Thursday, July 30, 2009

Corpse-Eating, Lawn-Mowing Robots


Given humanity’s boundless capacity to blame the other guy when things go wrong, I wouldn’t be too shocked if I lived to see humanity exterminated by out-of-control robots and the last living pundits fighting over whether nerds should be thanked for warning of this possibility (in sci-fi) or condemned for building the robots.

(Certainly, such a scenario would settle the “monkey butler vs. robot butler” controversy, on opposite sides of which Helen and I sometimes find ourselves — and she’s not that crazy about dogs, so I find it hard to believe she’d be comfortable around an actual monkey butler, primates being far more dangerous — but more about primates in two days.)

There’s already a fight over who to blame in the recent attack on a factory worker by a robot.

Much as I love seeing (real) headlines like this: “Hate to cut your grass? Check out the best robotic lawn mowers,” I can’t help worrying that the lawn-mowing robots’ programming will at some point inevitably be mixed up with that of the corpse-eating, steam-powered robots the military is supposedly designing (if that rather ludicrous and steampunk-sounding idea isn’t just some psych-warfare tactic meant to gull Middle Easterners). As my friend Chris says, you’d sometimes think the military has seen no cautionary horror movies at all.

(If the lawn-mowing robots become commonplace, though, perhaps they can be used to mow artificial lawns.)


Would we be able to stop a robot uprising, perhaps caused by some out-of-control a.i. predator drone interpreting its “kill the enemy” mandate too broadly? Beats me, but this Wikipedia paragraph — concerning just two of the forty or so movie Transformers we’ve seen so far (specifically, the bad helicopter and the burrowing scorpion-thing that attaches to him) — is a reminder how hard it is just making a movie about robots:

Frank Welker provided vocal effects for Blackout, who transforms into a MH-53J Pave Low III helicopter, with his minion Scorponok attaching to him. Soundwave had been considered for this role, with Ravage as his minion, but Hasbro insisted Soundwave have a music-based role. Scorponok was chosen after the writers discovered him in the pages of The Ultimate Guide and felt he was appropriate to the setting. A model of his head and tail was built, while primacord explosives were used for his ripple movements in the sand. This was potentially dangerous to cast members, generating genuine terror in the actors’ performances. During production, Blackout was preliminary named Incinerator, Grimlock, Devastator, and Vortex, being referred to by Ben Procter as the Transformer with “the most name changes during development.”

On a less ominous movies-come-true note, Jacob Levy points out to me a story about Star Trek IV’s beautiful dream of transparent aluminum becoming reality (though Chuck Blake reminds me that this superheated material is of little use in the low-energy everyday world).

And as for whether we really stand on the brink of forming a galactic federation, being invaded, or simply continuing to cope with messes of our own creation, remember to help us settle that question next week at Lolita Bar when Lillian Waters and Jen Dziura debate the meaning of the UFO phenomenon.

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