Stock up on boxes!

My brother and I, as kids, were once stopped by the police and told we could go to jail because we’d found a couple of large cardboard boxes and were rolling around in them, crashing into each other. Refrigerator boxes were the best! We sheepishly ended our fun and took our boxes to a nearby dumpster. We should have told them we were training to combat the Skynet takeover (although, this was before the Terminator movie, and would only have been appreciated if they understood we were also time travelers from the future.)

But I’m serious. Large cardboard boxes, or possibly a pine tree, are all we need to defeat the rogue AIs, as explained in this book.

When this thing shows up at your door, you better have a cardboard box handy, or you’re going to have to turn a lot of somersaults.


  1. Akira MacKenzie says


    blockquote>Refrigerator boxes were the best!

    Oh hells YES! The large appliance boxes of my youth became a fleet of rocketships and submarines until we battered them into scrape paper. I tried the TARDIS, but my troglodyte cousins didn’t know what the hell Doctor Who even was. I recall I was 5 or 6, bouncing around in a refrigerator box to the tune of “The Telephone Rock” from Sesame Street until the box fell over and we rolled out dizzy, bruised, but laughing.

    Ah. Good times.

  2. keinsignal says

    One of the best things that ever happened to me on Facebook (besides leaving it) – I had a sack of ping-pong balls with eyeballs printed on them, and had been posting various photos messing around with them. One was a picture of my open palm, with an eyeball pinched between my index & middle finger, another between my pinky & ring finger, and a Sharpie line across the middle of my palm – this, apparently, was a convincing enough simulacrum to trigger FB’s facial recognition.

  3. says

    And, after you’ve snuck up and destroyed the AI, you can live in the refrigerator box. Because, between the Rtwingnuts and the rogue AI’s and their robot guns there will be nothing left to live in.

  4. says

    @3 keinsignal – good work! Triggering is one of the new favorite words.
    We have no involvement with farcebook. But, in public, we legally, ethically, avoid facial recognition by always protecting ourselves with KN95 masks.

  5. says

    Dear PZ, please give the title of the book. My organization bans any reference to AMAZ0n because they tried to steal our published works, they bullied the original amazon bookstore to steal the web address and they destroy honest small businesses. (end of rant)

  6. whywhywhy says

    Cardboard box: 2005 inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame. (It should have been inducted much earlier.)

  7. says

    It’s going to be running linux and an off the shelf wifi stack, right? Unless they’re careful their robots are going to go all ED-209 on their ass.

  8. kaleberg says

    A friend of mine’s father was once a Russian soldier who escaped from a German POW camp by using pine sap to turn the skin of a dead cow into a camouflage costume. It worked against human POW guards. Odds are it would work against a stupid AI.

    If you think about it, it seems that purpose of computers is to provide us humans with something that we can feel superior to. How many times have you dealt with a customer service agent and joined in the general badinage about stupid, inflexible computer systems? If anything, AI is going to make them even stupider by applying advanced Bayesian analysis instead of common sense reasoning. I’ve gotten all kinds of favors and overrides by directing my animus at chips of silicon rather than the person I’d like to help me. We can even share a laugh, the way we might about the antics of a four year old. It’s something we meat engines can agree on.
    It’s much better to blame the ills of life and the world on inanimate computers, AI or equipped or not, than on various classes of living and breathing humans. Yes, I know, I am playing a potentially dangerous game in the face of the robot apocalypse, but we’ll just have to see how that works out.

  9. dangerousbeans says

    I wonder if it detects me if i put on my motorcycle suit and helmet, and pretend to be a robot?

  10. robro says

    The test seems kind of wacky. I gather the device is programmed to detect humans “walking” toward it That a hard problem for the very reason demonstrated…humans can find other ways to move to the target besides just walking up to it. If the device was simply looking for any movement toward it, it might have had a lot more detections.

