Where My Mind Is Currently At: Warm Machines

Recently I have been thinking about a lot about robots (as I have stated on my about page) and how the society perceive them. Now let’s take a step back and process what ‘robot’ means.

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(source: dictionary.com, through Google search engine)

How the first and second sub-definition uses one another as a way to measure how human-like and robot-like two of them are was one of the first reasons why this topic piqued my interest and I chose to pursue it. It says that 1) robot is a machine that resembles a human being and able to replicate certain human movement, and 2) used to refer to a person who behaves in a mechanical or unemotional manner. But with modern technologies and inventions, human beings have come so far to make robots function as humanly as possible, and I don’t think people are going to stop anytime soon. So with so many advanced robots running today, where do we draw the line of being ‘robot-like’ and ‘human-like’?

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(source: Google, Gizmo, Amazon, Ubisoft, SONY, Disney, Adafruit)

Programmers, artists, scientists, and hobbyists become more and more interested in making robots that move and function just like those that we see in science fictions. Growing up in Tokyo, Japan during the second half of the 90s had made me become really accustomed to the friendly robot trend that was being popularized mainly through media and commercial products at the time. However, I realized when I went back to my hometown, Jakarta, Indonesia, that it wasn’t the case for most people there. I would say that in early 2000, technology and globalization was going pretty slow in Indonesia, with internet still being new. So most people were more often exposed to traditional process. There were less robot toys in the toy store. Computed toys and video games such as Tamagotchi and SEGA saturn were less favored by parents, also took a couple years to become as popular in Indonesia as when it was first released in Japan.

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(source: Mushi Production, Shin-Ei Animation, Bee-Train, Studio Bogey)

Of course I wasn’t aware of this cultural resistance as a kid, but now looking back, there definitely was a form of rejection by this different group of consumers. Were they uncomfortable by those games? Were they scared that our traditional games and toys would be replaced by imported foreign products? Why was there a resistance toward those products? I’m sure there were a lot of aspects ranging from economy to politics that might have influenced the attitudes people had. I wonder if the fact that the idea of machines was foreign to them played a big role in it. If that was over than a decade ago, then how are things today world wide? That’s what I want to learn and discover more.

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(source: SONY, BANDAI)

I think we’re not at the point where people can just accept robots to work alongside human beings without rejections. I’m confident a lot of people still think of them as ‘the cold machines that do not have feelings and will of their own, running on instructional language controlled by human’. What I want to prove is not that one day robots will function and act fully like human beings, but rather how human perceptions of robots can change with modern technologies and inventions. Robots are cool, but they’re not cold hard machines, they’re warm if you share a heart with them. I think they are a bunch of very warm machines.

I have accumulation of materials for references and sources I gathered out of interest that I could share here as well. I will post relevant ones on separate posts in the future. For now, this is where I am at.

3 thoughts on “Where My Mind Is Currently At: Warm Machines

  1. Nilam! You should read Kurzweil’s Age of Spiritual Machines. Along the same lines but somewhat adjacent, The Age of Earthquakes (Coupland, Obrist, Basar) and Shopping in Jail (Coupland). All three discuss the idea of singularity in different ways, all from the Western perspective which we talked about last week. The first from a technical and historical sense, the second is kind of a #trendy #graphic #design piece but an interesting fast browse and the third is a collection of very poetic narratives written about man and machine’s growth into each other, especially the last short story. I can lend these to you if you’re interested!

    About the language bridge-to-normalcy thing we were talking about: Venkatesh Rao’s essay I constantly cite, Welcome to the Future Nauseous (https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2012/05/09/welcome-to-the-future-nauseous/).

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  2. Hey Nilam,

    Great topic! Love the ideas you have going on. When you mentioned the idea of a “friendly robot” I immediately began to understand the separation that you were trying to define as well as the direction that you’re headed in. I to believe that there is a distinct difference between consumer robots and their approachability in the modern marketplace and the cold mechanical counterparts that make those same “friendly robots.” It got me thinking about the manufacturing process and how some robots have become so human like with their movements, that they almost feel warm despite their primitive beginnings? It also got my thinking about is their going to be a point where every machine is so fluid and well developed that will they all feel humanistic and that this divide will ultimately become non existent? Just a few thoughts.

    Anyway, great post and great start! Looking forward to where things will go,

    -Dan

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