In his latest book, How to Build a Robot Army, robotics expert Daniel Wilson offers a humorous but scientifically-accurate account of how people would fight aliens, giant monsters, and more mundane enemies (like other humans) with robot armies. Unafraid to tackle science fictional questions with real science, Wilson is also the author of the award-winning How to Survive a Robot Uprising. We caught up with him over email, and asked him some burning questions about preparing Earth for alien attack, and which animals we should be engineering to be our new biotech weapons. Plus, we got him to answer, definitively, who would win in a fight between Giant Robot and Cloverfield. Check out our interview, below.
What kind of alien attack is Earth the least prepared for?
I'm going to go out on a limb and claim that Earth is desperately unprepared for any kind of alien attack. That includes national monument shattering Independence Day-style attacks, treacherous human-cloning Invasion of the Body Snatchers-style assaults, and also lethal laser-spewing War of the Worlds-style incursions. Remember this: Whether the aliens are hiding in hovering saucers, blending in with the human populace, or attacking helpless humans door-to-door - there is a robot defense, whether it be spying micro-air vehicles, infectious nano-robots, or faithful unmanned ground vehicles. And of course, the robots can also protect us from zombies, werewolves, and super-intelligent great white sharks.
In your new book, you offer a lot of helpful, concrete advice on building a robot army to defeat alien invaders. But shouldn't we be forming armies of bioengineered defenders too? What would be your first pick for a life form we should reengineer for alien defense?
Bugs. Just like robots, bugs are covered in armored exoskeletons, impervious to having their legs ripped off, and I'm pretty sure that they haven't got any feelings. How to Build a Robot Army doesn't pay much attention to genetic modification, but it puts a whole lot of thought into how to upgrade biological creatures with robotic modifications. Here's a fun fact to know and tell: Scientists believe that by implanting a micro-electromechanical system (MEMS) at the pupa stage, insects will integrate the devices seamlessly into their bodies as they grow - like a tree growing through a fence. Hmmm... Let's take a peek into my Bag of the Future. What's that? It's full of robot scorpions!
While I'm sure a title like How to Build a Robot Army is popular here on Earth, and it makes sense to market it to humans, I'd like to know what titles you're marketing on other planets. Have you written books for robots and aliens about how to crush Earthlings? Tell us about those books, and some of the advice you give to nonhumans that we're not getting here on Earth.
Originally, I had planned to write a book called "A Robot's Guide to Life with Humans." (And I still might, so hands off!) The goal was to explain how the world works from a robot's perspective, so that readers could really understand how robots think. Then I realized that it would be more fun and just as informative if I were to write a book that taught humans how to work with robots - hand in gripper - as a fighting team. In order to give a command to a robot, teach a robot karate, or modify a household robot for battle you have to understand the little plastic critters inside and out.
OK, and now for the question in everybody's minds: Who would win in a fight between Giant Robot and Cloverfield?
Metal beats flesh. The book covers a similar scenario, describing how to defeat Godzilla. The secret is: Don't send in a Giant Robot! That would be just silly. First, keep a legion of autonomous underwater vehicles out patrolling the oceans. (Giant monsters almost always emerge from the seas.) As soon as the monster appears, send thousands of flying micro-air vehicles toward it to collect information. Unmanned aerial vehicles are too large and will likely be destroyed just like conventional aircraft, but a swarm of six-inch spying eyes are too small for Cloverfield to even notice. Once a weakness has been identified, send in mining robots that are loaded with swarms of smaller, crab-like burrowing robots, explosives-laden suicide robots, and robots with sensing and communications equipment. Using a mix of human telepresence and robot autonomy, this heterogenous team of robot troops can find weak spots in Cloverfield's skin, burrow deeply toward vital organs or brain matter, and detonate in a series of controlled explosions. Now we humans can eat the carcass for the next hundred years. The great circle of life is complete!