If you tuned into "60 Minutes" this past Sunday, you had the pleasure of watching a two-part report on Dr. Robert Ballard and his lifetime of undersea exploration. What is Bob Ballard's story, you ask?
Underwater adventure? Check. Mysterious shipwrecks? Check. Secret missions for the U.S. Navy? Check. Unknown creatures from the deep? Check. What doesn’t this story have!?
I first heard of Ballard when I was in middle school and I was enamored with the television series SeaQuest. He was their technical advisor and was behind much of the science in the show (I am pretty sure I just outed myself as a giant nerd).
Ballard has dedicated his entire life to finding out what is beneath the surface of the ocean. He has discovered hundreds of shipwrecks, but he is most proud of his tube worm discovery. This find, off the coast of the Galapagos Islands, rocked the science world. It made scientists reevaluate how life can form. These organisms evolved without the benefit of sunlight. They evolved in the dark on the ocean floor. It was kind of a sucker punch to photosynthesis.
An urgent and disturbing news story came across my desk this week and I felt the need to share it. ROBOTS ARE TAKING OVER THE OCEAN! Maybe I am getting ahead of myself… let me back-peddle.
Oceans cover more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface and the majority of them are unexplored. As oceanographer Robert Ballard put it on the Colbert Report last February, one year of NASA’s budget would be able to fund 1,600 years of NOAA’s exploration budget. Translation: There is a lot we don’t know about our own planet.
According to the Christian Science Monitor, the good folks over at Scripps Institution of Oceanography have been developing a way to explore and monitor the oceans. The solution: robots.
The idea is that large groups, up to hundreds, of autonomous underwater explorers (AUEs) would swarm around in the ocean like a school of fish. They would report data back to larger “mothership” robots.
The potential benefits of this project are great. This type of monitoring can give us a better idea of how certain pollution affects the ocean. It can also give scientists a better picture of where they might advise for marine protected areas.
Right off the bat, that sounds good. But at what cost?
Okay, so both those scenarios are far fetched. But any time you introduce something new into an ecosystem, be it biological or not, there needs to be a measure of caution exercised… even if the eventuality is not submission to our robot overlords. Just look at Nutria!
This probably is not the start of a robot–led human apocalypse, but just in case I am keeping my dad, John Connor, on call and hoping the people at Scripps consult with Isaac Asimov in their programming.