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Rise of the machines: are they friend or foe?

Twenty years ago, four types of cyborg technologies in relation to the human body were identified in “Cyborgology: constructing the knowledge of cybernetic organisms” by C.H. Gray, S. Mentor and H. Figueroa-Sarriera in C.H. Gray‘s The Cyborg Handbook (New York: Routledge, 1995 : 1-14).

  1. Restorative i.e. restoring lost functions or limbs
  2. Normalizing i.e. re-establishing normal functioning
  3. Re-configuring i.e. constructing new combinations of humans and technologies
  4. Enhancing i.e. extending human capabilities

Alex Murphy in Robocop [Jose Padhila, 2014] is a combination of all of the technologies outlined by Gray, Mentor & Figueroa.  He is restored, normalized, reconfigured and greatly enhanced. Robocop‘s creator – dr Norton at OmniCorp – can make people whole again, but as machines.

robocop 2robocop 1

Norton says a candidate needs to be emotionally balanced for him to put a robobody onto the human body. That means that that human must have had no temper in his human body. Norton creates Robocop from the near dead Alex Murphy. Does Alex get a Second chance or a Second life? Is he a kind of Tin man? Alex almost dies in an explosion and his body was completely destroyed in the explosion – everything except his brain – only partly damaged – and one palm of hand. They fixed his damaged brain and added a body: emotions and intellect are the only things left of the human Alex Murphy. The Alex-machine wants to die when he discovers what’s left of him. But dying is in the realm of emotion. Is Alex Murphy a man who thinks like a machine? Or a machine which thinks like a man?  Does a human-looking Machine like Alex know what it’s like to be human?  His wife and he communicate via computer, but she doesn’t know what he looks like. And during the course of the film we learn that Alex still has biases like compassion and fear towards his wife and son and others. He is a man in a machine. His consciousness should be nothing more than the processing of information. But Alex’s dopamine level overrides what is inputted by dr Norton and his software – they had only put in only 2%, but what he exhibits far exceeds 2%. He even solves his own murder that human cops couldn’t touch.

Is it an illusion of free will that is making Alex feel that he’s in control?

Robocop showed some very interesting aspects about humans:

– That man can be bought and bribed, but that machine is incorruptible

– With Alex Murphy, no policeman is ever going to die in vain again.

We’ve seen other robots like Alex elsewhere- the Transformers robots – Autobots : gentle, human-like fighting machines on the side of justice and other robots are even funny, like some autobots and Chappie. They are on the good side of technological warfare and humanity.

But what about robots or machines that are not on the side of humanity? What if Robocop were to kill children? What would he feel? Nothing. In the Decepticons  we see robots which will stop at nothing and destroy everything and everyone, humans included. We know that machines can’t feel, but in Transcendence [Wally Pfister, 2014] dr Will Caster [Johnny Depp] uploads his consciousness onto the internet merging man and machine in an unseamless way. And  what if Dr Norton could put a human brain into a robot body? This is precisely what happens in Ex Machina [Alex Garland, 2015]: Dr Nathan tries to put human consciousness onto a robot body in Ava. And what if we take this a step further and create a robot like Galvatron [Transformers: age of Extinction Michael Bay, 2014]? Galvatron is powerful and intelligent, and his primary weapon is his particle accelerator cannon, mounted on his right arm, which can fire blasts of assorted types, including electro-chemical energy and particle beams. He transforms into a futuristic laser-cannon emplacement like a howitzer: artillery characterized by a relatively short barrel and the use of comparatively small propellant charges to propel projectiles at relatively high trajectories, with a steep angle of descent. Galvatron’s weapon can assume the form of a laser pistol, shrinking as he does to allow other beings to wield him.

Films that show technological decadence like Robocop, Transformers: Age of Extinction and Ex Machina provoke some burning questions:

– Can robots like Galvatron and Robocop give rise to raising an entire army with one algorithm: kill?

– What if hackers hack those machines like dr. Norton does with Murphy in Robocop?

– If a cloud is hackable, what is a machine or algorithms?

– What if that killer army turns on us who created them? Armageddon?

And God forbid these robots let loose in areas like Ferguson or Baltimore where blacklivesmatter!

Currently, 2 six-foot-tall, 330-pound bipedal humanoid robots named ATLAS and ESCHER are being built. They resemble those iconic killer robots from the big screen [http://motherboard.vice.com/read/inhuman-kind-killer-robots]. The dozens of engineering students and professionals working on ATLAS, ESCHER, and the nine other robots participating in the DARPA challenge have the best intentions: they say they’re building tools they hope will help humanity.

Robocop is only be a movie but, earlier this week, Icelandic orthopaedics company Ossur said they’ve created the world’s first truly “mind controlled” prosthetic leg. The crux of the issue is that, by collecting more and better control information from a patient’s residual muscle tissue, Ossur said it has helped two patients control a bionic limb with the same muscle impulses that previously controlled the real appendage [http://motherboard.vice.com/read/a-bionic-limb-you-can-control-with-your-unconscious-mind-is-here?utm_source=mbfb].

Robocops, Atlas, and Escher are all nice, friendly humanoid rescue robots. But in the end, these robots will serve whatever purpose their human operator sends them to. Just like Galvatron. If Americans appear robophobic today that could be because robophobia can become a real worry.


