While sci-fi novels have often grappled with concepts of humanity, community and ethics through fascinations with our far off technological futures, people around the world manage the spectrum of fear and optimism when it comes to robots and man-made human enhancements.
German films such as Metropolis (pictured above) were staples in the development of European film and the unique stories told through the style now known as German expressionism.
Christopher Mims, writer for the MIT Technology Review, grapples with the subject encompassed in one simple observation- the Japanese really, and I mean really, love their robots. While most associate robots with our war-torn future, Japan has been using robots to take care of their children and elderly in a world where 10 hour workdays and the expectations of dual-income households have left people with lots of capital and little time. But the Japanese have a longstanding culture that doesn’t separate distinctions between inanimate objects and humans. Animism, a part of the older Shinto faith, remains in Japanese culture- it is the idea that all objects have a spirit, even man made ones.
Mim’s points to Westerners perpetuating these phobias- from the 1921 Czech play entitled R.U.R. to The Terminator and I, Robot, Europe and the US have had far-flung fancies with industrialization, technology while fearing its progress and outcomes. Will robots change everything, from the prevalence of war to family values? Yet, these countries monopolize Fast Company’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Robotics– eight beginning in the US and two representing German engineering. There must be a reason, and if there is one, it’s the universities- the top four universities for robotics and artificial intelligence are in, you guessed it- the USA.
As in the Shinto faith, we are finding that the person/object line is becoming more and more blurry. And as always, we get one step closer to the future everyday- this October, MIT robotics engineers created self-assembling robots. Instead of moving modules, they actually build themselves based on an internal energy caused by a spinning mass. And groups such as University of Pennsylvania and Boston Dynamics are experimenting ways to make super-human and extra-human strength. The Titan Arm, for example can enhance weight lifting by 40 lbs., with designers continually improving its efficiency. Sky’s the limit, but how will cultures negotiate its meaning?
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