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.
I have been pleasantly surprised by the response to last week’s post about the possible emotional content of our posts- that not only could our posts carry the words that we write but the emotions that we put into what we write. It got me to thinking about the namesake of this blog and how he saw media as an extension of the body. That each new technology extends our senses and nerves and in the largest sense our being. If our texts and our e-mails convey our emotional content, is it possible that electronic communication could take the place of our speech conversation? That we could communicate our emotions without speaking- possibly by only looking at our avatar-, do we really need to have face-to-face communications? Is it possible that our electronic communications would actually replace our human communications? Perhaps we could fully integrate ourselves into computers with no serious lapse of ability to communicate or recognize if we are talking to a person or a computer. If you have called a customer service line, you might have found that we are already approaching that reality of complete computer communication integration.