6 Parts of the Human Brain Robots Will Need to Simulate Before They Can Enslave Us All (In Order of Most to Least Intuitive)

There are plenty of ways robots can kill us. A computer could malfunction and send nukes to every nation in the world, or an errant Roomba could get fed up with this cat. But the scariest robot takeovers are the ones in which a man-made AI robot revolts. There is something terrible and poetic about a creation turning on its master, and becoming the silicon overlord to all carbon-based life-forms. From Skynet to Cylons, from the Machines of the Matrix to the Geth of Mass Effect, robots betray their creators all the time in fictional worlds. But how imminent is this singularity? How smart do robots need to be in order to hunt down a rebel human menace?

To crush and/or manipulate us, the robots would need to be able to think like us. But the human brain is a complicated thing, and for them to succeed, there are many brain regions and/or functions they would need to be able to replicate to be able to adequately interact with the world, let alone conquer us.

1. Frontal Lobe- For Making Snap Decisions
Suppose Scouter Drone H-4687 has been sent on a mission to collect data on small groups of pesky human rebels, among them a group that has taken refuge in a local Baskin-Robbins. The bot sits inconspicuously in the corner, under a pile of wreckage, watching and recording.

But on day 3 of the expedition, Scouter Drone H-4687 is spotted! In an instant, it must make a choice about what to do next. It can attempt to fight and escape, but that will be difficult, as its weapons systems are inadequate. It can self-destruct, aborting the mission. Or it can remain in captivity, holding onto the information in hopes of a future escape. The robot will need a system to weigh the pros and cons of each hypothetical decision to arrive at a logical conclusion.

In humans, this system is called the frontal lobe. This region is located, appropriately, at the front of the brain. This is the part of us that makes decisions, maps out consequences and make educated judgments. Robots would need some similar method for analysis, which is something that most fictional robots can do well. That robots should be logic-machines is standard in most fictional universes.

2. Hippocampus- For... What Were We Talking About?
Scouter Drone H-4687, with his superior processing system, recognizes the advantages of letting himself be taken prisoner in hopes of future escape. He is placed in a holding cell which, due to human negligence, is faulty. When one of his guards is not paying attention, he escapes.

At this point, a human would do their best to escape from the Baskin-Robbins unscathed. They would act on the recently-acquired memories of capture, and adjust their goals. But an automatic machine that performs strictly by program would likely find another corner of the room to sit in and continue recording. The Drone, therefore, would need some way to learn from recent experiences and adjust for optimum function, putting off the objective for now.

A structure called the hippocampus is what makes that learning possible in mammals. At its most basic level, it helps humans adjust behavior patterns to promote survival; it also creates rich, vivid memories, updating and allowing new information to be sorted every minute. A human with hippocampal damage wouldn’t remember anything since the time of injury. Without a system similar to the hippocampus, Scouter Drone H-4687 would return to its hiding spot in the corner, only to be discovered and destroyed.

3. Top-Down and Bottom-Up Visual Processing- For Looking and Sorting
Scouter Drone escapes the Baskin-Robbins, fleeing into the streets. There it encounters two humans returning to base. Obviously, a robot would need a visual field capable of seeing the humans, sensing their motion, and interpreting them as enemies.

But equally important is the ability to sort and group visual information, and also ignore unimportant stimuli. Suppose the humans are in Scouter Drone’s right visual field, but to the left is a flock of brightly-colored, fast-moving, heat-releasing butterflies, quickly moving towards it. They are more visually complex than the humans, and the constant process of loading and reloading their images with every flutter of every wing would be time-consuming.

Humans are capable of grouping visual stimuli into a whole, and saving time by not noticing quick changes in one moving item (which is why we see a blur instead of a fast-moving object). If a robot did not have this ability, it would constantly be reprocessing the image. This would be time-consuming, and also attention-consuming. The robot would become “obsessed” with the butterflies in a way, missing the humans altogether. It would need a visual attention system like humans have, both top-down and bottom up, to decide which visual information is most relevant.

4. Periacqueductal Grey Area- For Feeling Like Crap All the Time
The Scouter Drone’s weapons are advanced enough to fight these small humans, and so it does. It is partially damaged in a firefight, but escapes at the last minute, and the humans do not pursue. The damage is enough that it is risky to go all the way back to base, but there are some stations where it could get repairs on the way. The robot would need a system to know that it needs repairs, so as not to jeopardize the whole mission with injury that could easily be fixed.

In humans, we call this notification system “pain.” Pain is crippling, and might be seen as a sign of human weakness. But pain is what lets us know when we need a tune-up. The wrenching nature of it ensures that we pay attention to it. It is either severe or light, depending on how badly repairs are needed. A robot would need a similarly-intrusive mechanism, and it would need a pain “scale,” connected to its robotic “frontal lobe” so it would be able to decide whether the pain is bad enough to delay the mission and seek immediate medical attention.

5. Amygdaloid Nuclei-  For Feeling Terrified and Traumatized
Remember the importance of memory? Scouter Drone would need a way to remember the encounter at Baskin-Robbins, but also would need to remember it as important. Above all the human nests it found, the Baskin-Robbins humans are the real deal. It would need to report this to its superiors immediately, so this fact would need to stand out in its memory banks. The memories of these humans would need to be robust and detailed, so they stand out.

Humans are capable of remembering deeply emotional events, more so than emotionally neutral ones. An almond-shaped region deep in our brain called the amygdala allows us to do this. The amygdala is what makes us feel fear, and it also washes the memory system with norepenephrine, a chemical that helps retrieve that fear when the event is remembered. In humans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, these “fear memories” are especially bad. But fear and emotion are critical to memory storage, and critical to helping the Robot Governors decide which nest of humans to wipe out first. Scouter Drone would need to recall the events at Baskin-Robbins as relevant; tn short, the little robot would need to be traumatized.

6. Empathy- For Intrusive, Obsessive Guilt Complexes
For any of this to happen, though, Scouter Drone would need to care about its objective. As we have shown, we cannot simply rely on the robot “doing what it is programmed to do,” because in many situations the robot would need to defy its program in the immediate to achieve the objective later on. It would need to experience some deep, internal compulsion towards its objective. It should also understand its usefulness in future missions towards a larger objective, so it should care about itself. And it should, when necessary, understand that its fellow-bot is critical towards the objective, and care about others as well.

In other words, Scouter Drone H-4687 would need to experience a very human kind of empathy.

Maybe it can be a mainframe, some massive wireless network into which they are all plugged.
But robots need to be able to not only see the pain of its fellows, but feel it. Only then can they learn from the mistakes of other members and become a more “well-oiled machine.”

There’s a debate about the locus of empathy in the brain. Our thinking, judging frontal lobe plays a role, especially the prefrontal cortex. But empathy is all over the brain. When we watch others imitate our own actions, our right inferior parietal cortices--which is responsible for our own movements--are active. When we watch others sick or in pain, even experience it ourselves, in the very regions of our brains in which pain perception is located.

So for robots to destroy us, they would need logical skills. But their vision would need to be imperfect. And they would need to be emotionally-heated, pain-feeling, empathetic basket-cases.

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