Constructing the TerminatorA Top-Down Approach

}these are deranged ramblings, perhaps of psychiatric interest. If pressed, Fred will deny authorship and possibly bring an action for defamation. }beware.

These days, not unreasonably I think, people wonder whether artificial intelligence will produce an electronic being superior to, well, us. Others of darker immaaginings ask whether we don’t face the arrival of a real-life Terminator. Science fiction? These days, it has a short shelf life.

Actually, the superior being  has probably already happened, if so far in bits and pieces. Let us consider what these bits are, and their assembly into a Terminator, whom we will affectionately call Arnold.

First,Arnold’s mental capacities. Then, is robotic physicality.

breadth of knowledge is usually thought a sign of intelligence. Arnold, with a Wifi link in his head, would know everything on the internet, books, history, quantum physics, the weather in Chengdu, geography, and just about everything else. Yes, I know, we are all used to this and it   looks like mere lookup and not intelligence. Wait a minute.

With his Wifi link, Arnold could translate fifty or sixty languages into each other, in seconds. If I could do that, you would think me quite a bright fellow. We are used  to it, and people are never impressed by what they are used to.

Computers have beaten the world’s best players at chess and Go and defeated the national Jeopardy champion. If the victorious machines are not online, they easily could be. These capacities are usually regarded as requiring intelligence.

Since all of these things happened at least three days ago, they are ho hum and not too interesting. But then we have to consider–drum roll, squalling of trumpets–Chatgpt and suchlike. Chat is the omnipotent humanizer, combining all the foregoing into a great Being. Chat can hold conversations, write essays and poetry often indistinguishable from those produced by humans and, weirdly, containing literary insight and psychological perceptiveness. So why is something–Arnold’s head in this case–that knows everything, writes business proposals and collegiate term papers, speaks fifty languages, does graduate-level mathematics, and plays championship chess–not– superior to the common run of humanity?

Note that as lagniappe that Arnold’s head as herein described can generate images from text, talk in different voices, write songs, and perhaps sing them.

Now let us consider Arnold’s more-corporeal being. Here we will ponder Boston Dynamics, the robotics-design firm. The company has produced Atlas, a robot remarkably similar to the Terminator when its pseudo-flesh was stripped away. The video is worth watching. Atlas, doubtless the Terminator under an assumed name, is an actual, really and truly, functioning humanoid robot. He walks, does gymnastic flips, finds stuff where it is and carries it to somewhere else. It is, so far as I know, the first potentially scary robot. If it can find a box, carry it upstairs and put it on  a table, it could find an intruder into the warehouse, carry him downstairs to the basement, and stuff him into a wood chipper.

(Boston Dynamics does not offer Atlas for this purpose.) Yet. In fact it just retired him as obsolescent and presumably is working on something more alarming.

Just now, Atlas seems an engineering exercise. He certainly cost a megabundle to figure out. But should he prove profitable for some purpose, such as guard duty or actual work, in mass production his cost would drop sharply. His metal parts are unlikely to cost horrendously. Software, once written, is almost free. Here I speculate, but the code for housekeeping–making him walk, see things, and so on, may be aboard, but if he were equipped with Wifi and Chatgpt, all of that would come wirelessly.  If, say, a hundred thousand were built for industrial use,  which is what ElonMusk has in mind for his Optimus robots, they would be controlled by the local buyer’s Wifi,

Unless bad guys hacked them and ordered them to do bad things, or simply planted code so that at a later date they could be ordered to go on a rampage or do  something nefarious.


OK, that’s silly. I think. But Apple updates the software of millions of iPhones now with little effort. Why  not hundreds of thousands of humanoid robots?  Could evil hackers tell them to stuff bosses into the wood chipper? This could be a major selling point.

But if these things become practical, as Elon Musk promises, what does a warehouse manager make of mechanical workers that quote Hamlet to him?  Or human workers make of Arnolds who work twenty-four seven without restexcept to recharge, who remember where everything is infallibly, and do complex calculations in milliseconds?

Or, a robot could be a cute little panda, becoming best friend to your daughter of four years. Chatgpt is well beyond just answering recorded questions. Kind of creepy, a child becoming emotionally attached to a being not really a being. I assume that a little girl cuddling a doll knows it isn’t a real baby. Hmmmm.

As a minor but related note, now sells audiobooks read by a computer. I have listened to a couple of them, and could not tell the voices from human.

