(Warning - SPOILERS for Avengers: Age of Ultron lie below - if you haven't yet seen the movie, proceed with caution...)
Now, there are a whole lot of reasons to be grateful for the existence of the Avengers. After all, aside from the decades of comic-book awesomeness, they've also now given us an entire Cinematic Universe's worth of entertainment and inspiration.
If we were to live within that universe, though, there'd be a whole lot more to be grateful for - whether its Cap's World War 2 service and HYDRA-foiling, Iron Man's technology, or the whole team's defeat of that Chitauri invasion. Even in Avengers: Age of Ultron, in which Tony Stark is very much responsible for the creation of the world-threatening Ultron, it's still the Avengers who ultimately foil the robot's genocidal plans.
What, though, if the Avengers hadn't been there? What if someone other than Tony Stark had inadvertently created Ultron, and set in motion an extinction-level event of the kind we almost saw in Age of Ultron? What if, essentially, an entity like Ultron existed in the real world?
Would We Have Been Able to Defeat Ultron Without the Avengers?
Specifically, if a super-intelligent Artificial Intelligence such as Ultron were to exist in the real world, and attempt a similar plan to that of the movie's villain (wiping out much of humanity in order to safeguard the planet's long-term future), would we have a hope in hell of stopping it, seeing as we lack Thunder Gods, Iron Men or Hulks?
Well, it seems to me that there're five key steps we'd have to go through:
Step 1 - Find a Way to Work Together
First things first, we wouldn't be able to do anything about a threat as serious as Ultron without working together as a planet to stop him.
Which could be tricky, seeing as we're traditionally pretty pre-occupied with attacking, insulting and generally not trusting one another. For us to have any hope of foiling Ultron, though, some sort of global council - one with more authority than the United Nations - would be needed, and quickly.
For that to happen, though, we'd most likely need:
Step 2 - Look to an Inspirational Leader
That's right - for all that we'd require global consensus (and for Step 3, we really, really would), there's very little chance of that happening without someone stepping up to the plate and making it happen. In other words, we need Bill Pullman in Independence Day:
Even an inspirational leader isn't going to be able to avoid making some pretty horrifying decisions, though. First up:
Step 3 - Shut Down the Internet
Yup. That internet. As in the whole damn thing.
With Ultron being able to transmit himself through the net, and us lacking a convenient J.A.R.V.I.S. or Vision to stop him from doing so, we'd have no choice but to shut down the entire internet, or risk him infiltrating nuclear launch facilities, as well as anywhere we were working on our strategy to stop him.
Since there isn't a single 'kill switch' for the internet though, that'd likely involve a whole lot of executive orders from a whole lot of global leaders - all of whom would have to agree to doing so.
Meanwhile, the tougher decisions are still coming. Y'see, there's:
Step 4 - Build a Giant Bomb...in Secret
After all, that's the problem with not having a team of superheroes at your beck and call: you have to use large bombs to solve a whole lot of the problems Iron Man and Hulk could otherwise deal with. Large bombs which we'd have to quickly develop in complete secret, lest the Ultron-equivalent find a way to stop them.
In this instance, the bomb would likely take the form of a giant EMP - an Electromagnetic Pulse - which would shut down any electronics in the area in which it was detonated. Fortunately, that's totally scientifically possible - the only downside being the necessity of:
Step 5 - Make a Huge Sacrifice
Y'see, we could almost certainly construct an EMP that'd cause minimal damage to buildings and civilians, but if one wasn't already sitting in a warehouse somewhere, that'd most likely take more time than we'd have available.
Instead, then, there's a good chance that we'd be forced to use a bomb that we know causes a huge EMP effect - a nuclear one. One of the surprising side-effects of nuclear explosions is the huge Electromagnetic Pulse they can generate, especially when detonated far above the Earth.
So, once we'd shut off the internet, and (hopefully) somehow found where the A.I. is physically based, we'd almost certainly be forced to nuke the hell out of it...without telling whoever was there about it first, for risk of warning the A.I.
The only problem? There's also a Step 6...
Step 6 - Probably Still Lose
Yup - even if we sacrificed millions (there's a good chance the A.I. would be based in a major metropolitan area, in order to protect itself from exactly this sort of attack), there's every possibility that we'd miss something.
After all, the only reason the Avengers were able to so comprehensively defeat Ultron was the presence of J.A.R.V.I.S. - who we wouldn't have. In the real world, Ultron would likely have created multiple back-ups of itself, meaning that even if we did stop it from ending the world, we'd still almost certainly never be able to use the pre-existing internet ever again, or any computerized device that attaches to a network.
Or, in other words, we'd be thrown back to a time before computers, in a world that absolutely requires them to survive.
So best case scenario? We beat Ultron...and still have to go back to the 1970s (or even earlier), technologically speaking. Which, after a few decades of massively increased fuel consumption, caused by the failure of modern green fuels, would probably mean the end of the world anyway.
Or, in other words?
NOBODY INVENT A MURDEROUS, SUPER-INTELLIGENT A.I.
Unless, of course, they've pre-emptively brought together a team of highly trained and incredibly lucky superheroes. Though even then, maybe put in some safeguards?
What do you think, though?