which is bulky, and some of the implausible products of domestic chemistry. If they get their hands on plain old dynamite, or any of the other fairly well-controlled commercial explosives used for demolition, they can make something pretty nasty. We're perhaps lucky that terrorists want the big explosions.

  41. Chris G

    Bot wars

    The guys that make robots for Robot wars are mostly pretty good engineers and their biggest problem is reliability, it would be the same for a terrorist with his 250 quid robot. Making it truly autonomous though wouldn't be as much of a problem as the thing getting far enough away from the terrorist before starting it's kill spree. To be worth while doing it has to be in a city or town centre, I can't imagine any thing like that getting far in central London or almost any other town centre for that matter. In London it will get done for not having a current tax disc and not having paid its congestion charge.

  42. Mike Hocker


    Perhaps he means homomorphic? Most of the caretakerbots are homo, most of the milbots seem to be QUR (of course, maybe all the milbots are really really good simulacra of the fleshies and the fleshies just don't realize it yet!), and many of the petbots are zoo.

    Anyway, his ideas are old and creaky, he needs to catch up to the present day. Next thing you know he'll be spouting off on the decade old terror of the "'gray goo' that ate the Earth" after reading about Bill Joy's hallucinogenic nightmares induced by Rifkin. Oops, being close to the EU, maybe his next worry will be frankengoo....

    But really, how do these bumpkins get a soapbox anyway?

  43. Andy Bright

    Anthrax Roomba

    Fill a Roomba up with Anthrax and set it loose with instructions to blow instead of suck. I rest my case yer honour.

  44. William Doohan
    Dead Vulture

    RE: $250 is a bit low, but....

    Why bother to build a large expensive RC plane that can carry explosives when it would be much easier to use a smaller one with ... a web enabled camera, a wireless internet connection, GPS etc. etc. ... and a spraying device to deliver ... anthrax spores or one of dozens of other disease carying organisms.... to a large metropolitan area?

    Never mind chain saw and machine gun carrying Terminators, simple RC planes and bioweapons could kill 10's of thousands of innocent people in a coordinated attack.

    On another note, I DO think we still need to fear a.i. . Whenever I hear engineers laugh at that idea, I always think of the first terminator movie where Sarah Connor says to Kyle Reese, the soldier form the future, "You can't fool me Reese, they can't make things like that." And he says "No, not yet. Not for about another 40 years". ....... Even the possibility of it happening should give those who toy with autonomous robots pause. Maybe we DO need a Butlerian Jihad ......

    (For those who don't know, in the DUNE books by Frank Herbert, an ancient war which was fought to eradicate intelligent machines is alluded to.)

    {also, i don't have an English pounds sign on my 'puter, hence the title}

  45. Hans Mustermann

    It doesn't have to aim at moving targets

    "As for ease of building - wheeling around at random is easy, and stopping bumping into walls is also fairly easy. Locating and aiming at a moving object is significantly harder though, to the extent that if you're interested in doing it, you're probably already doing it professionally. Of course you could just drop something programmed to spin round in a circle in "spray-and-pray" mode, but folks will get away from it pretty quickly, and you might as well just do a drive-by anyway if that's all it is."

    All pretty insightful and all, but, really, it doesn't have to aim at anything moving to cause a media ruckus and a bunch of doomsday prophets.

    At the most basic level, what you need is something that goes BANG. Loudly. If it produces shrapnel, even better. Pretty much even gunpowder in a steel tube. If you mill it a bit to get, basically, a frag grenade, even better.

    And you need a sort of vehicle that will carry it to either a public place, or near enough to someone.

    The latter is actually easier than it sounds. Think a roomba with an explosive in it, and program it to detonate when it hits anything that wasn't there less than X seconds before. Meaning either it's someone's leg, or someone just pulled a chair. As a backup, make it blow up if someone tries to turn it off. Let one of them loose in a pub, and you have a guaranteed media hysteria.

    Or think the poor-sod's-cruise-missile I've described before: a wooden airplane model with a pulsejet. If it can bring a grenade to anywhere near a demonstration or political rally, you have pretty much guaranteed hysteria. No image recognition required, just a PDA with GPS.

    Just to make things clear: I'm _not_ advocating terrorism, the above is just an idle "ad absurdum" exercise. I'm not even saying that any terrorists would actually do that, since "forgetting" a backpack in the subway does the same job cheaper. Just saying that you wouldn't really need advanced image recognition, or indeed even a camera at all, if you really wanted to make a terrorist robot.

  46. Jon Tocker

    To be totally fair, Hans Mustermann...

    "So far I see that the most ridicule comes from the corner of people assuming that "robot" means some Terminator, or SW-style war-droid, or at least some sophisticated robo-tank.

    Counter-point: the Roomba is a robot. The V1 was, more or less, a robot, and it didn't even have a computer. A mechanical arm with a drill is an "industrial robot". Anything that can perform a task autonomously without human intervention is a "robot".

    Basically methinks the whole problem is one of communication. The good professor uses one (perfectly good) definition of "robot", while the leering public has images of HK-47 floating through their head."

    To be fair to the "leering public" you malign so readily, the "good professor" was the one to suggest that these kill robots might result in "...a little girl being zapped because she points her ice cream at a robot to share" thus suggesting they would look sufficiently humanoid - or at least zoomorphic - to prompt a child to share its ice cream. Dunno about your kids, but my two-year-old daughter, although quite generous, has never once offered her bottle or food to my motorcycle, the vacuum cleaner or a food processor - I'm pretty confident she would not offer to share anything with a military-grade autonomous tank or a home-made GPS-guided V1. (Incidentally, she's not likely to think a 20-foot-tall Autobot is the Tooth Fairy, either...)

    If there are visions of SW/Terminator style killbots floating in people's heads, the "good" Professor Sharkey put them there.

    As for Sharkey's rant about the "real dangers" of "robot elderly carers, child minders, nurses, soldiers and police... mobile robot surveillance" - if you're stupid enough to buy your robotic helpers from Al Qaeda or the IRA etc, you fucking-well deserve what you get!

    As to the practicality of it all, while a fleet of your GPS-guided pulse-jet planes packed with C4 might be the bee-knees for military targets, the "beauty" (if you will) of terrorism is that the targets are usually average civilians (rather than those who're paid to take the risks and have all their best stuff protected by missile-defense systems) and thus the "terror" is: ANYONE could be a target, not just the military.

    For very little money and effort (no need to circumvent military-grade protection) you get to cause maximum carnage and disruption and leave a large chunk of the population terrified to go to work or the movies.

    Why spend even 250 quid building a simple autonomous killer when a molotov cocktail costs only a few bucks (just lob a couple off a tallish building into the crowd below) and you get to drink the contents of the boittle before you turn it into a weapon, a parcel bomb with a simple timed fuse or even some form of advanced trigger (vibration, radio control etc) is relatively cheap and holds more explosives than you can cram into a DIY V1, the not-so-smart-bomb (explosive vest) is precision guided and carries a lot of explosives for a fraction of the price - and all of them extremely effective on civilian targets and likely to create wide-spread panic. Far more effective than a self-guiding plane which may do a modicum of damage to a building.

    Personally, I don't wander around terrified that some terrorist has parked a bus packed with C4 and steel ball-bearings outside my place of work, why should I worry about a home-made UAV with a "warhead" the size of a hand grenade?

    I don't see anyone building an autonomous wheeled or tracked killer robot capable of even the appalling accuracy of the original Cylons for 250 quid, let alone something capable of accurately targeting enough fleeing fleshies to count as a serious "weapon of terror". Graham Bartlett's "spray and pray" example is quite right. A lot of effort and expense when you could blow up a crowded movie theatre - killing and maiming more people and spreading a lot more fear and uncertainty - for a hell of a lot less effort and money.

    If you had enough resources and finance to build an autonomous machine capable of the driving skills and shooting accuracy of the average drive-by, you would be able to kill, maim and scare just as many people as a drive-by would - the same amount spent on "traditional" terrorism would equate to a LENGTHY "reign of terror" that would kill or maim thousands and terrify millions.

    Prof Sharkey is a self-publishing twat whose true fear is that he will fade into obscurity and miss out on any lucrative TV contracts that might be going, so has to spew out disjointed (from vaguely plausible 250-quid autonomous-vehicles to fanciful malignant robobutlers in a single bound) sensationalist crap to keep his name at the forefront of everyone's minds. "Fuck, I'm running out of the money I made doing Robot Wars, what'll I do? I know, jump on the "Terrorism" Bandwagon, why should Big Business be the only ones making money from it?"

