04 September 2008

The rise of the machines

WALL-E, the latest animated feature from Pixar (if you have been pupating in a cave for the past few months, just pronounce it ‘Wally’), is about a lot of things, but not about robots. This perceptive observation by a 12 year old next to me in the Odeon could equally be applied to robotics: a field that is mostly about carrying out other tasks, or gathering other knowledge, or improving other efficiencies, as a byproduct of which, robots are produced.

Both of the film’s heavily anthropomorphic main protagonists are designed to operate in an environment where humans cannot, to carry out tasks that humans will not, with untiring commitment. WALL-E himself is an executor of physical tasks; the more highly developed EVE exists to gather, store, process and act upon information for long periods without external control. Both are expressions of strongly specified functional directives. Real world robotics in 2008 is, in many ways, poised between the two stages: pretty good at building WALL-E class machines, and working hard towards EVE. [more...]

1 comment:

Julie Heyward said...

First to state the obvious (what SF writers have worked on a million times), we are not equipped to think of robots as anything other than as another species or alien tribe of the same species. From an evolutionary standpoint, this means that if they are not exactly like us, they are a different species or tribe which means they are competitors. If they are like us, they are treated as brothers (trust); if not like us, they are treated as slaves (dominance). Historically, I can't think of instances (maybe, rarely, there are cases with the Romans?) of slaves being allowed autonomy. It is unnatural for us to expect another species or tribe to work in our interest without being dominated (controlled).

You knew all that, I just wanted to locate you ...

Getting to my tangential point: in a recent Economist article, (which link is going to break, I'm sure)

they discuss the globalization of health care. Not record keeping; major surgery. This puts people in a similar evolutionary situation as do autonomous robots -- if, if, if people are at all racist. Americans are traveling to India and Thailand for open heart surgery. Quotes from the article:

"Americans seeking medical care are increasingly making trips far from home, often at their own expense—not just short hops to Caracas for a nip and tuck or dashes across the frontera for cheap Mexican pills. As Mr Steele’s testimonial suggests, they are now travelling across the world for knee and heart surgery, hysterectomies and shoulder angioplasties.

I'm interested in how American xenophobia interrelates with willingly letting "them" get into "our" vital organs.