  11. silvrhalide says

    @13 If the AI system decided to shoot at everything that moved 1) it would be indistinguishable from the average cop or “sport” hunter and 2) it would be even easier to defeat–just wave a sheet in its general direction or something similar and wait for it to run out of ammo. If it’s actually a learning AI, then continue to repeat any and all behaviors it will shoot at until it “recognizes” the object as “not human” or something similar, at which point you disguise yourself as the disfavored object and stroll right in.

  12. chrislawson says


    Yep. Amazing how my feelings towards Amazon have gone from “thank god, a place I can order all these books I can’t get through bookstores” to “I hope the company implodes in a financial scandal and Bezos gets a 200-year prison term.”

  13. chrislawson says

    Oh, and to be a bit more useful and answer your question, the book is Four Battlegrounds: Power in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Paul Scharre, publisher W. W. Norton.

    I’m guessing you don’t want the Kindle version :-)

  14. Artor says

    I owned a bookstore right around the time Amazon was taking off. You’ll notice I speak in the past tense. Independent bookstores were dropping like flies around that time. The ones who held on are troopers.

  15. Tethys says

    I refuse to call it a proper AI until it can flail its limbs about and say “Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!” about any perceived threats it detects.

    The robot dog gun can be avoided by simply using some stairs, escaping out the back, and possibly jumping a few fences to make sure it can’t see, shoot, or follow me. A bedsheet for snow camo would probably function like the box. I don’t think the AI would notice a large white rectangle in a snowy landscape as a dangerous threat.

  16. Rich Woods says

    If I were to disguise myself as an oncoming truck when the sun is low in the sky, I would expect the killer robots to all veer across the road and cause a 50-robot pile-up in the opposite lane.

  17. chrislawson says


    My sympathies. In Australia, the story was a little different. I knew a few bookstore owners, and it wasn’t Amazon that killed independent bookshops, it was the large retail chains like Big W. They realised that they could sell bestsellers as loss leaders to get people into their stores. So for them, a small $2-3 loss on each book was more than recouped by the other things people would buy once they were in the store.

    Those bestsellers had been the lifeblood of the local bookstores. Once that was cut off, the remaining market was bibliophiles like me who preferred to buy from trusted local shops but could not possibly make up for the hundreds of sales that used to go through their tills. (Amazon definitely didn’t help, but the damage was done long before Amazon took off in Australia. Although I’m sure that it would have killed off the market even if it had been healthy!)

  18. silvrhalide says

    @18 Unfortunately, climbing stairs won’t save you.

    Am I the only one who finds that thing creepy AF? Seriously, the Boston Dynamics robot dog with the manipulator arm is like the Fahrenheit 451 firemen’s dog brought to life. At least to me. That thing is DEEP in the uncanny valley as far as I’m concerned.

  19. Kagehi says

    Reminds me of a joke in another work of fiction. All robots, or dang near all of them, along with most arms, in this fictional universe where made by Phule Proof Munitions – owned by the Phule family (i.e. a monopoly). In this case the robots where actually smart enough to detect you in every case, so to make things “fair”, Phule Proof Munitions also a) made anti-robot camouflage, which was some horrible shade of bright pink, and b) programmed all robots to “pretend to not see anything wearing that color”. The series revolves around an omega troop – the sort of thing our military doesn’t actually allow, but which fiction, including military fiction on TV, sometimes does (think F-Troop, or even The Black Sheep, the later of which was almost as much pure fiction on the part of Pappy, and pissed off others that where members of the real thing, as the former). The leader of this troop is none other than a twice court martialed, the last time for firing on a starship at a peace conference, though, partly do to radio silence orders, and son of the owner of the above Munitions company. On a new planet they are visiting, their is rumors that the unknown enemy is robots, so everyone is wearing this madness. Meanwhile, this same commander has been captured by the enemy, who actually is some non-human made machine intelligence, and a partly failed kidnapping attempt on him (or rather his robot copy, which was pretending to be him and run a casino, has dumped his duplicate, dressed in a tux, and trained for hospitality, not military tactics, into the middle of the conflict zone, where it ends up being found, brought back to the camp, and proceeds to offer cocktails, in between “failing to see anyone dressed in pink”, to the utter bewilderment of everyone who think its their commander.

