Something has been bothering me for years now. It was a vague sort of longing; a nascent idea that something just wasn’t quite right. Déjà vu? No, that’s something else. The latent paranoia that all sentient beings at one point have, according to Douglas Adams? Generalized disappointment with growing older and probably something to do with Trump? Maybe…. Then last night it suddenly dawned on me.
I was at an after school thing with one of my kids and, on display, was a robot. It was dancing around the gymnasium (oops multimedia room) and had one programmed function, which took two high-schoolers with laptops to demonstrate: if you fed it a volleyball, it would throw it back. The year is 2020.
A familiar wave of disappointment washed over me: holy crap, this is the best we’ve come up with by 2020? Look, I’m not saying it wasn’t impressive: I know it was a high-school thing, and it was well made and impressive. But really? This is all we have to show for a hundred years of industrial and technological revolution? Volleyball spewing?
Back in the 1980s, you can google if you weren’t born yet, there was a movie called “Blade Runner” that you’ve never seen based on a book you also haven’t read. In it were featured “replicants,” biological “robots” that were programmed to be useful slaves, which they eventually got pissed about and revolted. But that’s not my point. They were ROBOTS that looked and acted human. The only way you could tell they weren’t was if Harrison Ford administered a test to them, with scientific looking equipment, that told him they were really bots after he asked them a bunch of personal questions designed to provoke emotional responses, like “do you like pets,” and “are you a lesbian.” You know, as one would do.
The test inevitably pissed off the robots, who then reacted violently, but again, not my point. My point is that they were technologically advanced entities, capable of acting like humans and doing useful human-like things, and it was set in 2019, last year. And last night I saw something that looks like a bunch of metal and exposed circuits throw volleyballs at kids (who were wearing safety goggles, so it was ok).
What a total disappointment. Elon Musk should be ashamed of himself.
They recently made a sequel to “Blade Runner” set in the year 2049, to push things out another 30 years to buy themselves some more time, starring Ryan Gosling and Jenny from “Forrest Gump” (Robin Wright). The robots are now accepted and commonplace, still going around killing other robots, but looking and acting human to casual observers. Harrison Ford is still hanging around too, and apparently these robots could get pregnant, but again not my point. My point is that the technology has advanced so much by this point, that that precious line between artificial intelligence and human is even more blurry than in the 1980s version.
But given the track record, I’ll take a wild and sloppy guess that the robot reality of 2049 will look more like this and that’s as disappointing as it is depressing. Elon Musk: why are you screwing around with underground car tubes dude? And why haven't you marketed a cologne based on your name? Wait never mind.
Imagination, it seems, has completely won over reality. I remember laughing over all those B-movies from the 50s and 60s depicting the far flung future of “1980,” and thinking to myself what morons they were for thinking we wouldn’t be further along than they envisioned. Well, yesterday was a technological epiphany.
These days it’s the dreamers, the moviemakers who are envisioning a much more advanced future than science is delivering, and it’s pissing me off, frankly.
I don’t know if we need flying cars or talking robots or Google, Siri and Alexa constantly listening to me and blurting out stupid suggestions on what they think I said at completely inappropriate moments of my life, which are inevitably wrong. I don’t know if we need these things, but damn it, we were sold a bill of goods and I want my A.I. butler or friend or co-worker or whatever and decide for myself.
C’mon Elon, get focused, dude!