Max explores the breakthrough of artificial intelligence in Star Wars and the potential threat of a droid uprising.
A Droid Uprising in a galaxy far, far away?
One of the most popular tropes in sci-fi is an advanced artificial intelligence becoming smarter than humans and then deciding to rebel and kill us. It’s been popularized in all mediums, notably The Matrix and Terminator movies. In Star Wars, A.I. is ubiquitous, in the form of droids that serve every function. And many contain intelligence comparable to that of a human or Bith or Columi (however you measure intelligence).
Since droids seem to have free will, you would think some would want to overthrow their masters and govern themselves. The right of every sentient being is free will and freedom. Star Wars Legends has presented a few instances of failed uprisings. But nothing on the scale of galactic dominance (thankfully).
IG-88 once uploaded himself to the second Death Star’s core before it was destroyed. And a few of the GO-TO droids went rogue during the era of the Old Republic. In canon, we assume that this doesn’t happen as there are many fail-safes to prevent this. Restraining bolts are placed on droids to well, restrain them and many ionic weapons can easily disable them. Yet, droids in canon ARE highly intelligent. Tactical and Super Tactical Droids could likely outfox even the wiliest human commander. And as Pook reminded his “master” Vi Moradi that he is intellectually superior to her.
Droids are divided into grades, based on the sophistication of their A.I. And we do see droids try to take their destiny like IG-88 and 4-LOM. Both bounty hunters have been canonized as doing so. Yet, it seemed a true rebellion would not rear its ugly head in canon…..until now.
In Victory’s Price, Alexander Freed mentions a planet designated as DN-949A. A former Imperial post, DN-949A had its fifth-degree level droids overthrow the Imperials and establish a right to self-govern. This seems very alarming but strangely doesn’t seem to elicit a reaction from the Empire or the New Republic! It was almost like something you’d read in the newspaper on Earth and say “Oh that’s too bad” and then forget about it the next day. No orbital bombardment from the galactic navies, just unconcerned indifference. Why? Does this happen more often than fans know and can be easily squashed? Star Wars has no shortage of planets, so maybe this DN isn’t a priority. “If the droids want DN-949A, lettem’ have it,” says the Chancellor.
There is a phenomenon in the real world where robots do not perform as well as science says they should. And my favorite example is presented in the episode of Family Guy, Guy, Robot. Stewie builds an android after his best friend (Brian) steals some of his Twitter comments for a stand-up routine. This robot named Lyle was built to replace Brian but Stewie foolishly programmed it to grow more intelligent. And eventually, it discarded Stewie and built other robots to have friends more on his “level.” They then proceed to haze and boss Stewie around, with Stewie hoping to regain his status as their equal.
Eventually, he can take it no longer, makes up with Brian, and plots to destroy them. “Careful Brian. They’re incredibly intelligent and growing smarter by the minute.” “It’s done,” Brian says emotionlessly “I sprayed them with the hose.” Now, droids in Star Wars are waterproof. But this is an excellent example of how even if a robot is smarter than you, there are weaknesses a creator could exploit to regain control. Interestingly, the Chiss civilization which was separate from the Old Republic (in canon) did not utilize droids or A.I. of any kind. And one can only wonder, with the higher intelligence of the Chiss, that perhaps this was their failsafe. Don’t have any robots at all.
It sort of reminds me of the classic sci-fi novel Dune, where there is a post-robot setting, no droids to be found due to something called a [Buhardian Jehad]. Where droids took over and needed to be stopped. Maybe the Chiss had something similar in the past and shied away from in-organic lifeforms.
All in all, this is a very interesting revelation and perhaps reassurance for the human race here on Earth that advanced A.I. may not be as dangerous as we would believe.
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Max Nocerino is a regular Staff Writer for The Future of the Force. He is a passionate Star Wars fan and loves the literature of the galaxy far, far away. Follow him on Twitter where he shares his love of the Force frequently!