Robots, it seems, are poised to build their own version of Wikipedia, thanks to the efforts of scientists at the Seventh Framework Programme, the E.U.'s research arm. The network is called RoboEarth, and it will allow machines to upload information and share it with other machines. Wait, how would that even work?
Markus Waibel, a senior researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, has a piece explaining RoboEarth at IEEE Spectrum this week. Waibel writes that RoboEarth will be "a worldwide, open-source platform that allows any robot with a network connection to generate, share, and reuse data." The problem with robots, traditionally, has been that they're programmed only to understand hyper-specific situations. They can function in "highly controlled and predictable environments like manufacturing plants," as the RoboEarth Web site puts it, but they can't generalize that knowledge; they can't put it in new contexts; they can't learn. RoboEarth is meant to help the robots learn.
Should people be terrified of this? News items about RoboEarth have been full of nervous Skynet jokes. "Personally, we're keeping our shotguns handy," writes Roman Cruz at the site Tom's Guide. Over at The Awl, Choire Sicha appends the following tags to a brief post about the news: "OH BOY, ROBOEARTH, THE END."
But come on, guys. Have you been to Wikipedia lately? It's full of articles about the guy in the pimp painting and gas station owners named Dick Assman. And occasionally there will be a teenage pop singer's obvious press release dressed up as an encyclopedia entry. We're not saying the robots aren't planning to displace and destroy us all--God knows we're not saying that--but they won't do it using robot-Wikipedia. They'll be too busy arguing about whether Handsome Pete from The Simpsons meets the general notability guidelines.