Saturday, July 18, 2009

We're All Food for EATRs

My favorite story of the last week sounds like the plot of a horror movie.

As reported by Fox News, a company in Maryland, under contract to the Pentagon, is working on a steam-powered robot that would fuel itself by gobbling up whatever organic material it can find -- grass, wood, even dead bodies. It's called the Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot, or EATR, for short.

The Fox News story said:

EATR can find, ingest, and extract energy from biomass in the environment and other organically-based energy sources, as well as using conventional and alternative fuels, from gas to cooking oil, when suitable. The biomass wouldn't necessarily be limited to plant material, since animal and human corpses contain plenty of energy.
I can already imagine the horror movie, with a Michael Crichton-type plot, where we build these robots and they go all Westworld on us, and now it's Soylent Green time again, except humans are now the food for the robots! They're killing us for the purpose of eating us, just so they can survive -- and then they build Skynet and and take over the world and no humans are left because we're all robot food!!!

Fortunately for the real world, Fox was forced to revise their story after the company complained, insisting that EATR is strictly vegetarian. Besides, they said, desecration of the dead is a war crime under Article 15 of the Geneva Conventions, and is certainly not something they sanction.

However, one part of the revised story still bothered me:
Dr. Bob Finkelstein, president of RTI and a cybernetics expert, said the EATR would be programmed to recognize specific fuel sources and avoid others. "If it’s not on the menu, it’s not going to eat it," Finkelstein said.
Sure. That's what all the mad scientists say, right before the robots re-program themselves, destroy everyone in the lab, and execute their android takeover.