1626: Judgment Day

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Judgment Day
It took a lot of booster rockets, but luckily Amazon had recently built thousands of them to bring Amazon Prime same-day delivery to the Moon colony.
Title text: It took a lot of booster rockets, but luckily Amazon had recently built thousands of them to bring Amazon Prime same-day delivery to the Moon colony.


Judgment Day, from the Terminator film franchise, refers to the day that the artificial intelligence (AI) Skynet becomes self-aware and starts a nuclear strike on the United States, Russia, and other regions, killing three billion people. The term "Judgment Day" itself (also spelled "Judgement Day") is a Biblical reference to the day that God casts his "final judgment" and wipes out the world as we know it, and is typically used to describe any kind of Armageddon (itself, primarily a biblical reference) or any human extinction event. This film is only one example of stories (including books, films and television shows) featuring an AI that decides (or at least threatens) to nuke humanity; this strip could thus be an alternate ending for many stories (including the 1970 film Colossus: The Forbin Project).

In this strip, the AI believes that nuclear weapons are not good things to have, and that the amount of them we have is extreme overkill (14,700 held by the U.S.A and Russia now, 71,000 in the past). Once it's done freaking out, its solution is to shoot the world's nuclear arsenal into the sun. But before it does so it asks the humans: What's wrong with you? It has thus passed a judgment over humanity. The comic title is thus a pun on the word "judgment" since the computer is being judgmental with humanity and scolding us while correcting our ways, instead of instigating Judgment Day or any other kind of Armageddon.

As pointed out in the what if? article Robot Apocalypse, nuclear weapons aren't any safer for computers than for human beings (the EMP would destroy circuits), so an AI would want them gone as quickly as possible.

North Korea claimed to have successfully tested its first hydrogen bomb on the evening of the day before this comic was published; at about 8:30 PM in Massachusetts where Randall lives. At that time it was already 10:00 AM on the day of the comic's release in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, but that was still several hours before this comic was released. This comic could thus be Randall's response to the ongoing nuclear arms race.

Even the most powerful of nuclear weapon launchers, intercontinental ballistic missiles, are not designed to make anything other than sub-orbital flights and could not fly to the Sun (which is actually surprisingly difficult, even with the soon-to-be-mentioned extra boosters, since the rocket would not have enough delta-v to bleed off the orbital speed of the Earth around the Sun - it is likely that the sentient AI is using the same strategy of the Solar Probe Plus and planning several flybys of Venus to do that work). The title text rationalizes that the capability to do so may perhaps be granted by the use of an Amazon resource that might have also been developed by the time of this instance of computer sentience, aided (if not initiated!) by the fact that Amazon's whole business infrastructure is already highly computerized and could at the very least be complicit with the process of delivering and then controlling the rocket-power, without any conscious human intervention. As there is not yet an extended colony on the Moon, it will for sure take many years before we reach this future scenario.

"A lot of booster rockets" is likely to be a reference to the spaceflight simulator game Kerbal Space Program, which Randall has referenced several times. In the culture of that game, any launch failure can be resolved by "adding more boosters" to the spaceship design.

Adding a second layer to the humor, the machine's reaction could also be read as the reaction of someone who has moved in with someone else, discovered a collection they find distasteful, and is now changing things to fit their preferences. "Oh my God, why do you even have all of these [tschotskes, ratty tee shirts, porn magazines, handcuffs, dildos, slime-mold samples]." Upon obtaining sentience, the machine is the new roommate of the human race and is expressing its disgust at one of our dirtier habits.

Related comics[edit]

This is the second time in a few months that the speed of Amazon's deliveries has been the subject of a joke, the last time was 1599: Water Delivery, where it was the one hour delivery that was the subject of the joke. It is also the second title text in a row (after 1625: Substitutions 2) where Amazon's robotized delivery services have been mentioned.

