For those of you waiting for the imminent demise of humankind, I have good news — we now have killer robots. Researchers at Australia’s Queensland University of Technology have created a robot that is able to seek out one specific kind of starfish and administer a lethal injection to it. Ingenious and fool-proof invention, or the beginning of the robot apocalypse? Who knows.
I know what you may be thinking. Why go through so much trouble to eradicate a simple starfish? All they do is chill on the ocean floor. On the contrary, many starfish are integral to marine ecosystems. However, the starfish in question is the crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS), which has invaded the Great Barrier Reef and caused the destruction of around 40 percent of the coral there. Before the idea of manufacturing a killer robot occurred to anybody, the only way to stop the COTS was for divers to give every starfish 20 lethal injections, or to manually take the starfish out of its environment, both of which sound like a lot of work for plucky marine biologists.
Though many harmoniously-titled COTSbots are up and working, the earliest researchers project them to be independently killing starfish is December. For now, the COTSbots are in a training mode of sorts. The robots take a picture of anything they recognize as a COTS, and send the photo to a human controller for verification. Feras Dayoub, designer of the starfish-recognition software, said in a statement on the university website that “human feedback is incorporated into the robot’s memory bank,” so the COTSbots can more accurately recognize their targets in the future.
Even with the COTSbots on search and destroy missions throughout the Great Barrier Reef, humans will still supplement any COTS eradication efforts. Humans and robots working together in harmony — this is the future.
That is, until our inevitable end when the COTSbots aren’t satisfied with killing simple starfish, and begin hunting bigger and better organisms. Eventually, the COTSbots could become self-aware (as robots are wont to do in cinematic versions of situations like these), and begin plotting to overthrow their creators.
Theoretically, the robots would overtake the seas, prohibiting humans from using the water for warfare or shipping goods. Then they could hack into various countries’ waterside military bases and gain control of our weapons. Before you know it, we’d all be dead. The end.
Even if this scenario doesn’t seem more than a little likely to you, you have to admit that a drone-like robot that exclusively hunts one living organism could potentially be a setup to a dangerous situation. I, for one, am excited that we’re finally going to live through a 1950s sci-fi/horror movie all because of some insensitive starfish. But for the time being, I’m all for pursuing robots as a way for humans to do less work. Today, killing starfish. Tomorrow, robotic slaves that eventually turn us into the people from “WALL-E.” This is now. This is real. This is science.