Man Made

We Build Automata So to
Mend Our Broken Dreams

‘We’re not computers, Sebastian, we’re physical,’ says Replicant Roy Batty to the brilliant but emotionally stunted genetic designer J.F., in Blade Runner, after he asked Roy and Priss to ‘do something.’
We’ve been asking these quasi-beings that we create to ever so closely resemble our own likeness, to do things for us since at least the 300s BCE, when mathematician Archytas built his steam powered dove.
From that first artificial bird to today’s wonders of modern animatronics on the screen, and Japanese robots all around, we’ve built a hefty utopian timeline of artificial bodies, made of assorted materials or other body parts. No wonder, they also litter the stuff of our nightmares.
Designed to obey, first, then to go where no human could possibly survived, as Philip K. Dick envisioned, we seemed to have this immemorial angst of beating god at his own game and develop a more faithful companion than our own kind, only to get frustrated, if they’d grow too loyal, or killed, if they’d turn on us.
Fictionally, of course. Even though we should’ve known better by now, we still pursue a variety of traditions of supernatural beings doing things for us or to us, creating and destroying our world at will, acting just like summarized versions of the supreme invisible deity billions believe controls our every move on this planet.
From the Golem to Godzilla, from Adam to Frankenstein, we’re transfixed by the thought of being capable of creating or even conceiving another animated body, made out of mud and plastic, to sooth our desperate loneliness in a vast, totally indifferent universe.
It could as well be that we’re just bored, or no longer can stand any of the other 6,999,999,999 bodies cramped and imprisoned in this tiny rock, swirling steadily but completely out of our control, and dream of one day be on the other side of the puppeteering strings.

PROMETHEUS’S FAILED DELIVERANCE
Curiously, in our millennial zeal of building the perfect beast, never mind the billions around us we care little about, we got no close to breathe life into any of them. At the most, we may’ve perfected yet another almost obsolete obsession in the process: the clockwork.
Thus the centuries-old automata, marvels of mechanical prowess, and the industry that once thrived manufacturing them, may have reached flights of imagination and promise across time, but are now all but reduced to that wonder of functionality and futility: the Roomba.
About those exquisite androids of yore, The Writer is in a particular time capsule all of its own. Designed by Swiss watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz, his son Henri-Louis, and Jean-Frédéric Leschot, it’s a bundle of 6,000 programmable moving pieces, wrapped within the wooden body of a boy.
It looks like a vintage toy but it’s way more than that. (more)
__________
Read Also:
* Second Variety
* Not Human
* Babies Are Us

Continue reading

Beneath the Waves

High Noon at Big Blue: Menopausal
Whales & Jellyfish-Murdering Robots

They stand far apart in the immense liquid yonder enveloping the planet. One massive and rare, the other transparent and quasi immaterial. Whales and jellyfish have been around for millions of years, but as one’s likely to outlive us, we miss the other already.
They’re both beautiful, no mistake about it. But while the Medusa and the Man of War are growing strong around the oceans, the majestic blue and the singing humpback, harmless as they are, are swimming to oblivion, and may not get to meet your great-grandchildren.

It doesn’t help that we know so little of either one, and that the very world they inhabit, from which we all draw our sustenance, is on the verge of collapse, victimized by pollution, climate change and overfishing. While we multiply, marine life dwindles, and it’s the fragile among us that’s going first.
For when it comes to survival, size may be a liability. Ours is in the numbers; the whales’ is in the scope of their physicality. Aliens on earth and sea stand a better chance: viruses, bacteria, bugs and jellyfish have proven way more adaptable to beat even a formidable foe as all species have found in us.
The ocean is in fact so broken that a new study found out that an annual ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico, which last year was the size of New Jersey, will continue for several decades.
These areas, which occur when there isn’t enough oxygen in the water to support marine life, are spreading out throughout the oceans and their cause is attributed to nutrient runoff, from agricultural fields which are heavily fertilized during spring.
As these areas grow, marine life recedes, and the natural diversity of the seas becomes severely depleted, even if eventually reasonable levels of oxygen return. Like a change of guard from hell, living creatures, turtles, dolphins, sharks, whales, and their accompanying flurries of feeding birds, are being quickly replaced by plastic, garbage, synthetic rope, and polystyrene foam: the new fruits of the sea.

BLOOD IN A SMALL POND
Blackfish is a documentary about the late Tilikum, an orca whale who spent her 25-plus years in captivity at SeaWorld, which ‘accused’ her of having killed or being involved in the deaths of three of its trainers. The documentary, which in the U.S. became a public television hit, was an indictment on the brutal conditions such wondrous animals are kept in this class of for-profit enterprises.
Forced to a gruesome routine of non-stop training and performing, the 12,000 pound bull, who lived most of her life in a tank the size of bus, had the typical signs of physical and mental deterioration that plague captive animals. The documentary fought SeaWorld to free Tilikum, but she died last year without ever returning to the open sea.
A powerful reason that should’ve ended enslaving whales as toys is the fact that they do share common traits with much smaller-brained humans. They live in highly complex societies, and now researchers found that they also can reach menopause, just like grandma, as one of the few species that live longer than their reproductive years.
A team at the universities of Exeter and of York is undertaking a long-term study to find out exactly how orcas organize themselves (more)
________
Read Also:
* Close Encounters
* Eerie Impersonation
* The Saddest Song