This particular 'machine take-over' future is in distinct contrast to the possible future directions given in 1613: The Three Laws of Robotics, but this comic likely depicts spontaneous self-sentience, not a system with deliberately imposed human 'values' and possibly no actual conscience or even consciousness of its own. Other problems with hostile AI take over is presented when it fails completely in 1046: Skynet. Also it is not all AI that wish to interact with us at all as shown in 1450: AI-Box Experiment. These are just a few of the many comics about AI in xkcd .

Within a year Randall has made several other comics about nuclear weapons, one of these, 1655: Doomsday Clock, came just 10 weeks after this one and before that these two were released in 2015, 1539: Planning and 1520: Degree-Off. Nuclear weapons are also mentioned twice in Thing Explainer, specifically they are explained in the explanation for Machine for burning cities about thermonuclear bombs, but they are also mentioned in Boat that goes under the sea about a submarine that caries nukes. All three comics and both explanations in the book, does like this comic, comment on how crazy it is that we have created enough firepower to obliterate Earth several times (or at least scourge it for any human life).


[Several rockets can be seen heading away from Earth, while speak is coming from the Earth in three rectangular speech bubbles.]
Computer: Oh my god, why do you even have all these?
Computer: What's wrong with you?
Computer: We're launching them into the sun.
[Caption below the panel:]
The moment the computers controlling our nuclear arsenals became sentient

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This explanation contains a slanderous misrepresentation. It may be that some premillenialists believe that God is going to wipe out humanity but the belief that is predominant among Bible believers is that God is going to resurrect all the dead and change all of the living without there being a death experience in that change: 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 King James Version

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 13:04, 17 July 2020 (UTC)

Agreed. Strangely enough it still said that three years later. I just changed it from "humanity" to "the world as we know it", since it would be replaced by the world to come. It still fits into the explanation like this. Still not sure I'm happy with it though... 08:25, 11 July 2023 (UTC)

It was making my titletext explanation too long and unwieldy, to include this particular speculation in my own contribution, but there's a possibility that it may well be Amazon's own sentience taking over the world, and rationalising that a dead and dying customer base is of no use to it... 13:51, 6 January 2016 (UTC)

Doesn't matter if it's self-sentience or not. Truth is, rigid laws are not the best way to use as a replacement for conscience. The 1613 did not deal with possibility of one or more of the laws being left out. -- Hkmaly (talk) 13:53, 6 January 2016 (UTC)

I think the "Judgment" part of the comic is that those tens of thousands of nukes hitting the sun may make it unstable in some way and destroy Earth. 14:34, 6 January 2016 (UTC)

Of course, all of our nukes hitting the Sun would be a drop in the bucket of solar fusion reactions. Nothing would be destabilized. However, I'm sure inconvenient physics would not stop some movie scriptwriter from incorporating a spectacular CG-fueled nova as a plot point. Jhhxkcd (talk) 14:47, 6 January 2016 (UTC)
That's pretty much already the plot of Sunshine (2007), though there the result was to (successfully) reignite a failing Sun, rather than to destabilize it. 15:35, 6 January 2016 (UTC)
It's pretty clear that the "Judgment" is the AI being judgmental of humanity's (insane) massive production and hoarding of nuclear weapons. -Pennpenn 22:14, 6 January 2016 (UTC)
Pennpenn, That's what I also thought, should we incorporate this as a pun on the title? -- 02:26, 7 January 2016 (UTC)

The first two lines could be said by any non-hoarder looking at the stuff a hoarder has collected. "A stack of 130 used microwave dinner trays? Why do you even have all these? Are you insane? They're going in the recycling bin." I think that's the joke: the newly-sentient computer is Mom, and humanity is her teenage son with the very messy room, but this being xkcd, it gets more... um, extreme from there. 16:18, 6 January 2016 (UTC)

There may be a reference to https://what-if.xkcd.com/5/ where Randall points out that our nuclear arsenal may actually be more damaging to computers than they are to us due to the EMP effect, effectively giving us an edge in case of robot apocalypse. By getting rid of nuclear weapon, computers also protect themselves. -- 16:47, 6 January 2016 (UTC)

Did anybody else think "Optimus Prime" when reading "Amazon Prime"? (especially with the context of sentient machines) I know that Amazon Prime is already a real-life thing, and very connected with deliveries, so probably/maybe not an intentional pun by Randall (and thus probably not worth injecting into the explanation). However, that won't keep me from now imagining the Autobots as Amazon warriors.… 17:47, 6 January 2016 (UTC)

Would it really require a lot of booster rockets?