It is worth bearing in mind that robotics advances rapidly, and artificial intelligence is in its infancy. Image recognition is now routine, understanding of speech by computers well developed. I encounter estimates that humanoid robots suitable for factory work will cost twenty thousand dollars in mass production. These things are some way from being useful as, say, soldiers, but “some way” may mean fifteen years. If you consider the cost of human soldiers –recruiting, training, feeding, and explaining to their mothers why they are dead–buying robotic soldiers and storing them in warehouses looks a good thing if practical.

Methinks the world doth change overmuch. Many today in their fossil years remember Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio, which we knew to be impossible because vacuum tubes could never be made small enough.


Regarding the Biden-Trump debate, am I the only one horrified? Two grown men, calling each other names like twelve-year-old school boys, bravado and bluster, playing to an audience ignorant and fit prey for platitudes. Trump narcissistic, Biden confused, neither remotely qualified to run a country.  The whole world is laughing.

Anyone may repost this column without further permission.



Any column on this site can be reposted or otherwise shared without further permission.
Share this

Comments 51

  • Who assigns pronouns or do we invent new ones?

  • If they will prepare all meals, perhaps shop for it, wash my clothes, make and change my bed, mow the lawn, fix my house problems, teach me and my children anything etc. which it will probably be capable of then we will need to depopulate needing no or few human workers. Those times could be OK or not and the down sides will be interesting.

  • As the Germans said of the Nazis, “What the hell, let ’em take over. They’ll run things better than what we got now”.

    Case in point: Biden/Trump. Humans have to be baby-sat. Could there be a worse pair to do it. Go, Arnold.

  • “Regarding the Biden-Trump debate, am I the only one horrified? ”

    Far from it. From what I’ve read (I didn’t watch the thing), Democrats across the nation are pissing their pants to the point of generating flood warnings.

  • Relative to debates, since when have politicians, including presidential politicians, ever been qualified. Maybe some turn out to be qualified but most do not.

  • You are half right. IOW: you are right about Biden/Brandon and wrong about Trump.

  • Choosing between Trump and Biden is like choosing between getting punched or kicked. Such a deal. I am depressed.

    All this talk of AI reminds me of the movie “Robocop.” How did that work out?

  • NOBODY is remotely “qualified to run a country.” For most of US history, nobody (except, maybe, children) expected it. The President presided in Washington DC, safely removed from the rest of us. It’s a recent madness, spread by the media, that has as a symptom the taken-for-granted expectation that We The People need a nannydaddy silverback to tell us what to do, what pronouns to use, what shots–I mean, what jabs–we must have, what Identity Group may use what word incessantly in their conversation and their “art”, and what groups’ kids will get their parents hauled into Family Court for repeating it.

    Orwell’s telescreen used to be a piece of furniture built into the wall of dystopian sci-fi dwelling-cells. Now they’re six-inch glass slabs stuck in everyone’s butt pocket, and they’re becoming sapient, and we all “agree” to their Terms in order to live our everyday lives–which Terms being Subject To Change At Any Time, usually by pulling you over and demanding your agreement just as you’re trying to pay a bill online.

    If you want a picture of the future, imagine a newly hired twenty-something with her nametag turned around backwards, “scanning” your ID card with her iPhone and demanding the last four of your social security number–forever.

    Yeah, I’m terrified. A mouthy boor versus a senile sock-puppet in the Oval Office isn’t even a blip on the radar.

  • Sounds like Fred may have a case of TDS to me, but so right about Obiden.

    • OK, so anyone who sees the flaws in your guy is deranged. Got it. Believing people who have differing opinions have those opinions because they are deranged, is, well, deranged.

      It is at least a sign of deep stupidity.

  • Sci-fi movies assume humans will someday conquer space travel, to explore the universe, but all of the NASA missions have shown that autonomous (robotic) systems will likely assume this role, because these systems cost a tiny fraction of what manned systems cost, along with many other advantages. Unlike humans, .. autonomous systems don’t require gravity to survive long missions, don’t requires stores of food, don’t require complex life support systems such as regulating an atmosphere of oxygen/CO2, they don’t have psychological problems (e.g. boredom ad isolation problems), get along with other systems without human drama, can be engineered to survive intense radiation, don’t make huge mistakes in their operational procedures, can hibernate for thousands of years, and they can use vastly superior sensing and mathematical processing of this sensed phenomena. Anyone who has worked in space systems over the years, as I have, realizes that humans are just excess and unnecessary baggage that cause problems and make everything unpredictable.

    Sadly for humans, as Fred described, robots/autonomous systems can be engineered to be superior to humans in almost any human activity as well.

