Monday, June 11, 2007

Idle threat of the week

Most of the panel of judges who decide Idle Threat of the Week were pretty mad about the way the Sopranos ended. A few of them even blamed my television for the sudden black screen. I tried to explain to them existentialism, and impress upon them that The Sopranos has always stressed existence over meaning, and that the ending was in perfect concert with that philosophy. But the panel, which is culled from a cross-section of society, found my explanation unsatisfactory and began throwing things at me.

Although largely angry and distracted, the panel was still able to agree on an idle threat that inspired the same unity as our collective hatred of AJ Soprano. (How much did it suck that a lasting image of AJ, the most pathetic character in the history of moving pictures, is him in a new BMW with a leggy model girlfriend and a budding career in film production?)

Apparently scientists in Japan have created a robot that sort of looks and acts like a three year old child.

During the 20th century humanoid robots, like flying cars, were a linchpin of the promised future. Now, un the 21st century, we have come into the technology that could mainstream life-like androids, yet the appearance of upright, walking, talking robots is still worthy of a press release and wonderment -- just like a step towards the flying car would be.

This may be because an android that looks like a person isn't actually a very good idea. (And flying cars would be neat, until they start crashing into each other, dropping flaming pieces of metal from the sky.)

Really, what's the point of making a robot look human? The human form isn't optimally engineered for work on a assembly line or to clean house or for any of the tasks a robot would be useful for. Meaning humanoid machines would only act to encourage social isolation and sexual deviance. Both perfectly fine traits in small doses and population subsets, but no direction for society as a whole to go in.

Luckily the desire for robots which look like humans doesn't seem to stretch far beyond the island of Japan. And, anyway, those wacky Japanese are always coming up with weird, highly fetishized fads that nobody else understands, and only last until the next incarnation of something Pokemon related is released.

Maybe this is because, like the panel, the rest of the world has considered and rejected the creepy implications of robots walking among us. Or it could be because most just don't care enough to put a lot of resources into android development. Either way, the century old threat of having life-like robot inferiors, which would eventually become our be equals, before reigning as our mechanical overlords, is, in the clarity of the present day, the idle threat of the week for June 4 to 10.

No comments: