Creepy? Silly? Big Brother? Futuristic? The Beginning of the End? The Signal for the Singularity from which the Terminator emerges?
Mobile security robots are popping up with increasing frequency at gas stations, malls, and casinos. It caught my attention when this morning’s news had a snippet that Huntingon Park is installing a “robocop” to patrol city streets. Another story from CBS Los Angeles back in February asked, “Is 2019 the Year Robot Security Guards Go Mainstream?” Whether we label them robots, bots, nanos, androids, automation, or Big Brother, the permeation of programmed surveillance throughout our culture is something that requires continuous vigilance and assessment.
Imaginary Cautionary Tales
Like many, I find the increasing examples of robo-guards disturbing, in part because there are so many stories about robots gone haywire. Reference to the word “robocop” immediately conjures up Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 dystopian tale of a privatized military and a militarized police force. Will Robinson’s companion robot from Lost in Space, the show I grew up watching, was originally programmed to sabotage the ship and murder the humans. Even when the robots are cute, like in Wall-E, there are often mastermind machines behind the scenes determined to tame or neuter humans. See also Oblivion. See also Forbidden Planet. See Iron Giant, Westworld, well, just see this handy list from BuzzFeed.
The word “robot” comes from a 1920’s Czech play by Karel Capek called R.U.R., which stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots. Capek coined the word roboti as a deliberate reference to the Old Slavic word rabu or slave. In the play, humans are producing robots (androids we might say, since they have human features and characteristics) originally to take on menial work. But the humans start to die out, the robots rebel, and they are left to restart the world in their image.Continue reading “R.U.R.F.R. Are You Ready for Robots?”