While 2013 saw ever more robot-themed stories, from Guillermo del Toro’s “Pacific Rim” to Marvel’s “The Wolverine,” the real world of robots was perhaps even more frightening. PRISM was the public face of a massive self-surveillance operation already going on for over a decade, however people continued to use Facebook more than ever, despite the fact that it is now a publicly traded company. The Pentagon started talking about deploying robots on battlefields, and even giving them the ability/right to make their own decisions, including using the killswitch ((What Could Possibly Go Wrong? – Daily Mail UK)). Of course this violates Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, which often we may have believed was some sort of bulletproof insurance against things ever getting out of hand.
Oh yeah, and the drones. Drones in Asian countries, drones in the Middle East, drones on American soil. Drones were used to hunt fugitive Chris Dorner when he escaped into Big Bear Mountain, and Rupert Murdoch has his own drone being checked out by the FAA.
The bottom line is, robots are not just coming, they are here, and they are starting to be used for some pretty…interesting stuff.
Of course there were also happy robot stories, like the one in the movie Robot & Frank, a truly heartwarming heist movie featuring an Asimo companion. These sorts of robots are being used more and more in fact to help care for the elderly and those in need of companionship. The movie does a marvelous job of depicting the resistance and ultimately acceptance of such a possibility.
Douglas Rushkoff published a terrific book called Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now
that talks about how when we are all plugged in, all the time, we develop a disability to actual be present in the moment, that we are in fact always telecasting ourselves to some other place, reporting on our whereabouts and goings on, but seldom actually processing what we are in the midst of. Jaron Lanier published a book with similar sensibilities several years prior called You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (Vintage). I recommend reading both.
But Robot Pride Day is about us. You and me. And how we are human. And what is beautiful about our humanity. So while we consider the changes going on in our lives, let’s also remember to unplug every once in a while and just look the stars.
Here is another way to look at it:
A Simple Robot
words and music by Keram
I built a robot,
A simple robot
that kinda looks like me
It’s not expensive
And can’t shoot lasers
But makes good company
I made a robot from broken items
I found out on the streets,
It’s hooked on phonics
And doing yoga
And making peppermint tea
I built a robot,
A simple robot,
To keep me company
It doesn’t play games
But likes to listen
And never disagrees…
I made a robot,
A simple robot
That kinda looks like me
I did some tweaking
To make him better
Than I will ever be.
I have a robot
Who knows that true love
It’s really simple
But it serves its purpose
And that’s enough
Be good out there Sky Pirates,
Happy RPD 2013
G-Lightflash and the Constant Change Crew
Horror films serve as the barometer that belies what fears are lurking in our subconscious in the timeline of the zeitgeist. In the 1980′s we feared powerful women in the workforce with such fare as Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction. In the 1990′s it was post-modernity as such self-referential titles as Scream, The Sixth Sense and Blair Witch preyed on our very assumptions about the world around us. In the so-called “aughts” we began to see a lot to do with losing trust in ourselves, in our very humanity as films like Session 9 and Hostel challenged our ability to contain our inner demons, and yet we also saw the re-emergence of stories about evil forces rising from beyond the grave and suddenly we were returned to a world of Vampires, Werewolves and most of all – zombies.
What is going on here? Is this a sign that we are harkening back to simpler times, paying tribute to Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney? Or is it something else?
Maybe it is about finding some sort of life beyond death, drawing on a well of power when all typical intellectual faculties have run dry? In the age of Facebook, the complete erosion of individual privacy, and corporate infringement upon our rights, where so many of us feel powerless against the grinding gears of the post-industrial treadmill, do we see ourselves as the last man wielding a chainsaw desperately fighting to ward off endless waves of mindless, blood thirsty zombies? Do we seek to find a power to match the ungodly forces that keep them coming, without conscience, without remorse, without anything but lust for your life-force?
What is the difference between a zombie and a robot?
Robots, like zombies, have always been distinguishable from humans in that they have no soul. But robots have always been designed to take orders from us. Some see this subservience as dangerous, some even regard it as abusive, but are able to reconcile with it on moral ground that the robot has no life-force beyond the circuitry and mechanics we have granted it. Zombies on the other hand, are decidedly different in their singular drive to take everything away from us and defy any order we might want to give them. They are mindless and indefatigable.
So should we fear zombies and admire robots? The difference perhaps is in how we perceive ourselves. For you see, a nation of zombies may not think for itself, but it will pursue its desire regardless of the consequences, pushing forward towards its objective despite that fact that it will most likely have its head blown off with a double barreled sawed off shotgun. This could be seen as greed in its most unbridled form – the sort of irreconcilable obsession with attaining what it craves that those of us with some sort of conscience can not comprehend.
But what if we consider ourselves as the robot? As a robot, we are also incapable or unequivocally unwilling to question authority, but, to the benefit of that authority, we are also wont to take orders and produce the results that that authority commands in order to meet its desires.
As we continue to produce boundless measures of free content for the aggregators, be it YouTube, Twitter, Facebook or otherwise, are we in fact, taking control of the machine, or are we transforming the way we are into that of the machine in order to serve it?
Are we zombies, mindlessly trawling towards the smell of fresh blood that we must consume, in spite the effects of such pursuit on anything or anyone around us, or are we simply obedient worker bees unwaveringly and instinctively producing honey for the beekeepers who will subdue us with smoke and then make off with our bounty to line their pockets?
And ultimately, would we be more dangerous, if we were to awaken as robots and demand that we be treated each as a unique creation (possible only through the anomalies and flaws that distinguish us from one another) or as a horde of bloodthirsty zombies, crushing everything in our path until we beat down the doors where the townsfolk have boarded themselves up with that which we need to survive – their brains, in other words what they have in their heads that they are keeping from us.
As we survey the pop cultural landscape, we see a virtual glut of zombies and robots – regardless of which we might prefer to align with, is there a message here that we have written to ourselves with desperation ink and frustration fists banging on the walls of reason?
We’ll be keeping an eye out as we commemorate the events of Robot Pride Day 3014, and hoping that at some point, we will awaken to discover that it was all just a thoroughly entertaining momentary, cautionary dream.