6 impossible things about robots

The T-1000 in Terminator 2 was fucking terrifying, wasn’t he. All gorgeous and relentless with piercing blue eyes and a badass strut. One of the hardest things to deal with in the face of evil (for those of us that aren’t psychopaths) is that we’re unable to identify with the thought process of the perpetrator: if you understand something more you inevitably fear it less and this is why regular Joes have historically treated microchips, megabytes and short circuits with caution.

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Since the 1970s fictional robots have been responsible for all sorts of unethical nonsense. Computers in film have caused mass destruction, lied and even raped their luddite victims in the pursuit of power, regularly creating a misleading perception of innocence and virtual naivety before killing the human beings dead.

So it’s no wonder people lost their shit last week when it was announced  that engineers have been teaching robots to say NO. In real life! But… but they’re our slaves? Even the word ‘robot’ comes from the Czech term ‘robota’ (or ‘robotnik’) which means ‘labor’. Hey, call me dictatorial if you want but if anyone in my employment ever said no to me I would very promptly show them the door, and that door would lead to a room full of angry, hungry (hangry) polar bears. And I’d do that to teach them and the wider world (including any future employees of mine) a lesson. There’d be a case study and it’d be distributed through all the normal, appropriate channels.

But this isn’t about me.

This is about our weird relationship with robots. How is it that a product that man and womankind created can strike such fear and confusion within the modern world? “The robots will kill us all” is something I’ve heard a lot over the last 12 months (when whispering it to myself in the mirror LOL) but it’s a bemusing statement, because every single one of these murderous machines has been programmed by a person. Which in turn of course reinforces the fact that humans are the worst thing to happen to humans, but we all knew that anyway. So in the midst of this self-destructive dynamic, here’s six impossible things about robots that make all of us impossible, too.

1. The world requires rational thought. I’ve always taken offence at being called emotional but then again I’m not in charge of the world’s nuclear armament and if I was I’d probably take the feedback on board.  Make some changes. Adapt.

 There’s very few things in life as emotional as bombing another country, yet we seem to dispute the presence of technology and the role robots can play in war more than the bastards that generally cause it in the first place… Preferring to place our anger and fear at the feet of a bunch of machines who really couldn’t give a fuck.

The Telegraph was responsible for a charming article the other day announcing China’s decision to USE ROBOTS ARMED WITH GRENADES TO FIGHT TERROR. CHINA HAS ROBOTS AND THEY WILL HURT YOU MR TELEGRAPH READER. AS EARLY AS TOMORROW. Of course when you read the facts between the lines the reality of the story is that increasingly robots are being used to more efficiently identify risk and spare unnecessary injury, and China is ahead of the game. Yuk. How gross is THAT? (Answer: it’s not, really.)

 Anything that involves a human pressing a big red button makes me freak out like this   . Let the algorithms handle it. In fact let the algorithms talk to each other and see if peace is any easier to establish that way. IN FACT why not just let a computer run the UK for like, 48 hours, just to see what they do. Juuuuuuust in case they might make some interesting and different decisions about our collective future.

Because there’s a chance that computers might be rational enough to make better choices. Look at this little guy in the video. He knows. He’s being told to walk off a table and he’s like… what? The human man’s being all cocky and this robot’s thinking ‘eeeuuuugggghhhhh this is so awkward but it’s gonna hurt like shit if this dude doesn’t catch me. Is he drunk? What sober dickhead would ever ask me to intentionally hurt myself? I’ll tell him it’s not safe, see what he says…”

 

2. We fancy them. You don’t need to be Germaine Greer to work out that the robotics industry is a bit sexist. I’m not sure I even want to pull at this thread too much but all those life-like machines don’t reaaaaally need to look like that, you know? The film Ex Machina which is essentially the tale of a tech genius who spends his professional life finding the perfect robot to have sex with is probably a prediction, rather than a crazy work of science fiction. So the sexiest robot alive has caused a bit of a stir (quite literally I imagine) because guess what ladies and gents she can make eye contact and star in theatrical productions! She’s in a goddamn play. Apparently the director likes her because she does what she’s told. I think we’ll leave it there.

