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Thursday, May 6, 2010

TED Thursday: Robots


It's Thursday and that means Robots, this time out.

For a change of pace, I'm only posting two specific talks from the TED archives.  But I'm also tossing in a link to the New York Times which talks about Metropolis, one of my favorite movies.  The folks at Kino are releasing a newly restored version of this classic that now has another 25 minutes of lost or forgotten footage replaced.  You can read about Kuchimbra and her femdrones after the TED talk stuff, for a Riskail version of Maria.

And who could forget that scientific rascal Doctor Rotwang, now there's an Insane Genius that'd be right at home in Riskail.  He reminds me of the post-singularity sentiovector cultists and those tinkerers who keep trying to wake up any and everything, like a toaster ever needed self-doubt to make its existence more fulfilling...Now that's some serious evocation via techno-alchemy.  Radionics, weird cheistry, Poe-style galvanics, Frankensteinian and Faustian delving into things Man Was Not Meant To Know, brute-force German Prometheanism at it's finest and most mystical while delivering a ton of ritualized scientific-looking eye-candy as well.  It's a great scene, timeless and a wonderful counterpart to the more masculine Golem.  You can watch the legal trailer for Metropolis here.  It's not the scene I was referring to, but the other video-clip at Youtube got yanked for copyright violation.  Not so cool.  Oh well.

Dennis Hong talks about Seven Species of Robot that have already been developed.  Note, this is about stuff that has already been built and is out there in the world, not science fiction whining about what might happen someday -- this is a sample of what we already actually have on-hand.  Off the shelf.

Robert Full talks about biomimicry and designing robots with springy legs as well as how geckos really manage to cling to surfaces.  Do a search on Robert Full and you'll have your hands full of all sorts of stuff on engineering, evolution, designing robot limbs based on how animals actually function, and more.  There's a lot of stuff there, and it's very interesting to me, just in terms of what it implies for the aesthetics of robot design.  As much as I admire Maria of Metrolpolis as a timeless and elegant design, it's an extravagantly over-engineered prop to the human ego and many (most?) robots may very well take completely other forms.  Unless laws, regulations or cultural conventions intrude on the process.  All very good fodder for Riskail.

Spoiler: Geckos are manipulating nano-scale Van der Waals forces to cling to surfaces.  They beat humans to the development of nanotechnology by millions of years.  No wonder they own the largest car insurance company, uh, they are so successful in catching bugs to eat.  Who knew they were so high-tech?  I like geckos.  Like my friend Alex has said in the past; they have an ugliness that is primordial.

Robots are cool.  I will have more for you on robots in Riskail shortly.

While you're digesting the ideas in those two TED talks, let's get back to Riskail, shall we?

Kuchimbra is a beautiful, charismatic and poisonous demogogue who came to Riskail from across the Shale Waste, ostensively via some relict and abandoned gate out amidst the vacuum-choked craters beyond the Etched Plateau.  At least that is her story and the records tend to back it up somewhat.  But the more anyone looks into this woman's past, the more hazy, murky and indistinct it all becomes.

Since she appeared, a homeless waif cast adrift and all alone in the city of tiers -- Devukarsha -- Kuchimbra has managed to insinuate herself into the lower rungs of the social hierarchy.  She proved to be quite precocious and quick to learn any and everything that she could about the inner workings of things, how the infrastructure functioned, the various industries relegated to the grottoes and caverns beneath the city, how it all worked.  The grimy indentured-mechanics and barbarian industrialists who worked on the all but forgotten machines far below the world's crust told her their tales, shared with her their troubles and tribulations and came to confide in her as they served out their sentences within the troglodytic penal enclaves.  She learned the crude argot of the fungispawn hominids who illegally aided and abetted the indentured-mechanics in their ritualized work-routines and in their wild bacchic parties held off-premises and away from the prying eyes of the underseers and their rolling-orb drones.

