Sunday, May 11, 2008

\m/ Robot Rock! \m/

As a dedicated optimist and post-humanist, I tend to react poorly to negative portrayals of technology, especially in so-called “science-fiction”. I think that it's too easy to blame human malevolence on the scientists and inventors who have steadily made greater and easier destruction possible, sometimes inadvertently. Certainly, there are your Kalashnikovs and Oppenheimers, who consciously design tools of destruction, but to base ones interpretation of technology on those two is basic stupidity. Our entire standard of living derives from technological advance. What's making life miserable is, and has always been the ill will of humans towards their brethren.

Today's case in point is the “Bum Bot”, or alternatively “Terry Kilrea's wet dreambot”. While not a particularly advanced robot (it seems to require human control by way of a remote), it is indeed an automaton created for the purpose of harassing the homeless. Ok, I'll admit that the kind of people hanging around that bar sounded like rather unpleasant fellows, but that's not the point here. The point is that technology here has not been employed to create socioeconomic conditions less likely to produce criminal tendencies and/or drug dependency in the population, but instead to make life difficult for people who are probably pretty miserable most of the time. This robot only has a water gun, but if there's one thing that I've learned about us Men (and it is a man who built the “Bum Bot”. I suppose violence in robots doesn't have to be a male monopoly, but according to feminist literature, the kind of social injustice which it helps to perpetuate is), it's that the temptation to put guns on stuff is pretty powerful. Irrational, but powerful. Maybe it will only ever go as far as tasers, but various individuals and police forces have demonstrated quite amply that those are dangerous enough.

I may be overreacting a bit, because I'm sure all “Bum Bot”'s creator wanted to do was to make his establishment a safe place for him and his patrons. But it's how he used technology to build a vigilante robot that I find a little sad. I doubt that there's any way this bartender could really expect to solve socioeconomic issues on any kind of similar budget, but the general mean-spiritedness of the “Bum Bot” - while a pretty nifty piece of D-I-Y machinery – is nonetheless a little galling. The high road here might have been to make a robot bartender, keeping human staff out of harms' way in case of trouble. Doesn't have the same effect of cleaning up the area, I suppose, but at least he wouldn't be giving technology a bad name by giving poor homeless folk a hard time.

Maybe I'm misinterpreting this whole issue, and the people being driven away here are real street scum. Even so, making them go somewhere else isn't really solving any problems, it's just displacing them.



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