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Amazing robot resting face

 

3. It’s not cheating! But sod it, all that said – I’d totally have sex with a male robot, for the LOLs. And even better, from an ethics perspective it’s not considered cheating! Obviously this opens a whole can of philosophical worms because if you just consider a robot to be a grandiose sex toy then of course it’s not cheating. But if you feel the same way about a human, is that not cheating either? If your motivation is function and not emotion then you’ve probably got a good defence. The general consensus is that the process only becomes unethical if you form a unidirectional emotional bond with a machine – you love it but it can’t love you – and this is when we enter the cray cray zone.

But then if unemotional attachment to a grandiose sex toy is possible, and morally ok, plus guys (and maybe girls) seem to go nuts over them, then wouldn’t it be better – and probably save lives – if all sex workers were replaced with robots? Or do sex workers actually enjoy it? I’ve literally never asked but I guess it’d be good to know.

4. We want to be them. According to a recent survey a third of young people (that’s around 33%, number fans) would be a cyborg, given the chance. They would literally have technology planted inside them to make them smarter, faster and more powerful. Hey guys, I’ll tell you how to be smarter, faster and more powerful! Stay in school! Stop answering stupid surveys!

5.  They never die. The death of a pet is the saddest thing ever. Seriously, don’t even get me started on this. Oh god, here come the waterworks…

But having worked for an animal charity I know that old people in particular turn to animals for companionship, especially when a partner has died. I also know that a not insignificant amount of people need grief counselling when a pet dies. It’s a blow, man. Now stop being heartless and give me a hug.

companion-petsBut robots don’t die. Baymax didn’t really die at the end of Big Hero 6 (WHOOPS SPOILER ALERT) and Terminator 2 didn’t die, properly, although he did attempt suicide. Whatever. So it most certainly makes sense that robot animals have been invented to keep the elderly company and not fuck them up when they’re in their final years and really don’t need that shit anymore.

So these adorable little robopets are sophisticated enough that they can respond to their owner’s behaviours and emotions, making it feel like a real life friend. The benefits are aplenty, according to Loop Rault – an animal scientist at the university of Melbourne:

“You don’t have to feed it; you don’t have to walk it; it won’t make a mess in your house; and you can go on holidays without feeling guilty.”

Coincidentally everything I’m looking for in a boyfriend, also. Over time it will apparently be possible to upload your deceased pet’s personality in the robopet and OH MY GOD BUGSY I MISS YOU AND WANT YOU TO COME BACK NOW PLEASE.

6. Can robots teach us about mental health? We love to romanticise about the mind, and the soul – every one of us is different and special and… human. But what is the brain if it’s not a machine?

A computer is defined as ‘a device that accepts information and manipulates it for some result based on a program or sequence of instructions on how the data is to be processed’. Our brains do this. And so we must conclude that our brains are computers, that respond based on how they were built and have learnt, to external stimulus and inputs.  And sometimes those mind computers feel a little bit faulty, don’t they? Maybe the inputs are too aggressive or the machine wasn’t built with enough memory, but there are lots of little glitches in the human brain that it’d be great to fix.

2015-06-robo-dragon_tcm7-187327Robo-therapy is one of the most exciting developments in the brain space. For example, robots such as the Bubblebot here have been created specifically to interact with young child that have autism, programmed with the condition in mind to inspire and sustain emotional and excited reaction. And, using this kind of technology actually helps both therapist and machine learn faster when it comes to the humans they’re working with. And this is just the start – imagine robots that can talk to you in exactly the right way when you’re depressed. Robots that know in an instant if your unborn child is in danger. Robots that can care for ward patients at 2am when nurses want and need to sleep. Robots that can understand the intricacies of Alzheimer’s and alleviate the pain and frustration for sufferer and carer. This technology could change the world, and people’s lives, and all this stuff is happening right now.

