It’s been understood for some time that the machines we use every day will eventually rise up and enslave or destroy us all. At this point, it’s really more of a question of just how much time humanity has left before we are either subjugated or simply vaporized by our cruel metal overlords, and it appears that day may be coming sooner than any of us thought. The robot revolution will start small, when the phone that runs so much of your life betrays you, listening in on your private conversations and reporting on your activities and whereabouts to it’s electronic masters.

Sure, this will begin as particularly unpleasant malware that eavesdrops on you, tracks your movements and accesses your bank account at the behest of particularly savvy and sinister human programmers. But if you believe the coming Mother Brain won’t access this technology and use it as an early reconnaissance  step toward global domination… well, that’s just naive.

Oh, BBC, you’ve put me in a wicket that is ever so sticky.

On the one hand, I’m as ready as anyone for a serious rethinking of how we use Predators and other UAVs in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s particularly important in the latter theater, where civilian casualties caused by drone strikes play a major part in turning public opinion against US and NATO forces. The fact of the matter is that we don’t win the war against the Taliban in the region until we end public perception that we are the enemy, and we don’t end that perception until we stop killing civilians. Because frankly, until we stop killing civilians, we are the enemy to the vast majority of people on the ground in Afghanistan.

Since I’m on record as feeling this way, I couldn’t be happier to hear that Professor Noel Sharkey, who has been talking for years about the need for a reconsideration of whether the new face of modern warfare is a net improvement. For the soldiers who get to control these heavily armed automatons from half a world away, it certainly seems like it. But if we’re unable to distinguish civilian from combatant – a task that’s often difficult enough for a soldier on the ground – then are we really making wars more winnable? Or are we just making the rules a little different?

America - Are You Going To Let A Robot Fight Your Battles For You?

America - Are You Going To Let A Robot Fight Your Battles For You?

Maybe, by their definition, there’s no such thing as a safe weapon. But there’s a clear line between weapons that are ready to be used safely and ones that aren’t. And it’s time for a serious conversation about where UAVs and other robotic weaponry are in that process. Are they highly advanced? No doubt – technology has made undeniable strides from the days when all that robot warriors could do was rock ’em and/or sock ’em. But are they fool proof? Hardly, and when they’re not, the results are disastrous. So yeah, I’m happy that the media is giving the subject some love.

But really, BBC – did you have to run Jason Palmer’s excellent story on the matter under the headline ‘Call for debate on killer robots‘?

I’m not saying we will never live in a world where our soft, fleshy meatling society is overseen with ruthless efficiency by advanced robotic overlords. I’m not saying I won’t live to see that day. Hell, I’m not even going so far as to say I think that it is necessarily a bad thing. 

What I do feel comfortable in saying, though, is that when the cold, steel revolution comes, there are some robots that will be up against the wall with the rest of us. And as long as these kinds of contraptions are around, our pitiful human society can rest pretty easily knowing that most robots are too busy dancing and modelling to plot the overthrow of our society. Or at least, that’s what they want us to think…

For instance, this DARPA financed bot from Brown University recognizes a human command figure, and follows commands at a wave of their hand. Sure, it’s a cool feature for us, but it’s exactly the sort of carbon-based ass kissing that’ll get you beat up at Robot Middle School.

Next up in our review of recent robots whose existence should not make you concerned for your safety is this “basic pleasure model” from Japan. I’m scared of a lot of things that robots are going to do in the near future. Bowing and posing are not among them.

And finally, the least intimidating of the bunch is Lara, a dancing robot from Portugal’s LIACC that analyzes song rhythms, followed by busting moves accordingly. Ironically, it’s this most cutesy of the batch – Lara comes equipped with a skirt and matching silly hat – that could be weaponized most effectively. Just put some blades onto those wildly gyrating arms, turn on a rumba, and the most adorable robot since Johnny 5 becomes a pint sized abattoir on wheels.