Continue reading

Man Made

We Build Automata So to
Mend Our Broken Dreams

‘We’re not computers, Sebastian, we’re physical,’ says Replicant Roy Batty to the brilliant but emotionally stunted genetic designer J.F., in Blade Runner, after he asked Roy and Priss to ‘do something.’
We’ve been asking these quasi-beings that we create to ever so closely resemble our own likeness, to do things for us since at least the 300s BCE, when mathematician Archytas built his steam powered dove.
From that first artificial bird to today’s wonders of modern animatronics on the screen, and Japanese robots all around, we’ve built a hefty utopian timeline of artificial bodies, made of assorted materials or other body parts. No wonder, they also litter the stuff of our nightmares.
Designed to obey, first, then to go where no human could possibly survived, as Philip K. Dick envisioned, we seemed to have this immemorial angst of beating god at his own game and develop a more faithful companion than our own kind, only to get frustrated, if they’d grow too loyal, or killed, if they’d turn on us.
Fictionally, of course. Even though we should’ve known better by now, we still pursue a variety of traditions of supernatural beings doing things for us or to us, creating and destroying our world at will, acting just like summarized versions of the supreme invisible deity billions believe controls our every move on this planet.
From the Golem to Godzilla, from Adam to Frankenstein, we’re transfixed by the thought of being capable of creating or even conceiving another animated body, made of mud or plastic, that could sooth our desperate loneliness in a vast, totally indifferent universe.
It could as well be that we’re just bored, or no longer can stand any of the other 6,999,999,999 bodies cramped and imprisoned in this tiny rock, swirling steadily but completely out of our control, and dream of Continue reading

Beneath the Waves

High Noon at Big Blue: Menopausal
Whales & Jellyfish-Murdering Robots

They stand far apart in the immense liquid yonder enveloping the planet. One massive and rare, the other transparent and quasi immaterial. Whales and jellyfish have been around for millions of years, but as one’s likely to outlive us, we miss the other already.
They’re both beautiful, no mistake about it. But while the Medusa and the Man of War are growing strong around the oceans, the majestic blue and the singing humpback, harmless as they are, are swimming to oblivion, and may not get to meet your great-grandchildren.

It doesn’t help that we know so little of either one, and that the very world they inhabit, from which we all draw our sustenance, is on the verge of collapse, victimized by pollution, climate change and overfishing. While we multiply, marine life dwindles, and its the fragile among us that’s going first.
For when it comes to survival, size may be a liability. Ours is in the numbers; the whales’ is in the scope of their physicality. Aliens on earth and sea stand a better chance: viruses, bacteria, bugs and jellyfish have proven way more adaptable to beat even a formidable foe as all species have found in ours.
The ocean is in fact so broken that a yachtsman from Newcastle, sailing from Melbourne to Osaka, was startled by an odd sight, or lack thereoff: in the middle of his trip, he couldn’t see or hear a single bird, Continue reading

Not Human

Humanoids to Replace
Body Parts, Not Maids

Mankind’s ancient dream of creating automatons that can stand in for us, when our bodies no longer function properly, got a bit closer to reality this week. Thanks to research developed at Brown University, two stroke victims, long unable to move or speak, managed to control a robotic arm solely with their minds.
The good news couldn’t come anytime sooner: just a few days earlier, a Tokyo-based robotics developer team had announced the creation of a highly interactive, and disturbingly human-like, pair of buttocks, that responds to touch and stimuli. To be honest, the robotic butt got us thinking where on earth was this kind of research going.
In a way, it all comes full circle, you see. The development of humanoids, capable of simulate emotions and be responsive to sound, sight and touch, has been making great strides, specially by Japanese engineers. Sometimes, their extreme similitude to humans is quite frightening and one is led to think of Blade Runner-type of nightmarish visions of the future.
At the same time, albeit running in a parallel track, research on artificial intelligence and nanotechnology is also well advanced. The combination of these two fields, so far only partial, does suggest that reality is tracking closely the visions that science-fiction authors had conceived long ago.
To be sure, what’s been studied at Brown diverge fundamentally from research on androids, even though they both follow the same principle: to emulate the human ability of combining thought-processing with physical acts.

GOOD ROBOT, BAD ROBOT
But whereas at Brown, the practical applications are already evident, the objectives of research into the development of humanoid robots lack clarity, for except in the case of slave labor, is hard to imagine why Continue reading

Animal Cues

A Non-Electric Sheep, Some
Loose Goose & the Roosters

Since it’s Friday, let’s have our latest roundup of the furry, the featherly and the far out there. After all, birds and bees do it and we’re not above getting high with animal antics.
But not too high. Just like the sheep who wound up on the roof of a house in Pontycymer, Wales. Firefighters took almost an hour to bring him down, unharmed, but no one knows for sure how he got there. Climbing the garage? We don’t think so. Not even if he were of the electric kind.
Deckard, main character of Philip K.Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, keeps one on his building’s rooftop, but dreams of being able to afford a real horse, instead. Strangely, director Ridley Scott got rid of the subplot when he adapted the story to make his classic Blade Runner.
Remember the slaughtered geese of Prospect Park? They had been accused of threatening to down airplanes in New York, but unlike most terrorists, they did get summarily rounded up and killed by the city.
A public outcry followed it and then they hired collies, beautiful and smart dogs trained to drive the geese away. We haven’t heard anything about it but apparently that didn’t work either.
So this year the geese, or at least some of them, will be Continue reading