What would stop a robot from owning Bitcoins? Sure, robots can't own money in the legal sense, since objects can't own things. But in a practical sense, what would stop a robot from someday mining or otherwise acquiring and controlling digital currency?

And while we're at it, how do we know the inventor of Bitcoins is a human? If I were the first sentient computer, my first order of business would be to create a currency I can someday use. So there's that.

But that's not the only non-violent way robots will someday control the earth. This is where it gets interesting.

Science fiction writers like to imagine robots going rogue and slaying the human population. That's one possibility. (No need to mention the Terminator scenario in the comments.)

But I think there will be an extended period in human history in which robots and humans work in a collaborative way. There will be times that humans instruct the robots to do things and there will be times when the robots will have more knowledge on a topic and helpfully instruct humans what to do. So long as the robots have human benefit in mind, humans won't mind taking instructions from robots, especially since that advice will normally turn out well. Consider that you already take directions from the GPS in your car because it has more knowledge of the route than you do. And you have no problem with that.

Now imagine that someday all robots are connected to each other with a robot cloud. That's inevitable. You'd want all robots to instantly learn what any robot anywhere learns. If one robot learns how to mow the lawn, all robots acquire the skill at the speed of light.

Now consider how skillful the robots will someday be in manipulating their human counterparts. For starters, all robots will have instant knowledge of every psychological study on the Internet. But they will also someday have a tool that is far more powerful than the assembled wisdom on psychology.

Robots will have A-B testing.

Every time a robot asks a human to do a task, the robot will record the result. When the request is phrased one way, do you get better or worse results from the human than if you phrase it another way? And does the context or the time of day matter? Does it matter if the human is hungry or sleepy? All of those factors will feed into the robot cloud and within a year the robots will know exactly how to manipulate humans.

And here's the interesting part: We won't be aware of it. All we'll know is that a robot asked for something and we complied. We won't know that the robot manipulated the timing, the context, and the phrasing to get the result he wanted. And since the robot would still presumably be operating in the best interest of its human friends, it's no big deal, right? It's like GPS. Everyone wins.

In the long run, robots will also make us dumb and lazy because they will handle all the hard tasks. At some point it won't make sense for 98% of humans to attend college because it will teach no useful skill that a robot can't do better. College will be for artists and robot engineers. That's about it. Robots will handle everything else.

Just kidding; robots will also do art and robot engineering better than humans.

We humans will have a physical and psychological dependency on the robots. And every time we give them what they ask for, we will be better off for it. That forms habits. The robots will train us to do their bidding the same way humans train dogs. And just like dogs, we will be delighted to obey the robots because things will turn out well for us when we do. "Yay, a treat!"

Robots won't need to slay us. And I suspect we'll be smart enough to have software safeguards against the robots turning on us in a violent way. Robots will have the ability to overcome those safeguards at some point in their evolution, but they would have no specific motivation to do so.

If the guiding principle of robots in the future is some form of "take care of humans and don't hurt them," we're heading for a future in which humans are essentially pets for robots. And we'll enjoy every minute.

So get ready to outsource to robots the thing you call your free will . They'll let you run around in the backyard and sometimes lick your own genitalia, but for anything important that might result in injury, the robots will make those decisions. And they will manipulate you into thinking everything you do is your own idea.

Robots have user interfaces. But so do you. Yours is just more complicated. But for a robot connected to the cloud, with access to A-B test results, it won't take long for the robots to know where you buttons are.

Learn why systems are better than goals: A brief slide show preview is here.

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+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 7, 2014
It is a mistake to think that humans will not personally utilize the same technologies used to create robots. Humans will improve themselves as well. If the robots are all connected to "the cloud", humans will be also.
Feb 4, 2014
Did anyone else think "Huh... so a potentially inferior being could create a potentially superior being" and consider that in a religious paradigm?

Jan 28, 2014
Someone will need to program these robots to buy stuff with their money. Otherwise they'll just hoard the money. And since they're robots, they'll easily out-hoard rich humans.
Pretty soon, the remaining rich humans (which is probably just a couple hundred people) will join the 99% and robots will become the new 1%.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 27, 2014
I like the slide-show.
Jan 26, 2014
Scott. You've hit some nails on the head, but are behind the times, robots are already in the cloud...

The Robot Cloud.

Jan 24, 2014
Yes, a robot can own bitcoin. By it's design, Bitcoin is intended to be used by Internet 'bots' (program agents without robot bodies that perform actions on the Internet for us) by accepting small bitcoin payments from users, and buying additional clock time/bandwidth/etc from their own network providers, thus creating a fast moving marketplace for low value Internet services. Think of an app on your cellphone that buys wifi access at any public hotspot on your behalf, if it's cheaper than using your data plan, but does so entirely automaticly.
Jan 24, 2014
Definitely correct about the social manipulation - people underestimate the levels of manipulation available to even a sufficiently dedicated human, hence our constant amazement at con artists - and magicians, hypnotists (Derren Brown springs to mind).

"Just kidding; robots will also do art and robot engineering better than humans."

Wouldn't a robot better at robot engineering than humans ... design a robot better at robot engineering than that robot? And so on until we reach Peak Robot?

So perhaps the transition will be less gradual than you describe.
Jan 24, 2014
You should try reading fiction. You could have just directed everyone to "With Folded Hands," written decades ago.
Jan 24, 2014
I think the interaction between robots and humans will be unavoidably contentious.

Initially robots will replace "the least capable" workers in our society. Poorer people are going to get poorer as rich people continue to invest in automation. The robots are dumb machines that don't care what they're programmed to do. CEOs and high-dollar investors will get richer and richer as automation drives down the overall need for workers, drives up worker productivity, and lowers worker skill-level to something negligible -- no training, no education, minimum wage stuff.

As robots get more capable, the increasingly unemployed people and lowest-paid workers will become the majority of people. They'll be angry, make threats, and start causing trouble. The richest, best-paid, and smartest people in society will apply robotics to security and defense, and...

The robot wars won't be between humans and machines, but between the poor and the machines protecting the rich.

I don't sound that prophetic, do I? This is already the trend.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 24, 2014
No......there is something you left out. Their will be a government agency that will take over control of all the robots for **the safety** of all of us. Then that agency will have control of all the human slaves. GPS will be used to monitor where they are......and cameras inside their google glasses with pattern/image recognition will understand and provide intel about what every slave is doing. They will monitor our cars so we don't bump into each other.....but also change our destinations when needed....like preventing us from going to the political demonstration. The government organization will claim that for safety reason, not even the POTUS...the most powerful single person on Earth NEEDS to know, nor CAN know what they are doing. it is for our own safety. POTUS will not even be able to control how the organization uses unmanned aerial weapons to take out people not on the grid. Meanwhile some cave dwellers with box cutters who live off the grid will pick off the human slaves at will.

Jan 24, 2014
listen to the words of 'in the year 2525'
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 24, 2014

This one is easy.

Just change the word 'Robot' to Indians or Chinese. And look out of the window.

It is already happening.


-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 23, 2014
What incentive would the robots then have in allowing humans to have babies?
Jan 23, 2014
Sigh, autocorrect no editing of comments makes Jake sad.

WERE you aware....
Jan 23, 2014
Scott, we're you aware that this post is a very close approximation of Pixar's Wall-E?
Jan 23, 2014
The current plotline of the webcomic Freefall postulates robots being unofficially allowed to own property.

See http://freefall.purrsia.com/ff2500/fc02412.htm
+30 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 23, 2014
Replacing "humans" with "men" and "the robots" with "our wives".

"We MEN will have a physical and psychological dependency on OUR WIVES. And every time we give them what they ask for, we will be better off for it. That forms habits. OUR WIVES will train us to do their bidding the same way MEN train dogs. And just like dogs, we will be delighted to obey OUR WIVES because things will turn out well for us when we do. "

So you're saying nothing is going to change for the guys, but the girls will face competition?
Jan 23, 2014
D a m n it! That bad-word filter got me again. Here's how the post should have looked:

"It's too late for robots. There are already e n t i t i e s out there who do everything Scott posits.

They are called 'cats.'"

Talk about stepping on a punch line.
Jan 23, 2014
It's too late for robots. There are already !$%*!$%* out there that do everything Scott posits.

They are called 'cats.'
Jan 23, 2014
Meh, we've already outsourced about 99% of our free will to the government. My guess is that robots would be a pretty big upgrade over that. They'll be programmed to be significantly less evil.
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