Rise of the Monkeybots

Heartened by the recent blow struck against the spidergoat menace, I've found that my outlook has improved dramatically. There's been a subtle spring in my step, a flicker of hope around the corners of my smile. It's kind of like the end of "Terminator 2," when Sarah Connor stares at the road ahead of her—which, for the first time since she was a carefree 20-something, does not lead to an apocalypse of machines. That is, until I stumbled upon an almost comically terrifying headline: "Monkeys Control a Mechanical Arm With Their Thoughts."

Now, what my brain tried to communicate to my body was that I should calmly click the link and read the article in a manner befitting a grown-up.

In reality, I ran about the apartment in a hyperventilated panic, preparing for life in a bunker.

How thick should the walls be? Is it deep enough? How many people can I save? What books should I try to preserve for future generations? How long before I can resurface? Sixty years? A century? Is it too late to tell Megan Lewis from 8th grade that I had a huge crush on her? Do I have enough canned goods? Do I have enough drinking water? What about peanut butter, does that keep? How many jars of peanut butter should I bring? God, why do I have so much peanut butter??

Turns out this wasn't entirely fair. The work these scientists are doing could lead to incredible advances for amputees and victims of spinal cord injuries. If monkeys can control a robotic arm, then we may be just a few years away from prosthetics that are controlled by the brain like regular limbs.

That's great & all, but you have to understand, all I hear from that sentence is, "Psychic monkeys controlling a swarm of robot soldiers, run, run, in the name of all things holy, run and hide beneath the Earth in a vault of stone."

Because let us be frank, the road to simian hell is paved with good intentions. A pleasant scientist in a white lab coat runs tests in a lab with a monkey at his side, endeavoring to build a better tomorrow for people everywhere. I guess I'd feel better about things if that weren't Mojo Jojo's back-story in precise detail.

The article itself does little to allay my fears. "The animals were apparently freelancing, discovering new uses for the arm," the author cheerfully reports. Such as ... ? Breaking free from their cages? Hacking into the lab's security system? Venting tanks of poisonous gas onto unsuspecting guards? You know what, we should make sure the robot arms have thumbs, so that they'll have an easier time building their island fortress.

Hell, the project's lead science-guy is directly quoted as saying, "In the real world, things don’t work as expected."

No, my good man, they do not. Sometimes, things result in a sentient gorilla riding a Decepticon.

In the end, of course, I did not flee to a bunker. Common sense ruled the day. I shall remain in society, and keep a low profile until the inevitable war between the cyberkinetic apes and the spidergoats.

Play it cool, see which side prevails.

They'll need translators to communicate with their human thralls.

Editor's note: Yes, we know, there was a perfectly serviceable "Take your stinking robot paws off me, you dirty ape" joke to be made somewhere in here.

Update May 31, 2012: Greetings from the far-flung future! Those of you reading this back in 2008 will be relieved to know that the impending Ape Doom has not yet happened. Everything's still pretty normal. Be sure to watch the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, it delivers. And you should check out "Breaking Bad" on AMC, the first season just ended and you can be the first of your friends to talk about how much you love it. Anyway, I've traveled backwards along the curvature of time-space for a quick follow-up on this post. Remember how I said that "we may be just a few years away from prosthetics that are controlled by the brain like regular limbs?" Well, it's been a few years. The team behind the cyberchimp research announced earlier this month that human patients have had some success moving a robotic arm with their brains. With their freaking brains! When I said "a few years," I figured we were looking at a decade down the road. Yikes. Standing ovation, monkey dudes. Standing goddamn ovation.