Wednesday, June 25, 2003
Lessons of ‘Matrix Reloaded’ – it’s better to be a robot than lost in cyberspace!
One of the deep themes in the ‘Matrix’ series that may in part account for its incredible popularity is the refutation of cyberspace. Some commentators and reviewers have seen the series as anti-technology but this doesn’t hold up – the humans outside the matrix still bathe in cool tech. Instead, the ‘Matrix’ series specifically pins cyberspace as one of many false utopias that have come and gone. Throughout the series, good characters refute the seductive pleasures of the Matrix in favor of the gritty real – a real Gen-X type of statement, I might say. The refutation shows that the Matrix, despite its complexity is not the promised land – and by extension, the cyberspace vision in place for the past 20 years or so is similarly flawed. At best, it is a cheap copy – a plastic version of a marble statue lacking the original’s weight and uniqueness.
In light of this, what are we to make of Agent Smith’s rebirth in human form in ‘Matrix Reloaded?’ In the film, Neo (acting as the God the Son aspect of the Trinity, with Trinity herself forming the Holy Spirit and Morpheus as God the Father) makes it possible for Agent Smith to become human. And this is good, since Neo is a force for good. If Agent Smith was a cyberspace program, he is now a program integrated with the real world via hardware (Minsky’s computer made of meat).
In other words, Agent Smith is now a fleshy robot. The robotic model (with an inner program/intelligence trying to interact with the real world) is shown to be superior to the cyberspace model (building an alternate, simulated, reality subject to arbitrary rules created by mind/intelligence).
Thus, the film may show a deep underlying shift in what we want from computers. We don’t want to dive into their screens anymore and make a second world in cyberspace parallel to our current one. Instead, we may be wanting the computers to come out into ours and deal with us on our own terms.
Score 1 for robotic technology, 0 for cyberspace in the rising public consciousness.
– posted by Pete @ 7:09 PM
Tuesday, June 24, 2003
The Robo Arm-Wrestling Challenge
Dr. Bar-Cohen at JPL has proposed a challenge suited to robots that jump – arm-wrestling with a human opponent. Bar-Cohen’s research has been in the artificial muscles – an alternative to the numerous electric motors typically found in a robot. In particular, Bar-Cohen works on electroactive polymer muscles, as opposed to metallic modes.
According the Arm Wrestling Match on Artificial Muscle website:
“The first Armwrestling Match between EAP actuated Robot and Human (AMERAH) is considered to be held in March 2005 as part of the International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE) Annual International EAPAD (EAP Actuators & Devices ) Conference. Discussions are underway with various organizations including the United States ArmSports regarding the planning of this competition as an official international event and the raising of the prize.”
The sponsor list has some hype (e.g., Joanne Pransky, the “World’s First Robot Psychologist” at http://www.robot.md/ but looks interesting. The Stanford Research Institute has a page on electroactive polymer muscles and says they may begin building a robot arm using them. If the strength of these artificial muscles turns out to be as good as reported, we can look forward to jumping robots without the whirr of motors in the near future.