Taking on the Swarm

There is a concrete lesson we can learn from dinosaurs, SUVs and the 30,000 calorie sandwich. The lesson is this: Bigger may not necessarily be better in the long run, but it can still kick some serious ass. When applied to recent concerns about the advent of swarm robots, this brings up a burning question. Why build a swarm of itty-bitty cooperating robots when you can build a swarm of great big cooperating robots? It's a thought that haunted me as I read about the performance-art/scourge-of-all-life mechanical spider unleashed by the French upon unsuspecting British townspeople.

The 50-foot, 40-ton machination of death, improbably named "La Princesse," clung to the side of a building for several days before unfurling and marching down the street. One of the BBC photos makes it look as if the arachnomech is spewing gouts of flame from its many appendages, which nearly had me diving beneath the nearest parked car for cover — and hell, I'm 3,000 miles away. However, I'm almost positive that's an unintended trick of the camera frame, which shows pyrotechnics set off on the ground. Almost, mind you.

La Princesse is not a true robot per se, as it (she?) requires a dozen cackling Frenchmen to operate. Still, the gap between mechanism and automaton is not particularly wide. This thing could easily have a computerized brain, possibly as soon as next Thursday if they pulled a few all-nighters. The prospect of a 50-foot robot spider swarm is ... oh, let's just call it "thought-provoking." We need to start devising a plan to defend ourselves.

And that plan may just start with bees.

British researchers, clearly concerned about the menace of France's spiderbots, have determined that bees who survive traumatic encounters with robot spiders are able to learn from the experience and fare better against them in the future. Definitely watch the video, which looks a lot like what would happen if bees competed on a Japanese game show.

While the researchers claim that their work is purely scientific, the military applications are transparent. With sufficient funding and ingenuity, they could develop hives of warrior bees to take on the spiderbots and save us all.

There is, however, one minor problem. The bees will kind of need to be 50 feet tall.

Look, I know this is exactly the sort of thing that I've been warning against — a monumentally poor idea wrapped in a gooey caramel layer of good idea. Consider the alternative, though. When the swarm begins its assault on humanity, do we really want to be caught flat-footed, looking the other way, with our thumbs up our asses? Or would we rather be prepared? Great swaths of honey to root the spiderbots in place, mighty stingers to punch through their steel armor, the inherent smarts to learn and adjust as fast as the swarm does. Those spidery bastards won't know what hit them.

So let's just make one 50-foot bee, and see how things go. If it doesn't work out, it's not like the thing will go on a Mothra-like rampage through New York.

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Okay, slim chance that it will go on a Mothra-like rampage through New York.

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Okay, it will more than likely go on a Mothra-like rampage through New York. But come on, we need to do this. Civilization itself is at stake.