ALL NEW-ISH: Doing The Robot

12 Jan

It’s human nature to always look forward, even if that’s mostly because of the sickly trail of death and devastation we’ve left behind us. So with the CES still bleeping and flashing away childishly in Las Vegas, I thought it might be a good point to focus instead on the more serious world of technology, technology beyond mere entertainment: advanced robotics.

Help the aged

Let’s start with Japan and the menace presented by old people. Japan is in trouble – due to ritual suicide still being a more popular pastime than sex, the young/old balance of the population has reached a critical point. As it stands the number of old and infirm wildly outstrips the number of young and vibrant, and as the young and vibrant are too busy being young and vibrant in karaoke bars while dressed as Hello Kitty, even if they could be arsed to look after the old and infirm, there’s simply not enough of them to do so. Fortunately, it seems, robotics can provide the answer…

RI-MAN: as cold and unfeeling as any NHS nurse

Enjoy a good night’s sleep after being carried to your slumber by this metallic monstrosity. Designed as a ‘soft human interactive robot’ by Japan’s RIKEN research centre, RI-MAN’s lot in life is even less than that of an NHS nurse, forced to lump limp old nearly corpses around everywhere. Need to get grandma out of bed while you change the heavily stained sheets? Have the terrifying form of RI-MAN drag her out and down to the garden to sob quietly to herself. Great Uncle Kaito fallen while emptying his colostomy bag and you don’t really want to touch him? That’s okay, RI-MAN is wipe-clean. Sick of having to put up with the constant death rattle of terminally flatulent granddad? Have RI-MAN carry him to the bath and submerge him for slightly longer than the human body can withstand. Oh no, stupid RI-MAN!

RIBA: torn between duty and eating your entrails

Then there’s the similarly tasked RIBA (Robot for Interactive Body Assistance), except this one has been designed, wait for it, to look like “a friendly polar bear” – famously the most amiable of the bear family. Standing 1.4-metres tall and capable of lugging up to 61kg of the bed-bound in one go without going crazy and gnawing their head off, RIBA can apparently recognise faces and voices, and presumably stalk weakened prey with all the tenacity of one of nature’s most successful killers.

Robot Whores

But of course the wonderful world of robotics is not just all about terrifying the senile, oh no! Taking a sinister, if not totally unexpected turn, welcome to the dawn of the sex robot…

You would, wouldn't you?

The first abomination of the human-robot relationship reared its terrifyingly unrealistic head about two years ago and has failed to go away ever since: meet Roxxxy. More terrifying than pretty much anything you could ever imagine putting your penis in, Roxxxy first came into existence when former Bell Labs engineer Douglas Hines lost a friend in the 911 terror attacks and, to both preserve his friend’s personality and allow his friend’s children to interact with him as they grew up, created a female sex robot. Nothing weird so far.

Now the head of True Companion LLC, Hine’s unnatural creation has a proper skeleton to allow it to be positioned like a normal lady, sensors so it knows when it’s being ‘touched’, an internal speaker to let it talk, and a laptop to act as the brain. Brain? Talk? What does a sexbot talk about? Well apparently Roxxxy likes to whisper sweet nothings about Porsches and football before changing the mood slightly by lapsing into some seriously disturbing dialogue about “10,000 tonnes of molten steel and jet fuel”, as though the awful dying memories of Hine’s ex-friend had somehow transferred to her laptop brain. So still nothing weird.

Bovvered? Is she bovvered? How can you tell?

To add extra spice and get you back on stroke after the 911 flashbacks, Roxxxy also comes with different personalities to suit your every sick, sick mood. Choose from Wild Wendy who, frankly, is going to end up with a nasty virus, or Frigid Farah (the Bond Trader from Tower 1) who, given that name, presumably defeats the whole point of paying between $7000 and $9000 for your very own sexbot… no matter how much you fancy Catherine Tate. Catherine Tate? Now that is weird.

Drone wars

More cringing discomfort now in the form of the latest advancement in military nastiness, the EATR – Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot – from Robotic Technology Inc, a steam-powered biomass-eating military robot that can “find, ingest and extract energy from biomass in the environment and other organically based energy.” Is it just me or did you just shudder to the root of your very being on reading that too? So, this thing goes around on its own free volition, hoovering up any ‘biomass’ it might find on the battlefield? Oh Jesus, I’ve just been sick in my mouth…

It was bad enough when they just wanted to kill us...

That seemed to happen to a lot of other people too, prompting RTI’s head of killbots, Dr Bob Finkelstein (real name) to make a statement reassuring us that the EATR would be programmed to distinguish between material signatures and would, therefore, be stuck on a strict diet of sticks and leaves… and absolutely not go around feasting on the bodies of fallen soldiers in a logical bid to prolong its own survival… no matter how low on energy and other options it got… ever. Eurgh, there’s that sick again…

Automated for the people

Short Circuit's lovable Johnny Five. Seen here with co-star Fisher Stevens who, unbelievably, blacked up to play the part of Ben Jahrvi

But don’t panic just yet, this is just one possible, hideously dystopian vision of our cybernetic future, a future where old people are banished to the ice flow to be picked off by robotic polar bears, sex is a grotesque, unfulfilling fumble with a schizophrenic mannequin, and soldiers won’t have to worry about coming home in a box any more. The likelihood is that everything will turn out for the best, common sense will prevail and the robots of tomorrow will be the shiny happy ones that can be seen dancing and playing football on TV, like Johnny Five here, and not a remorseless army of sordid, tawdry plastitutes and flesh-eating cyber-monsters. Probably.

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