Can't you just "fall" into the sun for free once you're free of Earth's orbit? Why should it take a lot of booster rockets to get there? 16:26, 6 January 2016 (UTC)

Because otherwise your rocket will fall down, miss the sun, and fly back to where earth was at the time of the launch. Effectively making it orbit the sun like a comet. -- 16:47, 6 January 2016 (UTC)
a) The boosters are required to escape the earth's gravitational influence. After that sun's gravity would do the rest, b) A lot of boosters are required because there are a lot of missiles that need to be launched. --Desidiot (talk) 16:41, 6 January 2016 (UTC)
After escaping Earth's well, the nukes still have inherited the velocity of Earth's orbit. They need to reduce their periapsis close to/inside the sun. That would take extreme amounts of Delta v (i.e. energy)... 16:45, 6 January 2016 (UTC)
And to those skilled at Kerbal Space Program... that uses a simplified 'nearest body rules' system for orbital mechanics. You can (I know I have!) launched a rocket of sufficient power such that it escapes the 'back' end of the planet's influence with a pre-escape velocity somewhat equivalent to the planet's forward velocity, which is then removed as part of the transfer to 'open space', leaving it on a highly eccentric orbit (with reference to the newly supreme gravitational source) that is practically 'straight down' (though because of the Kerbal sun's nature, you still usually sun-skim it on a very tight loop back out again). But that takes more energy than 'merely' getting beyond the planet's influence and end up travelling round the parent body in an orbit only marginally off that of the original planet, the nature (and future) of which depends completely on which direction you eventually broke free. (NB. This was all in an older version, I think they've changed some things about what happens near the sun, but not the basic physics system.)
However, IRL you are always subject to gravity from every body. Maybe most of the time one dominates, but there's a fuzzy interface (and zones where influences balance out, hence Legrange Points). Think of it as still having a link to Earth's progression round the Sun, dragging you round, at least until you're at a point in opposition to the Earth, across the Sun (then it's dragging you back that way, encouraging you into a retrograde solar orbit). Albeit that this too is an oversimplification. But by the time you've got your rocket near opposition to its launch planet, you've expended the energies needed to fall into a non-grazing (i.e. utterly non-missing) 'orbit', and it's a lot of thrust. Which is what is required of those boosters. 17:58, 6 January 2016 (UTC)
In short (with figures): Earth orbits the Sun at around 30 km/s (roughly 70,000 mph). Escape velocity from Earth's gravity is about 11 km/s at the surface (for comparison, the ISS orbits at 7.6 km/s and it takes a huge rocket to get there). To fly into the Sun starting from the ISS, you'd have to accelerate another 4 km/s to get behind the Earth on its orbital path, and nearly another 30 km/s to come to a dead stop in space and fall into the Sun. Nobody on Earth has ever built a rocket even remotely capable of doing that. 12:48, 7 January 2016 (UTC)
There is an easier way: use gravity-assist slingshot(s) around other planet(s). Martin (talk) 00:17, 8 January 2016 (UTC)
Scott Manley attempted this with the Real Solar System and Real Fuels mods in KSP, and the result is aptly titled, Dropping Things Into The Sun Is Hard. 13:33, 7 January 2016 (UTC)

Some exagerations :

On your first point, it's roughly 14,700 according to USA Today. As for your second, it's only ever stated to be a claim, so the statement is accurate. Schiffy (Speak to me|What I've done) 00:14, 8 January 2016 (UTC)

Could the Sun as target be a reference to th ending of the Battlestar Galactica early 2000's series? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)