Sunday, October 26, 2014

Robots and Halloween: Something Classic

Robots are of special interest to our species.  We have tons of them, really, from the humble Roomba to industrial factory robots.  Logic dictates that a robot need not look like a person unless the specific functions it is to perform require a human's form.  Thus the Roomba does not look like a person pushing a vacuum cleaner.  Science Fiction robots often look like people.  This is probably to make it easier for an actor to portray the robot by wearing a suit.  The classic robot has a human shape with two arms, two legs and a head but is shiny and blocky with antennae and such.  Hands may be claw-like clamps, functional tools, or humanoid fingers.  The classic robot is a companion to the human heroes, sometimes comic relief and sometimes the secret weapon.  When the robot goes out of control, however, its power makes it nigh-unstoppable until the final reel when the heroes defeat it.
Truly classic sci-fi robots are supposed to be experts in one or more fields, being designed to do jobs too dangerous (or tedious) for human beings.  Despite that the limitations of costuming from the classic era mean that the robot tends to take three times as long to do a mediocre job as a human does to do the same job well.
Unless they are war machines.  Warbots seem to be the exception but even then humans tend to just run up stairs causing the warbot to become frustrated and try to destroy the staircase.
Since it always seems that humans can do the very same things as robots in half the time I often wonder why we build them at all.  In a science-fiction setting, I mean.  I'm trying to envision the Roomba being a little more rugged and running around the amusement park constantly sweeping up discarded ice cream wrappers and bits of refuse, which is a job normally done by humans.
Come to think of it, have you ever been vacuuming and had some piece of detritus that just won't be picked up by the vacuum so you pick it up, look at it, put it back down and run the vacuum over it again, then eventually pick it up and put it in the trash?  That's the kryptonite of the robot, right there.  A human with a broom and dustpan can get that and keep going without breaking stride but the outdoor Roomba?  It's either not getting it or going to get stuck in a subroutine because of it.
Which is WHY we build robots to look like us.  In the hope that they will just pick up the trash and carry it to the bin.  
And then you call somebody "trash" and the robot takes it literally and the next thing you know you have a rogue robot on your hands, only it's not rogue, see.  Because it is just following its programming, see.
Captain what do we have today?

Yep, that's a robot all right.  Detailed scan please.

That's a classic robot that is.

Assessment: Look at the size of that melon.  Seriously that thing must have the computing capacity of 1000 iPhones.  We have an antenna on the cranium for picking up wi-fi, we have a speaker for a mouth, presumably for speaking to organic life forms, we have fine manipulation digits (fingers), and we have some sort of strange chest plate.  The GPRA series is designed for the person that just had to have a robot but didn't really have a job for a robot to do.  The GPRA can do a plethora of tasks like take out the trash, mix a space martini, walk the dog and other minor domestic drudgery.  Loyalty is another matter entirely.  Is your car loyal?  As for efficiency, who can say?  How much money could you save by taking out your own trash, walking your own dog and mixing your own space martini?  Robots make people lazy in order to justify the expense of having them in the first place.

Still, it's a pretty cool costume.

Stick around for more sci-fi Halloween madness.

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