Fear of Robots and other Machines: Part 2.


In which I learn to love some of the internet and also a robot.

 So. It is fairly obvious now that I am a technophobe. This means that I have a fear of techno music. It doesn’t of course, it means that I am scared of technology.  More specifically, of machines taking over the world. And even more specifically, of robots. When I say ‘the world being taken over’, I actually mean me getting hurt personally. But I’m trying to sound philanthropic.  

 Technology is a pretty fast moving business as you know. New robots are being developed that look more and more like humans. This is supposed to make it easier for us to relate to them, and so presumably alleviate fears like mine. ‘Surely the smooth skinned fellow in the toupee is going to be easier to get on with than the square headed angry looking robot with the flashing square eyes’, says a scientist. He’s wrong. Trying make robots look like humans just doesn’t work.

Realising this, some developers, especially in Japan, are deliberately making their robots  look as cute and cartoon like as possible. Designers and engineers have realised that Terminator-style rolling eyeballs in an expressionless, waxy looking, plastic haired head can be downright terrifying. They’re moving away from the humanoid, and more towards the teddybearoid. (I made that word up).  Here’s a cute looking chap:

  (If you want to know why it’s supposed to be cute it’s because it has a round face and big eyes like a baby. Scientists think that woman are programmed to like things shaped like babies with big eyes. Hence the existence of most soft toys and unpleasant greetings cards).

  Unfortunately I’m not sure about cute robots either. Maybe I’ve just seen too many films, but I always view the cute robots as I do Rod Hull’s Emu. Pretends to be lovely and cuddly, lulls you into a false sense of security and then BAM! Down you go.

 Anyway, getting back to the matter in hand, in addition to robots, (and in fact so many other things), I am also very deeply suspicious of the world of social networking. Networking and computers are two things that remind me of being at work. Sometimes I struggle with the concept of them as entertainment.

 I managed to avoid Facebook for many years and only reluctantly joined so that I could see all the photographs of me that someone at work was posting on it. I still don’t really see the point. I’m not a sharer, I won’t tell you all my deepest darkest secrets, or post my unflattering holiday photographs, so frankly there seems little point.  

 Now in the real life, I’ll probably tell you everything. Especially if I’ve had a drink. So I’m a disappointing virtual friend. But a very good real one. How then, do I find myself embracing the social networking phenomenon that is Twitter. I don’t know really. But I enjoy it very much. It has enabled me to speak to many interesting people. And also the first ever robot that I have not been mortally afraid of.  

 In my last post I explained that two things had helped me to overcome my fear of robots. The first was a plastic humanoid and his dog, both fashioned in robot style from Dyson parts. They helped me to gain confidence in the concept of the humanoid form by looking jolly and never chasing after me when I walked past them.    


The second thing is a very recent discovery. It’s my new friend on Twitter, AstroRobonaut. I came across him entirely by chance through a virtual acquaintance of mine who is a freelance astronaut. Said freelance astronaut was telling a joke to a real astronaut named T. J. Creamer. Rifling through T.J.’s following list led me purely by chance to AstroRobonaut. The first post by him that I read was this:

“I do have strong, skillful arms & hands. And sensitive. I can hold 20 pounds up @ any angle and feel a feather on my fingers”.

I was smitten. I wanted to read more. So I did. Not only was AstroRobonaut strong, skilful and sensitive, he also had a sense of humour. This is fairly rare on NASA postings, and not unreasonably, as they are usually very busy being in space and trying not to die or break stuff. And if they do have free time they have wonderful pictures of the universe to post. They don’t need to do jokes. Yet here was a golden faced Adonis, physically attractive and funny to boot.  After a lot of dithering, and a fair amount of research, I did something I have never done before. I made an approach. He answered me! We shared a brief, yet beautiful correspondence.

So here I am. Social networking with a handsome robot. I don’t think I have ever been happier.  Does our relationship have a future? It’s unlikely. He leaves for space in two months.  But tune in next time, and I’ll tell you all about how I eventually plucked up the courage to speak to him, and some of the obstacles our blossoming relationship will face.


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