9 Comments

  1. Cami says:

    Robocop was a lot more unsettling than a movie like Chappie or Ex-Machina. Robocop concentrates on the idea of taking human forms and practically erasing all that is human, for the benefit of…society? The police force? Or companies who will profit immensely? Technology has changed our lives, and it will continue to do so, but who is actually going to stop someone from “going too far”? People support technology in the name of science, claiming we’re all better off with these sort of advancements. However, when you create something 25% human and 75% machine, who is gonna be accountable when the machine takes over? And why would it be okay for it to take over? Humans are flawed and we are the cause of chaos, yes. But either way it is HUMAN, it is an aspect we all posses. The history of the world will continue to be a mess, but at least it will be a mess we created, and one we try to solve, not one by a machine that was never necessary.

    • When you real it down into percentages it’s even more scary to think about a weak mind (25%) who has the power (75% of it!) to wreak havoc. That’s surly more dangerous than a Chappie or Ava because such a being is totally doable. All we have to dos extend bionic science which is sort of old news now. wars with robocops or fall outs could become life or death

  2. Mona says:

    I think that a robot can be either a friend or a foe. It all depends on what it’s been program to do or how it can be influenced. Robocop was programmed to kill the bad guys and it understood that through and through. Therefore it’s a productive member of society. Chappie was programmed to understand that participating in a robbery was unacceptable behavior as it is obviously detrimental to our society.
    Ninja was able to go around that and
    successfully got him to participate in the heist with the false promise of
    gaining a new body afterward.
    As stated in the article, in the end, these robots will serve whatever purpose their human operator sends them to.

    • Chappie’s two sides show the rift existing in humans: he has the same flaws humans have “if” he is imbued with a conscience as the film wants to insist. He wonders whether he should or shouldn’t, just like we are. Especially when we are loved. We are faithful to those who give us love and Yolandi does give him some kind of love. Chappie is faithful like a human and robocop is faithful to his mission. Both can turn bad in a moment if fed with the right program

      • Halimatou says:

        I agree with Mouna that a machine will serve its creator no matter how conscious it is. For instance in the case of Chappie, he was program to be a good one but turned out to be influenceable. I’m sure that if robocop was put in certain situations, he will do more harm than good in the name of justice. No matter how reliable they create these machines, it will never change the fact that they are just machine and at the end of the day, they will do what machine does destroy or built so we can’t really predict which is going to happen. Technology is sert a great contribution to our lives but it sure does many harm than good in some cases and like David Rosner said, “we create the conditions in which we live and die.

      • Absolutely true that they’re programmed, so limited in scope as we think they can’t think behind what we program but what if they did as many films depict? Do you think that day will come when another race will wipe out ours like we did previous races or species?

  3. Jonathan C says:

    It doesn’t seem like there is much question that robots will be more and more a part of our lives, for better or worse. Robocop takes a pretty cynical view of humanity. Corporations, with their workers competing with one another, the system, will tend to make robots be about making money, not about helping people. Fortunately Robocop lightens things up with the humor, the fake ads and such. But it shows that new technology can just be used to continue the ongoing exploitation in the world. Robocop is used to prepare a city of the future, which is really intended to make a lot of money through often illegal ways, like organized crime. Robocops can help keep order, but they can also be misused, programmed for the interests of corporations.

    Robocop seems almost as much a person as a machine. The people around him generally seem to treat him as such. In this movie, it is those little personality quirks, that show the essence of one’s humanity. And robocop dreams. But though some humanity remains in him, in may not be very much. He doesn’t hesitate to kill when he takes on the bad guys. I don’t think we would ever allow robots in society who can kill like Robocop, but in Robocop, human lives, including the lives of the police, are very cheap. Keeping the social order so that business can be done is all that matters.

  4. This movie really frightened me. I had seen the older 1987 version which features a much more gruesome death of the main character Alex Murphy. It saddened me to see how greed can propel people to do the most horrific things. I believe technology is advancing exponentially, perhaps faster than humanity can truly understand or process. Now with drones we are able to destroy more people from a distance. One does not even need to feel truly responsible when to commit an act of killing, one does it behind a screen miles away. I worry about our humanity and specifically our sense of empathy. I don’t believe one should demonize machines or technology, but I do believe one should question it and how it affects humanity, society, and our world at large. It is interesting to see how the masses are directed by Samuel L Jackson to believe certain things. Obviously Samuel L. Jackson works under the direction of corporations, government, and those who are powerful and rich. Sick to see, but highly believable. Clearly all of this is already on the way to becoming the norm. As we are told more and more that we need to fear; corporations and governments will capitalize off of that fear and introduce systems that we believe we need but in essence are only meant to control us (the masses).

    • I appreciate your thought on responsibility re these machines. or for that matter any AI or technology used to advance human science but at the same time to destroy more efficiently or to save American lives. But it is to destroy always the “Other” whom we sometimes create (Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan etc). In a way we create these machines to destroy an earlier version of what we’ve created befire, that “evil” human machine namely saddam or taliban etc. these were also a kind of human fighting machines we trained (or programmed). But they turned on us like saddam or in art (science too) Frankenstein.

      The other thing to say is that this sense of guilt or responsibility is deferred in the case of drones because it is like gaming so conscience doesn’t need to be the focus only aim or target ( see end game) If you’ve seen “eye in the sky” with Helen mirren you’ll see exactly this point ( although you see the human side of it too in the same film- which we also see in our films-(human feeling of ) being human vs machine: do we feel or don’t we?) so droning has become like gaming and the other salient point you make is we get sucked into believing that all of these are needed ( it’s good for us) then next thing you know you don’t even question it anymore. You accept it. You accept that whatever is done in USA is for the greater good and perhaps it is but who is that for whom it’s good?

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