SAN FRANCISCO -- A top computer-industry insider has issued an urgent public alarm, warning that if we remain on our present course, robots will take over the world within a few short years -- and will drive mankind into extinction! Bill Joy, chief scientist at Sun Microsystems, says advanced robots that are smarter, stronger and better than human beings in every way are just around the corner and that "we may not survive the encounter with the superior robot species." "We are on the cusp of perfection of extreme evil -- an evil whose possibility spreads well beyond weapons of mass destruction," Joy warned recently in Wired magazine. For years, science-fiction authors have cautioned us about the threat of a robot takeover. But now, for the first time, a scientist at one of the country's leading computer firms admits that it is on the horizon -- and the stark reality is far more grim than the worst nightmare of sci-fi writers. Artificial-intelligence programs are improving at a frightening rate, Joy notes. Already a supercomputer has delivered a humiliating defeat to the world's greatest chess champion Boris Kasparov and machines that are actually endowed with consciousness are a heartbeat away. Even more insidious is the ability of robots to build other robots and programs to write programs. "Once an intelligent robot exists, it is only a small step to a robot species -- to an intelligent robot that can make copies of itself," writes Joy. When robots are allowed to design themselves, self-replication may be "impossible to control," he warns -- and there's no guarantee that rules programmed in by people, such as "Never kill humans," will be passed down from one generation of robot to the next. The result could be a nightmare right out of Star Trek, says the scientist, with "run-amok robots like the Borg, replicating or mutating to escape from the ethical constraints imposed on them by their creators." One of the many computer-industry geniuses consulted by Joy is Hans Moravec, founder of the world's largest robotics research program, at Carnegie Mellon University. He believes evolution is on the side of robots, because it is nature's way for a superior species to supplant an inferior one. "Moravec's view is that the robots will eventually succeed us -- that humans clearly face extinction," reveals Joy. Moravec is not alone in that belief. Other industry experts who prefer to remain anonymous admit that it is only a matter of time before machines are able to do everything a human can, better, faster and more efficiently -- leading to a swift end to human dominion over Earth. Just as humans are believed to have wiped out inferior forerunners like the Australopithecus, our "replacement species" will hunt us down and eliminate us. "They will be superior to us intellectually, physically, perhaps even morally -- as far above us as we are above the chimpanzee," a computer-industry expert told Weekly World News. "We are creating our own replacement species, and they could take over our world by 2010. "Robots will consider us a nuisance -- inefficient, useless parasites like fleas on a dog. And the logical step would be a program of mass extermination. In the past, the fear was that computers would take our jobs -- now the fear is that they will take our lives." Industry experts foresee a world not unlike the future depicted in the chilling film The Terminator, in which machines conduct an all-out genocidal campaign to kill every man, woman and child on Earth and only a band of brave human freedom-fighters stand against them. But some experts call even that dark vision overly optimistic. "There probably aren't going to be any brave resistance fighters the way you see it in the movies," a sociologist told the NEWS. "We will be used to following the commands of computers and most people will go to the slaughter like docile sheep." On the side of the robots will be half-human, half-robot hybrids, former humans who have will- ingly merged with robots after being seduced by the promise of immortality, Joy predicts. "A dream of robotics is that we will gradually replace ourselves with our robotic technology, achieving near-immortality by downloading our consciousness," explained the scientist. "But if we are downloaded into our technology, what are the chances that we will thereafter be ourselves, or even human?" So, instead of siding with man, the soulless hybrids will help Earth's robot masters wipe us out! In the past, many science-fiction writers warned of a future in which the roles of humans and robots would be reversed, and we are reduced to slaves whose only function is to maintain the machines. But today's top experts also consider that view too optimistic. "The idea that we will be enslaved by machines who allow us to survive is naive," another industry insider told the NEWS. "They will create machines to maintain them better than we can. Unless we come to our senses and stop building these increasingly dangerous machines, man- made creatures will kill us all!" Joy sees one ray of hope -- a way man might prevent the total eradication of the human race. He suggests that before it's too late, we all agree to give up our pursuit of more and more high-tech, time- saving machinery -- even though this might cause us some minor inconveniences. That way, just as we warded off nuclear annihilation in the 20th century, we can ward off robot-caused annihilation in the 21st. "The only realistic alternative I see is . . . to limit development of the technologies that are too dangerous," Joy says.