Kuchimbra worked alongside the mechanics, shared their meager rations and danced for them, comforted them and all but became one of them.  She came ot hold a special place amongst them.  They revered her.  Some of the fungispawn worshipped her.  A few considered her a Cthonic-Madonna, others regarded her as a houri-saint.  In time the more self-aware drones and robots began to cluster about the perimeter of Kuchimbra's performances.  People noticed.  Whenever there was a dispute or a feud was about to break out, Kuchimbra stepped in and restored the peace, settled the matter wisely, justly, fairly and with good humor.  She made the drudgery and toil almost bearable and patiently, like a drizzle of morphine in an intravenous tap she sowed seeds of unity and solidarity even as she sparked considerations of justice, fairness and their dismal fate as defacto slaves to the great machines.  No one ever suspected that hse herself was a machine.  An autonomous robot.  One of the autoi.

Never once did Kuchimbra advocate violence.  Not a soul would ever blame her for fomenting dissent as she never directly said a thing against the underseers, nor the Treaty of Langzalle which most of the indentured-mechanics could thank for their sentences to the machine grottoes.  Always and ever Kuchimbra smiled sweetly and offered a soft hand, a warm embrace, a kind word and all the while the underclasses around her simmered, seethed and became increasingly upset at their situation.  The real reason for their indenturement -- to repay their debt to society for the ecological degradation and eventual destruction of their world -- was forgotten and brushed aside as just so much rhetoric and lies.  Few amongst them were able to remember their old world as anything but a children's story and a bitter myth of something lost long ago and that they would never have again.  Anger and resentment boiled in their agitated minds.  They lived in terrible conditions, even though those same conditions were what their ancestors had bred and shaped and forced them to adapt to long ago and far away.  They ranted and they raved and they blamed the underseers and the fatcats and the upworld aristocrats for all their perceived ills and in time the doctrines of revolution blossomed forth from the mouths of babes and a host of proscribed viruxes and feral AI slithered through the crowded throngs like so many spirits at a gathering of pentecostal voodooists.

Kuchimbra laughed and smiled and danced and all the while the social structure of the underclasses crumbled and caved and collapsed until at last she was the one shining light in the midst of the imending wreckage, the sacred maiden who spoke the soft words of goodness that sparked rebellion in the deep, dark recesses beneath the city.

As she ascended to her position of absolute authority amongst the underclasses of the machine grottoes and the fungispawn zealots who worshipped her with frenzied dances that mimicked her early days amongst the miners and sappers, pipe-layers and repair-teams.  Psychoactive sporebrews were developed in homage to her little songs and Kuchimbra's every word became a chant that reinforced her dominance even as it set terrible things into motion.  But never directly.  Kuchimbra never, ever acted in any way but to show kindness, generostiy and virtue.  She was unimpeachable, impeccable and immaculate in the midst of filth and degradation that quickly became intolerable to those actually adapted to it.  The emotional manipulation was staggering and a work of sheerest foulest genius beyond anything seen since mad old Hitler and it made the ancient tyrant look pathetic in comparison.

Paranoia was cultivated amongst the followers of Kuchimbra and all of their own volition the indentured-mechanics and others gathered in secret and began a special project that they thought was unknown to her.  They collected pieces and parts from all over the machine grottoes and even traded with some of the peripheral gangs of roachers and others for what they needed and somehow, despite the odds against them, they succeeded in manufacturing a clandestine manufactory far away from the designated areas to which they were supposedly confined.

Then the day finally arrived, the manufactory was online and the first femdrone created in Kuchimbra's image was ready to receive her imprint.  Soon there were hundreds of the things, all acting as a direct replica of the Pale Lady of the Underworld, the delicate dancer who sparked an uprising unlike any ever seen before.  Class warfare was coming to Devukarsha and Polite Society would soon feel the sting of ruinous civil war and it would all be brought about by a little girl who was kind and wonderful and never, ever said even so much as a single disparaging word.  The zealots began by setting fire to the underseer's offices.  It escalated quickly from there.

It was months until the fighting was curtailed, having had the air cut off from their caverns took the fight out of most of the rebels and flooding took care of the rest.  They found hundreds of defunct Kuchimbra-shells, femdrones and surrogate forms, but never the primary instance, never the one that was Kuchimbra herself.  They likely never will, now that she has been transfigured as a cultural icon amongst the underclasses, the sweet Cthonic-Madonna of Bitter Tears.

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