Man vs. Nature: This Time, it's Robotics!

I want you to watch this video, for one reason, and one reason only.

No, not for the booming, 90s club techno soundtrack. For the part where the snake climbs up the guy's leg.

If this does not strike fear into your human's animal heart, I do not know what will.

We've reached a new uncanny here. The famous "uncanny valley" is an uncomfortable element of robotics, in that mirror stage, "I wonder if my pleasure bot is ethical" sort of way. This, on the other hand, is an uncanny of motion, an uncanny of physicality that is distinctly primary narcissism, "the womb which I held dear now rises against Me to strangle me with that lonely umbilical which was my only Love."

What? You want me to explain? Okay, check this, which you might have seen.

Why is it when we see these sorts of robots, the thing many of us automatically think of is being pursued by a pack of these robotic "animals", who hunt us down, clawing us to death with their efficient metal grippers, as their servos yap merrily, and without so much as a face to show us their merciless hate/desire/pack instinct? Other than them being sponsored by DARPA, that is?

Because they don't have human faces! Because they move like animals, and are so resolutely unhuman, that they move and appear like animals. This is not the technology, with which we have mastered the world. This is nature--the unknown, which will eventually kill us, no matter what weapon we use, or how fast we run.

The Terminator is killable. You can stab out his eye, or pull off his arm, crush his legs, and eventually burn his torso. Even the T-1000 is a fluid, a bodily essence that only has to be purged with fire. The car assembly robots of the last generation are human machines; they have arms, legs, fingers, heads, and most importantly, brains and nervous systems. But how do you kill something without a body, or can self-assemble and re-assemble, and even, perhaps, replicate?

A paranoia begins to rise in us. It is a fear that is constant, equivocal across the terrain, because these things do not even return to the dark of the woods when the sun comes up. They are as numerous and ubiquitous as the air we breath, as the molecules of which we are made. We are no longer afraid of animals--but we are afraid of germs.

This is a revolution in robot design. Because we are afraid of them, we are truly approaching a level of ubiquity when a robot can actually insinuate itself into an environment, and be part of it. They are no longer an assembly line, or a museum exhibit, but they are learning how to move and live in our nature.

I ranted before about the droids in Star Wars. These are possibly one of the greatest sci-fi blunders, and what makes Star Wars fall resolutely into fantasy for me, rather than actually science fiction. The issue: who the hell designs a humanoid robot?

Humans, and their bipedal form, have been designed over a long period of time, due to the fate/probability pathways, over which they have managed to survive. The bipedal form is not "good" for anything; it has merely been the way things have worked out (check out constructural law, if you've never had the pleasure) no different than the branching of a river delta. This has worked pretty well for us. But, we are designing robots to be better than us, not to imitate us. We want robots to do the tasks we are not designed for. So, for running a bipedal 100M dash we have athletes, for creating brilliant art work we have artists, but for chasing human beings like the little bits of fleshy prey that we are, we will build robots.

Look at C-3PO. In every battle scene, of which the droid is somehow constantly ending up in the midst, he is falling all over the place, because he is a flat-footed, heavy thing that cannot even bend his legs and arms correctly. R2D2 is a bit better--he looks like the water cooler/electronics controller that he is. Give him some wheels perhaps, but even these fail when he is expected to get across rough terrain.

In the three prequel films, there is a massive droid army, that everyone is supposed to cower before. Give me a break! What idiot droid designer decided to make a battle droid that is disabled if you knock its head off? What manager approved that design? What testing facility gave it the OK? And you have to arm them separately by handing it a blaster? Of which it can then be disarmed? How many facilities are needed to manufacture both of these things? Is this a government sponsored plan?

You want to know my design for the perfect battle droid? A metal sphere with blasters bristling out of every direction. A giant gun with legs. A guided missile. All of these make sense, because they are robots designed with their task in mind. It is pretty ridiculous that the Star Wars vehicles fire unguided rockets, and yet send hordes of robots into battle with arms thinner than their hand guns.

Don't even get me started on the fact that robots have "chain of command". That's human crap.

Naturally, what we design is limited by what we can imagine. We can imagine a hive, or a pack, or even the distributed chemical diffusion of bacteria, reacting in feedback loops to the secretions of their clones. All of these, as nature has shown, react amazingly well to certain environments, and certain tasks--often much better than reasoning, bipedal, heat engines like humans. These sorts of "animal" robots, robots designed to swim and crawl, but not giving a damn about Turing tests or displaying Honda emotions, are the future, just as the vast distribution of nature has been the past, for distinct, evolutionary reasons.

And just as naturally, these robots will cause fear in humans, the same way fear towards that which moves fast without legs, that which sees without eyes, and that which can think and decide without a brain has evolved to feel uncomfortable when we apprehend it. But, we can also overcome this fear, in the same way we've learned to harvest bacteria as protein synthesizers, install symbiotic species inside our own bodies, create harmonies with species like dogs, and even more importantly, introduce technology into our physiology. Can you even imagine running without shoes? How about eating without a stove? Speaking without a language? We'll incorporate nature into our technology, and with good purpose, just as we always have. Because at the root of it, all our technology is natural, from the ion pump to the lever.

But in the meantime, let's relish this horror, eh? What is nature, if not the primal hunting ground of our unconscious? Hey, our psychical technology needs exercise too!

I'm imagining an epic horror/sci-fi film, in which technology is hunting us. Our every day devices form into lethal killing machines. A chain of mating toasters pursues people down the street, climbing their still running legs to strangle them. The components of a car divide and let the passengers fall to the speeding asphalt below. Alone in a consumer electronics store, a character feels stalked by predators. This is no Transformers, no Gremlins, and no self-aware Cyberdyne network. The technology has been shrunk down to tiny components, which work together in an organic system. Until it evolves... until nature takes technology back. Scientists try and reprogram the devices to fight for us, but they can't discover what is making them turn against us. They look, but their devices conspire against them, and they cannot observe the nature of the problem. They can't look past the flat earth of the technological/nature divide, and they can't get around the heliocentrism of being human. Looking at nature from the human perspective, after all, is science's only power. There is no bug, no virus, and no communications link to sever. It is merely the course of evolution. Nature is killing us, just like it always has. But this time, nature has the weapons, because the weapons have become nature.

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