"Pay close attention to that man behind the curtain!"

Sunday, August 08, 2004

I, Madbot

Rambling robotics, robotic ramblings
I'm back from seeing the Isaac Asimov-inspired I, Robot a short while ago, and I must say that I'm quite impressed.

I should first divulge that I haven't read the acclaimed Asimov story, so I'm judging the film on its own merits -- not as an "accurate" book-to-movie translation. Now that that's out of the way... (No major ***SPOILERS*** ahead, but there might be some minor ones.)

The film version makes a poignant, not-so-subtle allusion to racism which is brought out early in the film when detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) calls a robot (the film's contemporaneous slaves) "canner" as it runs down the street carrying a woman's purse. (In the Mandarin subtitles, this was translated as "can opener.") After tackling the robot, it is revealed why it was running with the purse, and Spooner has set himself up to be portrayed as a character who is prejudiced against robots.

But the grander theme of the film is -- ironically -- rather "non-binary."

There's none of George "We don't do nuance" Bush's "clearcut" vision of good vs. evil, with us or with the terrorists, het'rosexshul or perverted, bin Laden dead or alive, my way or the highway, etc.

Bush's attitude carries over to many people who can only see those who are wary of the future as "envirowacos" [sic] and "primitivists."

The thing is, it may be much more complicated than a simple "1 or 0" choice, but you don't have to be a genius to understand. One thing I, Robot reminded me of was that I both love and hate technology.

I once wrote in my old 'zine Vital Information (in the "Crackpot Theories" column) that "Two-thirds of all technology exists merely to protect us from the other third." At the time, I thought I was at least slightly exaggerating, but I'm becoming increasingly convinced that it may actually have been an understatement.

Note in the film how the seemingly perfect "The Three Laws of Robotics" is a supposedly self-closing loop that is oh-so-easily circumvented. Following my "crackpot theory," these three laws require an additional six. These six will beget twelve more. It won't be long before we're drowning and hoping that perhaps our "guardian robot" will come along and deem us worthy of extraction.

My point in all of this is that we should give careful consideration to both the short- and long-term consequences (to all lifeforms and the environment) of wide-reaching technologies, but that doesn't mean that I'm a Luddite.

To me, "good" technologies are those which make the most of what we have and which don't leave the next generation in worse shape than us. "Bad" technologies are things like oil (which pollutes the environment via acquisition, refining, and consumption, as well as being the driving force behind many wars) and nuclear power (which can be used for the explicit purpose of harming people).

Achieving progress via methods that aren't profitable seems to be an impossible dream. Solar- and wind-powered technologies have existed for decades, but since there's no way (so far) to charge people for sunshine or the wind, these technologies aren't nearly as widespread as they should be. 50 years ago, no one would have believed that we'd be paying for bottled water today, but they might have had hopes of seeing mass-production of solar-powered vehicles.

I'd ramblingly rate I, Robot (the film) 9 out of 10 stars.

Humans? We don't need no stinkin' humans!
Here are a couple of outstanding lines of dialogue from the movie (from memory):
* Spooner (to Sonny the robot, played by Alan Tudyk): It's a human thing. You wouldn't understand.

* Spooner (to Lawrence Robertson, played by Bruce Greenwood): Aaaachoooo! Sorry, I'm allergic to bullshit.

* Robertson: I bet you didn't complain when the Internet replaced all the libraries.
Okay, the last one wasn't from memory. It came from the IMDb's Memorable Quotes page for I, Robot. Seeing it, however, reminded me that I haven't been to a library in several years. The first one rekindles my own take on "It's a Black thing, you wouldn't understand." In my rap "It's Not Democracy, It's A Conspiracy!" I morphed that one into "It's 'terrestrial,' you wouldn't understand" in an attempt to get people to think beyond both skin color and national borders. (Go here and listen to it for more context.)

While the Africana.com review linked above thinks the film should focus more obviously on the "racist" angle, I think it makes its point clearly enough by leaving it just beneath the surface for most of the film. As I wrote in issue #2 of Vital Information: "Most, if not ALL references to 'race' perpetuate racism." Or as I exceptionally quote myself over in the sidebar, "My race is human. What's yours?" (That is, assuming I'm not talking to a dolphin or Koko the gorilla.)
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