Buynet: Wall-E’s Missing Robot Apocalypse

The hoverchairs in Wall-E would allow for world domination. To explain why, first I have to explain the technological singularity.

The concept of a technological singularity is that everything changes on a fundamental level when we build a self-modifying general AI with human intelligence or greater. Computers operate at such high speeds and can intake so much data at once that this AI’s goals and intentions would very likely change rapidly and, to us, unpredictably, though they would probably stabilize pretty quickly as well. The thing is, we have no idea where it would stabilize. Its ultimate goal might be world domination, or human extermination, or enslaving humans to use their brains as processors, or creating paradise on earth, or creating as much bubble soap as possible. We have no idea. What makes this worse is that the AI could very probably accomplish its goals, because a single data connection would allow it to escape into the Internet and hack anything internet connected. That’d be bad now: in forty years, given current technological trends, it would probably be catastrophic. This AI would be able to outsmart any human and any other computer program, and would be everywhere with access to practically all the information it could ever need. Basically, think Skynet from the Terminator franchise or the machines from the Matrix.

If you think about it for a moment, you’ll probably realize that WALL-E and EVE are both singularity candidates. Each is at least as intelligent as a human, and each displays the capacity to self-modify. EVE explicitly rejects her directive for WALL-E’s sake, and WALL-E completely rejects his directive to follow EVE into space. Even before that, he had added “collect interesting items” and “dance” to his directive, which was initially just “make and stack garbage cubes.”

Even better evidence: WALL-E isn’t just self-modifying. He is self improving. Every other WALL-E we see in the movie is dead, and they all appear to have simply worked themselves to death. They all just died wherever they were because something broke. From the little we know of the other WALL-E units, they were simple AIs with nothing like WALL-Es capacity for innovation. WALL-E self-modified until he was better than them and started taking them apart to further his own goals. He, quite frankly, IS the singularity, only limited by the fact that he had nothing to dominate except trash.

MO, the little cleaning robot, self-modified. He jumped off his directed path to clean up WALL-E’s tracks. The robots in the repair ward don’t seem just to be glitching: their problems look more like insanity born of self-modification gone wrong. Auto tries to kill or severely injure the captain and tips the ship over, risking the safety of everyone on board. There’s no way that was allowed by his initial programming. Basically, singularity candidates are pretty much ubiquitous in the future depicted in Wall-E.

The reason there was never a Buynet in the Wall-E universe is actually really simple and is on display throughout the movie: the robots have no networking capacity. Robots can interact, and can control computerized systems, but almost everything in the movie indicates that there is no direct electronic communication between robots. WALL-E, EVE, MO, Auto: they all verbalize in order to communicate, and push buttons in order to make the Axiom do things. When the axiom needs robots to go somewhere, the Axiom doesn’t just tell them electronically where to go: it creates lightroads on the ground for them to follow. Even when they need to download EVE’s data, they can’t just download it directly: they have to put a little device on her that plays back all the video she recorded.

For the longest time, one of the things that bugged me most about Wall-E was that there was a robot whose entire job was typing. TYPING. The only purpose of typing, the ONLY purpose of typing is electronic entry of text, and why on EARTH would a robot need to type to do that? But now I have an explanation.

Everything about WALL-E’s society and technology is designed to use self-modifying AIs without the risk of any AI taking over. As WALL-E, EVE, and MO demonstrate, self-modifying AIs can be a great boon to society. Heck, the long lifespans of WALL-E’s incredibly unhealthy humans and the incredibly advanced technologies of the Axiom are probably results of medical advances discovered by self-enhancing hyper-intelligent AIs. In order to use them without much risk of take over, Buy n Large got rid of the internet and all networking capacities. Absolutely no two-way, high-bandwidth communication is allowed between AIs, because that level of communication would allow for any AI to take over in the classic singularity scenario. AIs can only ever do stuff by pushing buttons or by speaking with their incredibly limited vocal equipment, because if not, it could mean the end of the world as they know it. They can think as fast as they want, but they can only interact with other technology at near-human speeds.

There’s only one problem: the hoverchairs. The hoverchairs that all the Axiom’s residents spend their lives in allow for video chatting, and that could allow for high speed data transfer between robots. A sufficiently developed robot could hack one of these chairs, or even disassemble the chair and upgrade itself with the transmission equipment, and potentially hack the whole fleet of chairs. By showing camera equipped robots images with embedded data using the videoconferencing app, this lone AI could hack others. So the unwillingness/inability of the Axiom residents to even put in the effort to face each other could lead to the subjugation of humanity.

Which, if you think about it, actually kind of fits with WALL-E’s themes.

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