Die, Robot

The other day, when the shootings happened in Dallas, the police found the alleged shooter and cornered him. He was trapped, with no way out. They brought in a negotiator to talk with him. Hours ticked by.

Then they straight-up murdered him with a bomb attached to a robot.


The robots were created by man. They rebelled. There are many copies. And they have a plan.

I’m deeply uncomfortable with this. From what I can tell, the shooter was still occasionally firing off shots at the police. But they had the guy cornered, which means there was plenty of time to get cover so he couldn’t hit anyone. It sounds like all they needed to do was wait until he got very thirsty or ran out of ammo. Or possibly ate his gun.

Either way, it seems very odd and inappropriate that they made the choice to kill the guy.

I mean, it seems like if you have a robot you can attach a bomb to, then surely you can attach other things, right? Like maybe a tear gas canister, or similar? Or possibly a tear gas canister in conjunction with a stun grenade?

Of course the guy had just killed five police officers. There was no way he was likely to survive the night. Even if he hadn’t died then, he would have died “resisting arrest” or would have “accidentally” fallen down some stairs. This is not a good thing, but it’s likely what would have happened.

I’m not entirely sure what other options the police had here, but I’m not at all happy with the idea that they can just kill someone who is cornered and poses no immediate threat. This bothers me greatly, and I dislike the precedent set here.


When is a Robot Not a Robot?

When it’s controlled by a human sitting at a console using a remote control device. Then it’s no more a robot than a remote controlled car or plane.

This comes up because I’m watching something on H2 (what used to be called History International, but is now a dumping ground for most of History’s non-reality show programs), and they are talking about robots. That’s fine and dandy, but they keep referring to things like police and military bomb-disposal units at robots. They aren’t. They’re simply remote controlled vehicles. This is about as annoying to me as when the news talks about a building being “imploded”, when in fact it’s been brought down by an inward collapsing explosion.

What makes a robot different from a remote controlled vehicle? Well, for starters, it needs to be autonomous and not remote controlled. Actually, that’s about all that it needs, really. Having a human monitor it through a camera or being able to take control if it gets stuck or something is acceptable, but beyond that, it needs to be autonomous. This might not be the official definition, and certainly there’s a lot more details that need to be covered, but I think it’s a good starting point to say that if something is being remote controlled by a human the entire time (or most of the time), it’s doing what it does, it is not a robot.

UPDATE: Also, the uncanny valley is bullshit.

Mass Media Nonsense – The Uncanny Valley

We all know that everyone gets very creeped-out by robots that look and act human. We know this, despite the fact that 99% of us haven’t ever seen robots that look and act human, because the media tells us it is true. They talk about the concept of the uncanny valley and how it explains this discomfort.

The concept basically runs like this: things that look almost totally human but aren’t, and things that act almost totally human, but aren’t, are something that’s going to creep us out for reasons we can’t quite explain. This concept was basically just made-up by a Japanese robotics guy named Masahiro Mori.

From what I can tell there’s no real evidence that this is true, but it appears to be accepted without any skepticism from the masses (bearing in mind that these are the same masses who believe in creationism rather than evolution and the lack of understanding perhaps makes sense). Evidence often cited includes poor box office receipts from movies like Beowulf (which I rather liked), The Polar Express, and Final Fantasy – The Spirits Within, (though one of my favorite whipping boys, Final Fantasy: Advent Children, did quite good in sales and is left off the list). What’s not usually mentioned is that these, frankly, weren’t very good movies and that might’ve played a larger role than anything else in their failure.

I think the uncanny valley concept is basically an excuse people like to use for why various products, including those movies, failed. It also doesn’t explain why other products, like Disney’s Hall of Presidents, are a success.

Ultimately this appears to be something that someone made up without any real evidence and that the media now accepts without any question. With the rise of things like Poser porn (you can search for that on your own; I’m not linking to it while at work!), I think this concept is pretty-well debunked.


The happiest little robot in the world!

The happiest little robot in the world!

So imagine that you built a tiny little robot, only about ten inches tall and smiling, and set him loose at one corner of a park with instructions to get to another corner of the park. Suppose then that you didn’t include any programming to actually get him from point A to point B, but rather relied on passers-by to give him a little nudge in the right direction.

Someone who knows a lot more about robots than I do imagined this very thing and created a robot to do just that! It’s called a Tweenbot and you can read about it, and see a nifty video with some terribly cute music, at this link! Enjoy!