    Needless to say its a comedy series, but.. it does point out a series issue with “if” robots ever where smart enough to “detect humans in all cases”, instead of just being trained to see them “walking” – such a robot would be too damned efficient at its job.

  20. consciousness razor says

    Tesla ought to be shut down entirely if it won’t end its “self-driving car” test regime in actual city traffic. Simple as that. That’s a more urgent problem than rogue AIs, although I suppose like many others I hadn’t really considered the specific possibility that both could involve somersaulting pedestrians.

  21. citizenjoe says

    Also, if you “walk like a fir tree”, you are not going to be moving very fast. Or get very fir…I mean, far.

  22. says

    @15,16 chrislawson — Thanks for the info and the ironic sense of humor!
    @17 Artor –- I’m sorry you got caught up in all that. Corporate greed was, and will always be, predatory on decent small businesses.
    @18 Tethys — maybe we need to develop and ‘anti-AI’ ‘AI’ and put one in an old ‘robbie the robot’ suit.

  23. gjm11 says

    Pretending to be trees in order to fool human intelligence goes back at least to Shakespeare: “Macbeth shall never vanquished be until / Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane Hill / Shall come against him”, and all that. So I don’t think it’s fair to put this down as an example of the inferiority of AI…

  24. Tethys says


    Unfortunately, climbing stairs won’t save you.

    That creepy robo dog is being controlled by a human. I actually checked to see what a robo dog can do before imagining how to escape from one, and it’s top speed is only 4 mph.
    They were originally intended as pack mules for rugged terrain, but were scrapped by the military because they use a very loud gasoline fueled engine for power.

    I may be getting old, but I could easily exceed 4 mph up the stairs, out the window, and then through multiple neighbors fenced yards if that thing was coming in my door. Luckily they don’t actually make robodogs with anti tank weapons mounted on their backs.

  25. silvrhalide says

    @29 “Luckily they don’t actually make robodogs with anti tank weapons mounted on their backs.”

    Well, not yet anyway. :P

    Honestly, I’m more worried about the guns that they can–and have!–mounted on that thing, in combination with whatever sensory array they equip it with. Put something on it that sees through walls (IR or electrical fields, say) and some heavy ammo and it won’t matter how fast you can run. Otherwise, yeah, some stairs and a few quick turns out of visual range and a quick jump through a window should do it.

    Seriously, that thing was considered for military use as a pack mule? Watching it mince around, especially on stairs, I’m wondering how well it would do in soft sand or loose rocky soil. (Not well, I’m guessing.) Also, in a firefight, you want your ammunition NOW, not whenever the damn robot dog finally sashays up to your location. Firefights usually involve a quick burst of speed for cover, then the firefight. At a max speed of 4 mph, the damn robot dog is a sitting duck… the go-to move would be to try to set off or cook off the ammo packs with an incendiary. Or wait until the stupid robot prances up to its unit, THEN use incendiaries to set off the ammo and other supplies that the dog was carrying.
    Clearly the contract for this thing was all specs, no actual thought or strategy.

    *Yes, I’ve seen the video where the robot dog fires machine guns. It barely remains stable on single fire. Firing anti tank missiles would knock it flat on its back. But you know that someone will try it anyway.

  26. brightmoon says

    Oh well, I thought Spot was cute …. until I saw that picture of a robot dog with a gun. Yikes!

  27. says

    I refuse to call it a proper AI until it can flail its limbs about and say “Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!” about any perceived threats it detects.

    Would the M3GAN dance qualify?

  28. StevoR says

    Pretty sure I’ve mentioned them here before but the Mechanicals or “robot dogs” of the 2019 BBCs contemporary set & very much NOT Herbet George Well’s ‘ War of the Worlds’ (See : ) springs to mind here – see my comments # 7 & 6 here :

    Scroll up for the Digital Cuttlefish’es great poem on this too. Yes, there’s now a third season of that SF show available. A bit patchy but it certainly has its memorable, grimly atmospheric, tense and thought-provoking moments albeit at least two rather anti-climatic endings and problems.