Robots and Privacy
June 13, 2013

The Super Smash Bros. reveal got me thinking about the various console announcements being made and discussed at this year’s E3, which consequently got me thinking about Robot Masters. Yes, Robot Masters. Follow me here. It would appear to me that technical issues will not be the only things that will hold back development of robots like those found in the Mega Man universe.

The Xbox One is an instructive example. Through its Kinect gadget, it has voice command recognition and facial recognition—capabilities a humanoid robot would clearly need. The Kinect is always on (unless one takes pains to unplug it): always listening, always watching, always recording. And it’s near-constantly connected to the Internet, which means it could be constantly uploading everything it sees and hears to servers in Washington (not that Washington, the other one), to be stored in vast data centers.

This has naturally raised quite a bit of privacy concerns—which would not be absent either when dealing with the subject of humanoid robots like the Robot Masters. One key difference between a robot and a human is a robot has a perfect memory. It is not simply “remembering” things but it is literally recording—likely including video and sound—everything it sees or hears. And unlike a human, who can only recount things stored in his memory to others vaguely, a robot’s recordings could be easily played back to anyone at any time in the future, preserved in perfect detail for posterity. Add to this the fact that hackers will inevitably access this data, which effectively opens it up to the general public. The life of anyone who is in proximity of one of these robots would become an open book. Although the Robot Masters themselves were designed more as industry robots than household robots (and, therefore, wouldn’t likely be sitting in a person’s living room like the Xbox One), one could picture similar privacy concerns regarding robotic maids and the like that might be invented in the future.

Let’s not forget the units themselves can be reprogrammed beyond their originally-designed intentions—which is, obviously, something that happened even in Mega Man’s fictional world. Even today there are networks of “zombie” computers that send out spam mail and act as clandestine servers for their masters, completely outside the awareness of their actual owners. I can imagine a not-so-distant future where such a worm ends up propagating on the Xbox One, where burglars spend their time driving through neighborhoods accessing compromised Xboxes wirelessly and looking inside people’s homes to preview which houses are the best marks. The same sort of danger could easily hold true for humanoid robots as well.

And I haven’t even gotten to the weapons aspect, given how all of the Robot Masters are armed. Considering all of this, sometimes I have to wonder: What was Dr. Light thinking?

Another funny aspect to consider is how ubiquitous wireless is in our day and age, never mind in a world with technology like that of the Mega Man universe. When you think about it, all Robot Masters really ought to be constantly connected to each other and to central servers wirelessly. Each one should always be totally aware of what all of the other Robot Masters are doing (at least assuming they are all owned by the same corporation). There should never be any need for questions or confusion. Granted, satellite reception might be spotty in certain locations where the Robot Masters were sent to work (like the South Pole), but otherwise, real life Robot Masters would likely be more “plugged in” than how they are typically portrayed.

Luckily, in the fictional world of Mega Man we can enjoy the delightful cast of characters and the challenging game play without having to worry about these sorts of concerns. In real life, I’m not so certain we’ll be jumping on the humanoid robot bandwagon any time soon. Or if we do, it may be to our own peril—as Dr. Wily proved rather handily.

- The MegaMaster

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