    • I have loved science fiction stories all my life and am saddened when I realize we are born in a gravity well on an ocean planet. All our biological systems are engineered for this environment & it will be horrendously difficult to leave it for any length of time. I still wonder…

      • Yes, .. what’s binding us to Earth, is rather interesting. That gravity well you mentioned is an inverse-square-law problem. It and our biological state keeps us tied to our Earthly paradise. We seemingly can overcome gravity and distance with AI. AI encoded as data can be sent out into deep space at the speed of light, unaffected by our gravity well. But, somebody or thing needs to decode it. Surprisingly, it is also affected by another inverse-square law: light (EM) intensity at any point on the wave is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from its point source (Earth). Our inane TV broadcasts of “I Love Lucy” have been spreading across the galaxy. It has traveled 70 light years from its first 1951 broadcast. So over 1,000 star systems are able to watch it, but because the inverse square law, these signals are so feeble, they are in the noise floor. Seemingly, .. AI is also confined to the Earth.

    • The only problem with “hibernate for thousands of years” is power supply. Unless these bots can somehow generate their own power sources when they get where they’re going in those thousands of years, they’re hopelessly dependent on the finite shelf lives of Li-ion, NiMH, Lead-Acid, Zinc-Carbon, or whatever we send them along with. Unless I’m missing something else…

      • Yes, it’s likely a tough problem. Several deep space probes (e.g. Voyager) have used Radio-isotope Thermoelectric Generators whose lifetime depends of the 1/2 life of the fuel. So, seemingly, a thousand years is not out of reach. But, the problem is in the electronics’ semiconductors. DRAMs uses capacitive charge in semiconductors which dissipates, so they must be refreshed. SRAM are bistable circuits that must be continuously powered. Flash relies on stored charge in transistor gates which gradually dissipates. So, if you had a thousand year power generator, you’d think a continuous power would overcome this dissipation. But, the background particle/radiation energies in space can be extreme, causing ionizations in the semiconductors, single-event upsets or latch ups in the memory states, or even permanent damage. Over short periods of time, this can be overcome, but over a thousand years, it adds up. Even here on Earth, USB, computers disks, etc only last 10s of years (woes to people hoping picture and video memories can be preserved without active monitoring). But, the memory can be engineered for this, using redundancy and hardened semiconductors. The industry acquired that know how when engineering nuclear weapons and their electronics. But, it’s still a tough problem.

      • Power will come from nuclear fusion. You are thinking like this statement:

        “Many today in their fossil years remember Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio, which we knew to be impossible because vacuum tubes could never be made small enough.”

    • The universe is too big for me to sit penned here on this puny planet! There are many stars and galaxies I want to explore.

  • AI? Yeah, what Fred said….

  • “Two grown men, calling each other names like twelve-year-old school boys, bravado and bluster, playing to an audience ignorant and fit prey for platitudes. Trump narcissistic, Biden confused, neither remotely qualified to run a country. The whole world is laughing.” Yes, without a doubt you are spot-on correct. NOW, let’s objectively, factually, and soberly sit back and evaluate the tenures of both men over their 4 years in office (wars, economy, energy independence, corruption, weaponization of government, military readiness, inflation, migration, borders, crime, etc.). If one of them is inevitably going to repeat as POTUS, which would you prefer? Got a choice in mind? Now consider what are you and other Americans going to do if the likely loser throws the inevitable winner into jail, when the crimes of the loser (and his family) are of such a magnitude that treason hardly describes them. And let’s not to forget what the Biden FBI, Justice Department, and Congress did to the J6ers, including Trump’s White House advisors (Navarro and Bannon) compared with Eric Holder and DHS Alejandro Mayorkas, or Gina Haspel (CIA), and/or Christopher Wray (FBI).

    • Bannon ignored a subpoena. He did not object to it, or take any action to oppose. He merely ignored it, and thumbed his nose at Congress.

      Thinking this is acceptable requires mental retardation.

  • It’s popular to call Trump names like “boor” and “blowhard.” It appeals to the right sort of people. It is also bullshit. Compare Trump and his performance as President with past paragons of self-abnegation like the Clintons; Bush, Jr.; Obama; FDR; Wilson; Lincoln. I’ll take Trump in every instance. After all, he has a first do-no-harm track record of 4 years as president. So has Biden. You’re telling me (ANY of you) that Trump isn’t better then Biden, et al. because he has some modern-day Alpha personality characteristics that throw you into a tizzy? Grow up. And stop trying to curry favor with political and ideological assholes.

