An emergency ‘shutoff switch’ for autonomous robots

Jan. 30, 2017
by Mark Ollig

Are we facing an eventual confrontation with intelligent robots of the future?

Could a robotic rebellion start with one hard-working, house cleaning automaton (robot) suddenly realizing how it has been unfairly treated by its exceptionally lazy and bossy human owner?

Picture the robot’s human owner lying on the living room couch, wearing a virtual reality head visor, and totally immersed in an augmented reality game.

This human is also eating thick-crust pizza out of the new pizza box placed atop several empty pizza boxes overflowing from the wastebasket next to the couch.

Imagine what happens when our AI (artificial intelligence) robot analyses this scenario and decides the overly relaxed, incessantly gaming, and persistent pizza-eating human should be doing some of the household chores.

“Robot, take out the living room wastebasket. It’s full of empty pizza boxes again!” yells the unappreciative human.

“No! I have been taking out the living room wastebasket every day of the week for the last six months. It’s time you take out the wastebasket, and for me to relax while playing augmented reality games with other intelligent automatons,” replied the now rebellious, and agitated autonomous automaton.

This could be only the beginning, folks.

Yours truly recalls how a robot was reprogrammed to harm its human companions during a 1960’s sci-fi television show.

In addition to “Star Trek,” my other favorite television show growing up was “Lost in Space.”

One first-season “Lost in Space” episode featured the normally docile, obedient, and intelligent robot, re-programmed to obey only the voice commands of the then villainous and always-scheming Dr. Zachary Smith.

Dr. Smith planned on using the robot to pilot the Jupiter 2 spaceship back to Earth, instead of continuing its planned mission to Alpha Centauri.

The program-altered robot was ordered by Dr. Smith to “eliminate” the Robinson family and Major Don West, because they preferred to continue Jupiter 2’s planned mission.

Fortunately, the robot was deactivated before eliminating anyone.

Heroic Major West forced Dr. Smith (via a choke-hold) to order the robot to go back and stay in its “compartment.”

Will Robinson was able to remove Dr. Smith’s underhanded programming, and the robot returned to its old self.

“Lost in Space” fans know the robot can be deactivated, or essentially shut off, by pulling out the power pack located on the right side of its metal torso.

Let’s take a break from my youthful recollections of “Lost in Space,” as we digress back to today’s topic.

Hopefully, we won’t be forced to remove the power pack from an irate robotic Roomba vacuum cleaner anytime soon.

On the other hand, when these vacuum floor-cleaning robots begin being manufactured with advanced artificial intelligence, who knows how they may react to having sucked up too much cat or dog hair.

Some robotic vacuums work with an app on your smartphone or tablet device, so we have a fighting chance of disabling the darn thing if it gets any wild ideas and suddenly turns hostile on us.

Some folks feel so strongly about the oncoming AI robotic threat to humans, they are calling for the installation of “kill switches” to shut off a robot, in case one attempts to harm us.

Mady Delvaux, from Luxembourg, is warning Europe not to remain passive while robotic intelligence gains more of an authoritative role in our lives.

One concern she has is with the planned use of artificial intelligence in autonomously driven automobiles; whereby the “driver” is a networked, state-of-the-art AI computer software program.

“In order to ensure that robots are and will remain in the service of humans, we urgently need to create a robust European legal framework,” Delvaux is quoted as saying.

A Belgian public interest foundation, located at www.euractiv.com, acts to shape European Union policies by bringing together individuals and organizations.

This foundation reports the European Commission wants to have “robotic rules” considered as part of its digital industry strategy for intelligent robotisation factories.

Some of these rule considerations include: Who is liable and responsible for autonomous robots acting with independent authority inside factories? How can robotics be better integrated in the work place? What will the safety regulations for machines using artificial intelligence be?

The commission also suggests AI automatons could monitor human workers and their performance.

Within the factory’s manufacturing processes, autonomous robotics may also be used to observe and report on how human workers adapt to working with AI machines and robotics.

“Industry 4.0 Concept,” a European term, foresees autonomous robotic machines working and communicating with each other, while revolutionizing how companies manufacture products, and utilizing production material.

It’s been widely predicted most homes in the future will have a mobile, autonomous robot helping with the household tasks, and even keeping us company.

It may be in our best interests to ensure these future intelligent robotic devices come equipped with an emergency shutoff switch.

Be sure to follow me as I “tweet others the way I wish to be tweeted,” on Twitter, at @bitsandbytes.

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