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How Close Is "Terminator"-Like World?

"Terminator Salvation," the latest in the series of movies about titanic clashes between man and machine, was unleashed on big screens in theaters this weekend.

And, reported CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers on The Early Show Monday, the future depicted in the films may be closer to fact than fiction.

The "Terminator" movies tell a horrifying tale of what might happen if machines made by men turn on them, a science fiction spectacle that may not be all that far-fetched, according to the Brookings Institution's P.W. Singer, author of ""Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century."

"We may not be at the 'Terminator' world right now," he says, "but we already have 12,000 ground robots today in Iraq and Afghanistan." Not to mention as many as 7,000 pilot-less predator drones.

Technology, says Bowers, has come so far, so fast, the U.S. Navy even commissioned a study on the ethics of military robots - a study that resulted in a ""black box"-type warning, saying in part, "Autonomous military robots that will fight future wars must be programmed to live by a strict warrior code or the world risks untold atrocities at their steely hands."

While many scientists are quick to point out that robots usually do jobs too dull, dangerous, or dirty for humans, and insist there's no evil intent, other researchers are concerned about what could happen when, as Bowers puts it, "scientists start programming machines with the most human trait of all, a desire for self-preservation."

Robots are already having artificial intelligence programmed in which, says Bowers, "begs the question: When a machine starts thinking on its own, does it ever stop?"