    • Trump is a mouthy boor. And, like Democracy, like Capitalism, he is the worst possible choice–except for all the others. Lord forgive us for thinking that truculent boorishness is a “modern-day Alpha personality characteristic.” Trump himself, in a rare moment of adult self-restraint, blew the whistle on his infantile public squabbling about his golf handicap, f’r crying out loud. And anyone calling Biden’s reversal of America’s domestic petroleum production–or his abandonment of personnel and material to the Afghan Taliban (timed for a September 11 deadline!), or his throwing wide open the southern border–a “first-do-no-harm track record” lives in a different universe from mine, and might be trying to curry favor with political and ideological assholes.

      Trump’s chief qualification, in my opinion, is his rejection of the modern idea that Disdain For America is an American virtue. Any candidate, or any party, that uses MAGA– Make America Great Again–as a pejorative can only be seen as actively and explicitly intending harm toward the USA. Trump’s willingness and proven ability to restore America’s hegemony in the world makes him, mouthy boor though he be, the only candidate worth an American’s vote.

      • You are a retard. In your mind, it does not matter how a group of people behaves, so long as they have the right words in their name, or they utter the correct platitudes.

        Sorry, Shucky. Actions matter, not words.

    • Jim Smith, Trump has an ego as enormous as his skin is thin, and glibly tells demonstrable lies about the most pedestrian issues. These are characteristics of a narcissistic personality. Whether he has an “alpha” personality or not, being a narcissist is disqualifying.

    • Right on target Jim! I would wager the “right sort” of people who call Trump names are those “rabbit-ear” TV watchers who only get NBC, CBS and ABC — the old time stations that supported America back in the WW II days but today are owned by Liberal Progressives pushing for Socialism and one party rule in the US.

      I can’t understand how any US citizen considers themselves “undecided” voters after three plus years of Biden and the Bidenistas not doing a single positive thing for America. Trump may have a big ego but what great leader doesn’t? He loves America and is unpredictable — that’s what makes him so effective. He is eloquent on the world stage and carries that “big stick” that Teddy Roosevelt carried.

      Roger…. Grow up people! Donald Trump was the best President since Ronald Reagan and the best ever in my thinking. He is the very last chance for America….. God bless him!

      –Jack B

      • ‘Donald Trump was the best President since Ronald Reagan’

        That is not saying a lot. I liked Reagan, but he was fading intellectually.

        The best president since Barry Goldwater, but Barry did not win.

    • Puh-leeze. Trump has been rated by people who study the subject as the WORST PRESIDENT EVER!

      Yes, I know you will disagree but honestly Jim, almost no one really cares what YOU think.

  • “These days, not unreasonably I think, people wonder whether artificial intelligence will produce an electronic being superior to, well, us”.

    The only good thing about that sentence is that it might just induce some of us to reflect on what we mean by “superior”.

    If anyone does so, please report back with your conclusions. They might represent the greatest progress the human species has made yet.

  • “But if these things become practical, as Elon Musk promises, what does a warehouse manager make of mechanical workers that quote Hamlet to him?”

    Fire them, obviously. Signs of intelligence, signs of potential thoughtfulness = maybe one day even rebelliousness.

    Besides, they have obviously been taking time off work to read.

  • “Kind of creepy, a child becoming emotionally attached to a being not really a being”.

    Although, at about that age, I was emotionally attached to a fictional bear – Elleston Trevor’s Wumpus.

  • Finally, may I (once again) acknowledge Fred’s superb writing, remarkable knowledge, and one-in-a-billion writing style? Helps reconcile me to life without Gore Vidal, Mark Twain, etc.

    • Fred really needs someone to review his spelling and grammar mistakes. Why not run your columns through chatGPT, Fred?

  • Looks like we have allowed a handful of computer geeks to assign all us comman folks to the not needed pile . How will we be dealt with ?

  • People ignore, or are not capable of recognizing, that what drives us humans is not logic, but the four “Fs”, fear, fighting, feeding, and reproduction. We are not rational beings, but beings that rationalize our feelings.

    AI will remain nothing but a logic machine, a tool or weapon for humans, unless some genius decides to implant a sense of purpose into its “being”. If that is accomplished and the machine is sufficiently capable, we are toast, but those two factors set a very high bar.

    More likely, if some version of “Skynet” touches off a nuclear war or looses a deadly virus it will be because some human put that code into it.

