Murphy’s Law – The adorable, arrow-wielding killing machines that will enslave us all

Joel Murphy

Joel Murphy

Sometimes I honestly wonder if there are “mad” scientists out there actively trying to kill all mankind just because they can.

That may sound ridiculous, but look at the history. Scientists have built things like the Large Hadron Collider that, in the wrong hands, could theoretically be used to suck Earth into a black hole. Scientists are attempting to build elevators into space so that we can get trapped inside one, helpless as we are crushed to death by asteroids. And most recently, scientists have taught a robot how to accurately hit a target with a bow and arrow. (Seriously, read that last sentence again and tell me it doesn’t sound like something Doc Ock would come up with to kill Spider-man.)

In case you haven’t heard about the arrow-wielding robot, allow me to enlighten you. Researchers at the Italian Institute of Technology have created an adorable, childlike robot called iCub that, armed with a bow and arrow, uses a computer algorithm to hit a set target. Every time the iCub misses the bull’s eye, his internal programming recalculates and allows him to adjust his shot to get closer the next time. Standing three and a half meters from the bull’s eye, the iCub was able to hit its target in just eight tries using its ARCHER algorithm (which stands for Augmented Reward Chained Regression, which I really hope is an English translation of the original Italian name; otherwise, these guys need to go back to anagram school because that spells ARCR).

Earlier this year, these scientists had similar success teaching another robot to flip pancakes. Of course, like an ever-escalating pervert that finds tying his belt around his neck while he masturbates is the only way for him to get a thrill these days, these researchers decided adorable pancake-making robots were simply too mundane, so they decided to give one a loaded weapon to see what would happen. Interestingly enough, the previous robot needed 50 tries to figure out how to turn a pancake over, but the armed robot only needed eight tries to hit a bull’s eye, which seems like a much more complicated task. I think it’s pretty clear what’s going on here – these robots are much more interested in killing us than in making us tasty breakfast foods.

In case this story hasn’t sent shivers down your spine yet, allow me to tell you all the things wrong with this picture. For starters, they have handed a robot a weapon and are teaching it to accurately hit targets. It is, in essence, a killing machine. That’s its entire purpose in life – to fire a weapon at things. And not just a mindless killing machine, but one that learns and adapts so that it can be even better at killing the more practice it has. What’s worse, the word “reward” is part of the ARCHER acronym – so we are rewarding this robot for accurately firing an arrow into a target. We are teaching this robot that firing a weapon into things is a good thing, something that should be rewarded. This ensures that once the robot gets its first taste of blood, it will want more, and on a larger scale (just like the aforementioned autoerotic asphyxiating pervert).

Making matters worse, these scientists have made the robot cute. It has wide round eyes, an endearing illuminated pink smile and an adorable little feathered headdress. They might as well program it to say “Mama” in a sweet childlike voice too just to completely ensure that when this thing finally does snap and begins to attack us all with pinpoint accuracy, the soldiers we send in to take down the iCub will feel guilty about being asked to gun down such an adorable little character. Encouraging them to hesitate for even a split second when taking on the deadly-accurate killing machine definitely seems like a smart way to go.

Many of you scoff at me whenever I warn of the impending robot apocalypse. Hell, quite a few of you still jokingly argue that zombies will rise up and kill us all. But I promise you my friends that you won’t be laughing when an army of adorable little mini-robots break into your home and begin pelting you with arrows.

While many of you are skeptical (which is fine, since you skeptics can serve as cannon fodder while me and my John Connor-like army of robot haters can escape to our bunkers and prepare to fight), there are some of you out there who have been paying attention this whole time like I have. And you true believers will undoubtedly remember last year’s story about the EATR (Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot – clearly named by some non-Italians who get how anagrams work), the “steam-powered, biomass-eating military robot” that is capable of fueling itself indefinitely by consuming dead bodies. (If you are unfamiliar with the EATR, we talked about it in-depth in last summer’s Hobo Radio 92). It’s not very difficult to envision a not-too-distant future where the EATR and the iCub combine like Voltron to form a super-powered death robot that guns humans down and then eats their bodies to refuel.

The only question is – what will be the catalyst that causes these robots to turn on us all? Hmm, I don’t know, perhaps some jerks in Italy will degrade these sentient beings by putting headdresses on them and forcing them to make everyone pancakes.

Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at

  1. amanda September 29, 2010
  2. Hope September 29, 2010
  3. Joelle September 29, 2010
  4. Rachelle September 29, 2010

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