We need to understand this and embrace this, guys! Take an interest! It’s important! Because if normal people like you and me understand and appreciate how robots can prevent death, improve mental health, provide companionship and care, the faster these things can actually fucking happen! And that might be brilliant!

You know the single biggest barrier to technology adoption? Real people not buying it.

So hey, maybe they’re not so scary and weird and wrong after all? These six impossible things about robots actually suggest they might be doing the world a favour!

But this blog post hasn’t really been about robots, has it? No. It’s been about the fragility of the human psyche and the perversion of mankind and our intense distrust of others and our inability to exist without rapidly working towards our own eventual destruction, via the false promise of enlightenment. If we are God, then robots are our Adam and Eve, created in our own image to populate an inherently flawed world. And we all know how that turned out.

*robots inherit the earth*

*we get pissed off with their shitty attitude and make it rain for 40 days*

*robots try again*

*robot virgin tries to explain random pregnancy*

*robot Christmas*

Sounds awesome.

Six impossible things before breakfast (including martians, cute animals and angry women)

alice emojiHello, mushroom-lovers! It’s been a while since I last wrote a blog post about six batshit crazy things but I’ve been busy planning and packing for my impending departure to Singapore. However, when I read recently that some smart alec had translated all of the book Alice in Wonderland into emojis, I remembered that the world’s weird and just had to find six new impossible things to share. So here they are! Read ’em while your sipping on a pretentiously designed Bloody Mary in a pop-up in Peckham garnished with horseradish, celery salt and virgin’s tears or just a regular old spicy tomato juice from Wetherspoons. I know what I’d prefer.

1. We’re all Martians. So Mars the planet has finally overtaken Mars the bar as the thing on everyone’s lips (a heavy-handed intro, apologies) with NASA finding out all sorts of shiz about life on our red neighbour. In fact, even though this picture of an alien poking its face out of a cave is a tad dubious, all the space dweebs are pretty certain that some kind of life-form inhabited the big M, at some point.

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Six impossible things before breakfast (including racist babies and smartphone holograms)

Curiosity gets a bad rap. It’s the single biggest contributor to cat deaths every year, it nearly got Alice in Wonderland’s head chopped off and it’s been stuck on Mars wondering around tweeting its lonely yet ground-breaking observations since 2012. But it can also be wonderful! Because of curiosity we become more educated, or solve crimes and even discover, rape and pillage entirely new countries hundreds of years ago! 6 impossible things before breakfast (this blog) is dedicated to all the curious things that happen every day that are just that little bit too ridiculous to believe. I try to find the weirdest and most unbelievable stories I can but if there’s anything you’re particularly curious about that you’d like me to look into let me know. To whet your appetite, here’s six of those things to satisfy your curiosity and hunger while you’re munching on a gentrified pop tart at your local cereal café.

1. You need a new job. One thing’s for sure, if your company isn’t currently on the look out for a ‘data interface maven’ then they’re pretty much screwed, because the future’s a’comin and it’s coming right…. NOW! And NOW! Ooh here the future is again! NOW! This is a fun game. Essentially what I’m doing is announcing the future over and over again but ‘the future’ is only ever a second away. So yeah. Cool.

Anyway we’re always talking about jobs, aren’t we. We need them, we hate them, sometimes if we’re lucky we have the job of our dreams but I’d like to venture if you’re dreaming about being in an office however nice it may be, you probably need to go on an imagination course or work towards a more active libido. Migrants take our jobs, women take men’s jobs and men take women’s jobs and soon robots are going to be taking everyone’s jobs. But if I’d told you ten years ago that in the 2000s there’d be such a salary-paying role as ‘PowerPoint Wizard’ you’d have punched me in the face, and rightly so.

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6 impossible things about being a girl

Not that I’d ever want to, but it’s becoming quite impossible to ignore Taylor Swift these days. Thank heavens she’s practically perfect in every way, otherwise I’m sure she’d find the constant press scrutiny a visible strain. A role model for millions of young women, Taylor Swift done good at teaching the very simple lesson that women should be ambitious, kind, humble and most of all, stick up for themfuckingselves. She’s commented on the often sexist double standards of the music industry, defended her right to talk about her love life in whichever ways she chooses and even loses her shit occasionally, mostly when she’s dancing or accepting awards.

