Zoomorphism has become my favorite new word. It seems that this idea, that animal characteristics can apply to inanimate objects has become the revolutionary idea transforming the way humans think about the robotic sciences. It seems that if we look at how animals do things, it can allow us to figure out machines that can replicate their successes, often which involve less complexity than the humans they will replace. It seems that engineers at EU Automation have been working on this problem and have learned from a BBC series, Spy in the Wild where robots of animals, in this instance, a baby Indian langur monkey, was introduced to a tribe of monkeys and while it was filming the tribe from high in a treetop, the monkey fell and the programmers decided to take the baby robot out of action. While the fact that we can make a robot monkey natural looking enough to fool real monkeys, which is pretty amazing, there were some other things about the event that were concerning. (Notice how the baby robot was “taken out of action”, or retired, like a piece of machinery. I believe the same verbiage was used in Blade Runner, where undesirable replicants were simply retired but I digress.) The thing that impressed me most was the way the other monkeys reacted. They gathered around the robotic baby monkey, mourning the loss and began to hug and console each other supporting each other in their grief. While studying animals may teach us how to create better robots, we can only hope that it might also teach us to be better human beings.
Igor Stravinsky liked a challenge. In his pieces, Octet and L’Histoire du Soldat he takes instruments that should never go together and makes them work in unlikely and strangely beautiful ways. He seemed to need the diversity of sounds to force him to be creative and to push himself beyond what he had done before. The same is true of musician Chad Lawson who works with a piano and I pad to create new sounds from a familiar instrument. Anyone who has had children knows the importance of setting limits or boundaries in our lives. Not limits on what we think or how we perceive ourselves but we need challenges to bring our creativity to life. When everything is available, what is there to discover, what is there to explore for ourselves. What would you do if you had to find the definition of a word and there was no internet, or bake a cake with no recipe or mix? In finding all of this information at our fingertips, let us hope that we never lose our natural curiosity and desire to explore for ourselves for finding answers is one thing but learning how to find answers is another. Let us not become too willing to accept what we find and still be willing to challenge ourselves working within limits to set our creativity free.
Of course, you know the old story, to boil a frog, you don’t drop it into a pot of boiling water but put it in cool water and slowly turn up the temperature to boiling. The same seems true of the ongoing debates over privacy and net neutrality. Lulled into a false sense of security or blinded by naiveté, we allow corporations to mine who we are and what we choose to treat us like horses with blinders on, seeing only what they want us to see, and now we want to give them the ability to fast track the online content of their choice while allowing other content to linger in the slow lane. It seems odd that the same legal bodies, corporations, that created the financial crisis in the savings and loan and mortgage industry, not to mention the opioid crisis in this country now want to create a world where they control our access to information for their personal gain. In an economy where the bottom line is at best the shareholder (or more frequently the executives) payout, why should we think our best interests are a concern. The entire point of the internet seemed to be to allow everyone accesses to knowledge for the betterment of all. If we allow our access to the free flow of information to be restricted, we will be no better than frogs in warm bath water on the stove.
In everyone’s life, in some way, you come to a place you say about something you are doing or not doing- is this really worth it? Malcolm Gladwell calls that the tipping point, or “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point” at which change becomes either obvious or inevitable. It happens to all of us and in all sorts of situations, that moment when you realize that change is inevitable and perhaps the only choice. It seems that wiser minds than mine have come to this conclusion, as when I read in the BBC that African nations have begun to worry about the risk of job loss in Africa as robots automate many processes that can be brought back to the US or other nations and not depend on the cheap labour force that Africa and other nations have provided. Those who deride the coming economic disaster, suggest that if only the African nations would educate their children in the magic world of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), all problems would be solved. These children would rise along with all the other stem fed children to ascend into the light of a technological new day. But don’t worry, for those who are left behind by the ever upward spiral of capitalism, there is always the promise of the universal basic income, a salary for everyone at the cost of social services, so that even those of us who are misplaced in this economic game of musical chairs can receive money to live and, of course, buy things to keep the whole spiral going. Yet, what happens to people with no other purpose than to consume to keep an antiquated and harmful system running? What is the meaning of a life that is only based on our ability to consume? What happens when we reach our tipping point and realize that we are no better than veal calf’s being fattened to make our masters fatter.