  47. Michael Heydon


    He was a kiwi actually.

  48. lglethal Silver badge

    £250 keep dreaming

    Even a pretty standard remote control CAR costs more then £250, a plane large enough to carry any load your looking at would cost a lot more than that. Then you've got the explosives themselves (plus all the literature and training to learn how to make the explosives and the isolated patch of farm land/forest to test such explosives), the electronic equipment required to turn the remote control aircraft into a self piloted aircraft (because remote controls in cities have an effective range of bugger all minus a bit), plus the training to use said equipment to turn the remote control into a self piloted aircraft, then there's the costs of a second and third remote control plane (because i guarantee your going to cock up and crash beyond repair at least the first 2 planes you try this on).

    Once you've got the hang of it, maybe you could bring it in at under £1000 per aircraft but by that stage the cops will be looking around pretty sharpishly to all the remote control supply stores and your likely to get knicked before you get much in the way of mass destruction happening.

    Oh and for the people who suggested anthrax and bio-weapons - do you really think that if terrorists had bio-weapons they would wait until they've developed a complex and expensive robot delivery mechanism rather then some more standard simpler method of say an aerosol can or a bomb?

  49. amanfromMars Silver badge

    An Embedded Question for the Chuckle Brothers....Ian and Martin

    "And the causes of terrorism are usually stupidity from the terrorised country."...... By Graham Bartlett Posted Wednesday 27th February 2008 15:56 GMT

    I would suggest that the causes of terrorism are usually stupidity in terrorised countries, Graham. Do you think tha IRA campaign was Uncle Sam funded/led with its civilians just expendable pawns used and abused by their leaders/commanders? Could it have been done without their help and support?

  50. Hans Mustermann
    Thumb Down

    @Jon Tocker

    The problem is that what you make there, and indeed what Lewis Page does, is build a ridiculous straw-man out of wildly unrelated bits and pieces. You take several unrelated scenarios that the professor thought up, and making up your own HK-47 out of them.

    The linked press release makes _no_ mention of zoomorphic or anthropomorphic robots at all. In fact it only mentions one thing: the cruise missile I've already detailed twice. Nothing more. That's it.

    But nah, that wouldn't let Lewis stroke his ego and go "omg, some scientist is stupid." So he has to scavenge a piece of a _different_ scenario, and make a strawman out of those bits and pieces. They're not even related in any form or shape, other than being by the same author.

    Which is as bloody stupid as making up your own mixture of bits and parts of "Hansel and Grettel", "Cinderella", "The Valliant Little Tailor" and "Snow White", just because they're all by the Grimm brothers. And then going, basically, "omg, what a stupid story about dwarves in glass slippers, battling flies and feeding bits of a house to kids. The Grimm brothers must be soo stupid." Well, no, the only ridiculous thing is building that kind of a Frankenstein's strawman out of disjointed unrelated parts.

    If you guys want to shoot down his ideas -- and God knows each of them has its own faults and weak points -- at least have the decency to take them as they are. Not editing together unrelated stories into something you feel safe enough to attack.

  51. TeeCee Gold badge

    Must be me.

    I don't know why, but I read the article and felt rather sorry for the poor constabulary turning up to be faced by water cannon armed robotic miners.......

  52. Graham Bartlett

    @Other Steve and co

    Sure, it can be done if you really care about it. And if you have the skills, you might be able to put together some basic version if you're not too deeply bothered about accuracy (you might for example counter inaccuracy by firing half-a-dozen shots bracketing your detected area of movement).

    But the basic point remains - you're putting a lot of time (and probably money) into something that's inherently simple. If you want to shoot a bunch of people, you don't put a gun in a dustbin with a bunch of electronics and drop it in the middle of the street, when you can just put the gun out the window and strafe the street as you drive past. Or if you shoot from a distance then you're almost untraceable - they only caught the Washington sniper because someone gave him up. And you don't need anything as sophisticated as a cruise missile or a Grand Challenge truck to deliver a bomb.

