Tuesday, 25 January 2011

day of the robots

Ninety years ago today the world was introduced to the robot. Not that the concept of a mechanical, or "artificial," person was new, but we didn't have the word for it until Karl Čapek coined it from Czech, denoting “forced labour.” His play about robots, R.U.R., premiered on January 25, 1921 (as a recycled Wired article reminds us).

Čapek's murderous robots are one possible extreme. The too lovable robots Sherry Turkle warns us about might be considered another. Turkle raises some significant issues, yes, though she sounds a bit alarmist at times, which may, of course, be a sign of how integrated we've become with our technological props. (still, anyone want to buy me a robot vacuum?)

The robotic baby seal that Turkle is pictured with in the interview I've linked above did get me thinking about robot replacements for endangered and extinct animals and how little that prospect appeals. I'd much prefer a dangerous, messy, wild polar bear than a robotic copy of a polar bear, or to think that we might soon be left with little else...

Which then, unsurprisingly, got me thinking about Do Android's Dream of Electric Sheep? and the role of 'real' versus mechanical animals in Dick's novel in terms of empathy and status, just barely hinted at in the Blade Runner film adaptation...

Robot reality is usually more mundane than our fictions, but we've done a pretty thorough job imagining a wide spectrum of robot possibilities. This anniversary of the robot has inspired Wired to post a robot hall of fame of sorts (though they're playing a little loose with specs, including replicants and androids as well). I think one of my favourites has to be Marvin from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (the picture they've posted does not do him justice). I still haven't seen Wall-E though.

(Apparently there is an actual Robot Hall of Fame, recognizing accomplishments in contemporary robotics.)

And one more robot tidbit for today. It's been around for a few years, but I only just noticed Svedka vodka's futuristic robot ad campaign, writ large on a billboard in downtown Toronto. Very Will Smith-I Robot-ish in aesthetics... (and very hard to resist) (and the US moral police insisted I declare my over-21 age before viewing the Svedka site)

[now listening: Astrosoniq's Quadrant - it's not robots, but it is pretty convincingly sf]

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