It’s wonderful to see a tech blog question its own quasi-religious assumptions – that humans have already create (it’s a conspiracy) a race of humanoid robots that will (1) revolt against us (2) have sex with us (3) bring us a beer. The actual state of humanoid robots is pretty lame compared to the movies, but you wouldn’t know it from CES last week. But here is The Verge pointing out that “booth bots” like the similarly hyped “booth babes” are part of the larger flapdoodle that characterizes our murky take on the future of robotics.
In the article by Russell Brandom, the notion that we are about to have humanoid robots in our society is skewered for what it is – tech bible (the Revelation part).
CES’s robotics booths have a surprising number of anthropomorphic bots, and most of them seem indifferent to the latest displays and processors. They’re working another angle, something much closer to kitsch. Human robots are fascinating, but their fascinating quality doesn’t have much to with the technology at work behind the scenes. It’s aesthetics, not technology
Robothespian, whose antics are described by the article is doing EXACTLY what Electro was doing at the 1939 World’s Fair.
Another great quote from the article:
In the modest goal of tempting people into your booth, these robots are doing better than a lot of the more impressive tech on the floor. As it turns out, that game is more about the human reaction than anything that happens on a circuit board.
In other words, our desire to believe that Robots That Jump actually exist is fueled by our perception that “technology is getting so much faster every day” and that means there must be real robots running around. But this desire was the same in 1939 as it is in 2014. And nobody can really show what people want to see, so there is a quick retreat into computer-generated animation fantasy.
Computer-generated fantasy robot punches kid
Now, if you really have to make a big metal puppet, how about going beyond this idea? You can find exactly the same scenes in the (surprise) 1939 movie “The Phantom Creeps?
Bela Lugosi in The Phantom Creeps
(go about 3 minutes in to see the robot, who is concerned about household neatness)
The conclusion here is that our desire to have robots is is consistent, but our ability to make them, even today, is big metal puppets. There has been some progress in 80 years – witness the December 2013 DARPA Robotic Challenge – but it is nowhere near our fiction.
And what we want the robots to do (crack jokes, fight, play guessing games) is something a Neanderthal 40,000 years ago would have no problem understanding.