  53. Daniel B.
    Thumb Up

    @Autonomous Death Bots

    Ah ... somebody beat me to reference the "Autonomous Mobile Sword" from Screamers. Which is based on a Phillip K. Dick novel, by the way ...

    Remember to implement IFF on your killbots instead of programming "kill all humans with a pulse" into them. They'll eventually out-smart your tags and overrun humanity ;)

  54. Jon Tocker


    Hans, I gather you have failed to see a connection between "Killer robots could become the weapon of choice for militants ... falling costs would soon make robots a realistic option for extremist groups" (with references to the fact that the USA already uses them so "How long is it going to be before the terrorists get in on the act?") and the hypothetical "Robot Arms Race" (in reaction to the USA's extensive use of killer robots) he proposed earlier in a piece of sensationalist crap entitled "Robot wars ARE a reality" (my emphasis).

    Both talk of an escalation in the use of killer robots due to the USA's use of them, albeit at different stages - the latter describing an earlier DIY "cruise missile" (presumably short range) made from readily available model airplanes, the former comment describing future [anthropo|zoo]morphic killer robots targeting generous kiddies - *his* blatant sensationalism, not mine, Page's, or anyone else's.

    Despite the different dates of his pronouncements and the levels of technology, both are the *same scenario*: The "Axis of Evil" (tm) retaliates against the USA's use of robotic killers by building their own, resulting in an arms race.

    Sorry you missed the obvious common denominator.

    His prating on about the robotic arms race is completely ludicrous for the reason mentioned by so many here: when targeting *civilian* populations, there are far *cheaper* ways of getting *better* results.

    Of what benefit is an autonomous model plane or car packed with a relatively small amount of explosive when they have people willing to walk into the heart of the "enemy" carrying enough explosives to take out a restaurant?

    Don't want to die? An innocuous-looking package containing a timer and a few kilos of C4 can be carried into pretty much any public building and left there by someone who is not likely to look suspicious - and 240 quid's worth of explosives (say ten quid for the timer) would make a hell of a bang.

    The robots, so beloved of the USA, are best suited to the "traditional" theatre of war - troops vs the population of whatever place the USA is invading today. The robots offer no advantage to the theatre of "terrorism" - they do not blend in with the crowd, they are expensive, they do not carry enough ordnance, they cannot target to the degree of accuracy exhibited by the average 5-year-old. Any killer robot capable of walking into a packed movie theatre unnoticed and triggering several sticks of dynamite is going to be way too sophisticated and expensive to waste.

    The only countries who would be interested in killer robots are those who engage in *traditional* warfare so they can supplement their frontline troops. If Russia, China, Japan or Korea were to go up against the USA in some sort of new Cold War, I could see the possibility of an arm's race with regard to military robots designed to improve their chances on a high-tech battlefield.

    And it won't be crude 250-quid model planes with a fistful of C4, it'll be things very much like the Predators and Reapers etc in every respect: heavily armed and designed to target military hard targets, made by countries rich in technical expertise.

    Even then, I don't see a lot of use in the military for an anthropomorphic killer robot when humans are far superior anthropomorphic killers - best leave the robots to "hover and stare", fly into or over targets and release missiles, crawl on tracks or wheels through debris-filled streets etc.

    For the terrorists to become interested in using high-tech robotic solutions, they would have to change their tactics from "surprise attacks on civilian populations" to "out-and-out warfare conventional on military targets and troops", but this does not stop Sharkey from raising the spectre of terrorism and linking it to levels of sophistication that not even the US military has need for (not one of the US robots looks remotely humanoid and all are purpose-designed to fulfil their functions.)

    So: not "unrelated stories", Hans, and not a "strawman". Sharkey is leaping on the terrorist bandwagon and spouting fanciful garbage about an "arms race" that will not eventuate between the West and the terrorists and using imagery designed to shock and inflame sensibilities (innocent and kindly little girls mown down by souless killing machines).

  55. Andrew Norton
    Thumb Down


    I have Met Prof Sharkey, and I have to say I was not best impressed. Years ago I, like others, was on Robot Wars. Unlike others, I was actually doing a robotics degree (Liverpool uni) and even more unlike others, I won (team was middleweight champ, with Hard Cheese, from 98-2001)

    The few interactions I had with Sharkey seemed to be of a guy who knew the theory, but had little experiance of the practical side. Even the safety guy at Robot Wars (Derek Foxwell) knew more about the mechanics of robotics than him, and I can think of no worse slight.

    Sharkey shuld be lumped in with other 'experts' like Warwick (the main reason I went to Liverpool, instead of Reading), but those who can talk the talk often trump over those that can walk the walk, especially in academics. S;why I have mostly given up Robotics.

  56. The Other Steve


    "[but it's easier to just use humans]"

    Oh I totally agree, human agents of destruction are by far the easiest, cheapest, most reliable and most disposable. And lets face it, the most likely.

    My point was simply that many of the technical challenges aren't actually all that challenging when you examine them in detail, certainly in the context of a bunch of geeks chucking "what ifs" about.

    But I wholeheartedly agree with you about the realities of the situation. Why spend months building a shitty unreliable robo-killer when you can get some fuckwit to strap a bomb onto themselves ? Plus the psychological impact of a human sacrifice is much higher than any autonomous device short of an actual Dalek.

  57. William Doohan

    Robot sex will protect us

    When the T-101 finds Cherry 2000 and falls in love, she will short cicuit and kill him mid-coitus.

    Problem solved. :-P

  58. Andrew Norton


    yeah, a RC car can cost more than $250. If you buy it brand new. Of course, what you're mostly paying for is the licensing for the injection moulded lexan shell, not for the mechanical componants. (sorry, but I moved stateside after starting it about 6 years ago, and for some reason, blueyonder wouldn't let me FTP to update it from the US)

    All that, Rc gear, motors, batteries, materials, 250 quid for the lot. Thats ALL the stuff, not just for the 98 model, but all the upgrades over the years. I could sit on it, and have it drive me around. Took the 630Kg of killalot easy. Two 350W motors. little bit more power than the 20 or 60-turn motors in an RC car.

    Want more? You can find 1Hp motors easy enough, i got some off an old bin lorry for about 30 quid. Fan motors off an artic work too. You can do thigns cheap, you can do it expensive. It's amazing what you can do with a little ingenuity.

    Oh, and for those lamenting RobotWars, lets point out, it wasn't a patch on BattleBots. RobotWars bots were limited to a max of about 4Kjoules until 99 and 10 afterwards. In 99 the lightweight (25Kg) bots were putting out upto 20Kjoules a hit, multiple times, And on two seperate occasions, bots broke the arena walls, which were specced to stop a .357 magnum round fired at 4ft (Tested by lycos founder, and professor, Michael 'Fuzzy' Mauldin)

  59. Dr. Donald B. MacGowan

    Make verbal soup, not hash...

    Perhaps it's because I live in Hawaii, but I find "robocalypse" rolls off the tongue much more easily...I hereby propose its use over the labially-stupefying "robopocapalyse".

  60. Keith

    on the eighth day

    Noel Sharky reminded me of this song from the 80's

    In the beginning was the word, man said: Let there be more light

    Electric scenes and laser beams, neon brights the light abhorring nights

    On the second day he said: Let's have a gas

    Hydrogen and cholera and pest

    Let's make some germs, we'll poison the worms

    Man will never be suppressed

    On the third we get green and blue for pie

    On the fourth we send rockets to the sky

    On the fifth make the beasts and submarines

    On the sixth man prepares his final dream:

    In our image, let's make robots for our slaves

    Imagine all the time that we can save

    Computers, machines, the silicon dream

    Seventh he retired from the scene

    On the eighth day machine just got upset

    A problem man had never seen as yet

    No time for flight, a blinding light

    And nothing but a void, forever night

  61. paul bell
    Paris Hilton

    does he know Negroponte ?

    perhaps he is a colleague of the (in)famous Dr. Negroponte, he of the G1G1 / OLPC scam! sounds like they could work together to devise even more bizarre schemes to fleece people of their funds - not just promise things they can't delivery, but send a robot around to convince you it's not their fault they ripped you off. has anyone seen any proof, other than what OLPC offers, that they have delivered anything?

    full disclosure, i ordered via the G1G1 plan on the opening day, 12Nov07, at 0601 - to date, i've received nothing but excuses - make no mistake, i'm not alone here...

    Paris: now that's a real laptop!

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