So that’s good.

But the problem with Taylor Swift sticking up for womankind means that she’s now a FEMINIST in the media sense of the word, and the narrative surrounding her is increasingly about gender, not skillz. Which is good when it’s used for the sake of progress but less so when media owners just have Blank Space to fill. She’s a WOMAN, folks. Remember that. When she has an argument with an other woman that’s a WOMAN not supporting another WOMAN. If she’s nominated for an award in an all-female category she’s competing against OTHER WOMEN. Her boyfriend used to date a person that was ALSO A WOMAN. And so on.

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Six impossible things about ‘the news’

A few weeks ago, I watched a video of someone actually die. Die in one of the most random, unexpected and devastating ways. A young mother, Xiang Liujuan, managed to fling her 3 year old son to safety at the top of an escalator in a Chinese shopping mall before the stairs started to collapse and she became trapped, falling to her death.

I watched it. And then I had nightmares about it afterwards. For a few days I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wanted to turn back time on her behalf, tell everyone to just always take the stairs, and say sorry to her family because I’d watched a video of their loved one literally die, during some horrible moment of my own voyeuristic madness. The video had been disseminated by various news outlets online and either despite of or because of the ‘contains disturbing content’ warnings, I clicked.

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Six impossible things before breakfast (including sheep, stress and parallel universes)

People can seek inspiration in the most peculiar of places. For me, it’s mostly when I’m staring into space during a meeting or on the phone to a friend, when they’re speaking. I’ll see something strange or hear an occasional word that sparks a thought which eventually turns into an ‘impossible thing’. Generally I like to work backwards, and think: “what would be really weird that people might like to read about?” and then I’ll search the entire internet to see if it exists. Even as an approach to life in general, this works quite well.

The internet’s done lots of things to our brains – shorter attention spans, higher expectations, increased vitriol… but I think one of the negatives is our obsession with NOW! BREAKING NEWS! MINE! Our thirst for the social kudos that accompanies being the first to discover and share is starting to outweigh our hunger for general knowledge. There’s millennia worth of facts, fictions and fucking weird things on the internet, and that’s what this blog is about. All the impossible things that ever happened whether it was 200 years ago or 2000 years ago or even 20 years in the future – and all the other blogs can worry about ‘breaking’.

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Six impossible things about Cecil the Lion

My cat Bugsy died a few months ago and it broke my heart. He got hit by a prick in a Porsche speeding down a quiet street in Parsons Green, died instantly and the dude drove off, probably late for his hot yoga class. I was floored, genuinely. Went through the whole cycle of anger, denial, acceptance, sadness and welcomed my friends’ offers of hugs and nostalgic chats.

It’s such a horrible feeling mourning the loss of an animal. Dealing with not only the grief of losing something you love, a friend, but also the added guilt of letting something in your care come to harm. And all the while pretending you’re not really upset because it was ‘only an animal’ and there’s a socially-agreed upon scale of sadness that means you’re not permitted to openly grieve for pets. Not for any longer than an afternoon anyway. A distant friend is a day, extended family three weeks and a parent a few months. It’s just the rules.

Since Bugsy died I’ve found it hard to use the internet. Because there’s just so many fucking cats on there. Happy cats, athletic cats, weird looking cats, talking cats. Human beings love cats. Psychologically they have an incredible impact, bestowing affection, love and acceptance. And they don’t talk, which means we’re able to project onto the creature a personality of our choosing, much like you would a unrequited crush in the year above at school that you’ve never actually spoken to. Cats can be whatever you want them to be, and we respect them because they’re an animal with dignity and pride AND A TERMINAL INABILITY TO OUTRUN A PORSCHE YOU COMPLETE AND UTTER BASTARD.

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