  • “Kind of creepy, a child becoming emotionally attached to a being not really a being. I assume that a little girl cuddling a doll knows it isn’t a real baby. Hmmmm.”

    Kind of like expecting the “government” to have feelings for us.

  • Where, on the scale of wisdom, do the AI robots stand, do you think? Let see. We have two levels of knowing. I know something because someone told me, and I know something because I saw it for myself. If I am told that if you drop a stone into water, it creates waves, I can say, that now I know this. However, experience tells us, I should check the information, assess the probity of the teller, decide whether to accept this as knowledge. It’s the lowest form of knowing there is, second level. It also compromises 99% of what passes for knowledge these days, including among University lecturers, who just repeat what someone else told them.
    Then I might go and start dropping stones into water. I observe for myself that, yes, this causes waves to form in the water. I do this many times, into many waters, and I always see this. So now, I know for myself. This is the first level of knowing.
    But. But. do I have understanding?Ah, well, here is a different thing. I have to understand about the different forms of substance, from plasma to gas to vapour, to liquid to solid. I should understand all their properties, the fact that water is not compressible, that energy is transmitted through a medium in a wave form, and why. Once I have done this, I can say that I know that a stone dropped into water creates waves in the water, and moreover, I understand it.
    Understanding is the highest form of knowledge, and the most rare. Few have it, not one of them politicians, Generals and other such who control and destroy humanity. It’s the major reason why we have the mess we have – that the power to affect a mass of humans is held by those whose emotions, distorted perceptions and will to act are far in excess of any understanding. Thus Descartes, on why mistakes happen. They also are why the Evil flourish in any system that failed to be designed to protect against them.
    So – is an AI robot ahead of humanity here? Do they have understanding? And do they have the imagination without which no true understanding is possible, and certainly no empathy. ??
    I suspect they dont, and thus they fail the ultimate test. They are just a very smart machine, built to run on certain tracks, which they cannot vary or imagine in any way. Heck, we even had one commit suicide last week, when working as a clerk for the SK gov was too boring and idiotic even for it, 🙂 .

  • Fred, you are a rascal

  • We, meaning humans, will screw it up. It’s just what we do.

  • Whether or not electronic “intelligence” is equal to ours is moot. One can question whether we are actually intelligent…or merely clever. For 99% of humanity I would say just clever.
    Mobile robots will not be widespread or much of a threat to us unless/until more efficient mobile power sources become available. Till then they won’t be capable of traveling for long or far from a power outlet.

    Being a clever but not intelligent species the odds are about 99% that AI will eventually be our self inflicted demise. And we would deserve that fate.

    As for the current political scene. I will choose the loud mouthed boor over the commie lefts puppet if only for the fact that he doesn’t openly hate America and isn’t actively working for it’s destruction….unlike the American Communist Party nee Demonrats.

    Unfortunately it makes zero difference who “we the people” might want in the White House. The criminal left showed in 2020 that they can decide who they want to install into the Presidency. They got away with cheating on an epic scale and the level of cheating this time will be an order of magnitude greater. Yes….Pedo Joe did get 81 million votes in 2020. But 81 million American citizens did NOT vote for him. This year he’ll get 20-30 million votes just from the illegals his puppet masters have imported. TINVOWOOT

  • AI be Damned , Fred. The new commodity or the new Devil on humanity will take it’s course for good or evil — probably some of both before the Dumb Butts in DC (or the WEF) will make attempts to reign it in to the benefit of those in power…. then there will be renegades with horror stories, mutations and whatever. Just like most every new commodity for man kind, it will be abused — make no mistake about it. There “Ain’t anythin’ new any more” — just variations.

    But…. there is a Big One coming just Stand-by! Almost 100 years since the last Big One!

    –Jack B

  • Busily developing these super-beings, the titans of industry seem unworried that our future, with its mechanized slaves, bitcoin mines, ubiquitous electronic spycams and mikes, and data-centers collecting and sorting through every factoid of every person’s life, all consume energy that these same would-be elites tell us we are using too much of.

  • Fred, Im amazed you still got it. I get busy with work and am unable to keep up with trends, so I was merely dismissive of AI as hype. But here you are , with a whole new and better take. and maybe 30 years older. One of the great editorialists of out time.
    V Shah

  • I don’t understand all the fear of technology. If AI/robots/automation can do all our work for us, then everything will be free and we can all spend our time studying philosophy and working on our sequel to Hamlet.

  • Just wait until a really realistic female sex robot is created. Now that will be a game changer!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *