Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I Respect You, I Love You, I Am Absolutely Terrified Of You

What is the status of the robot in American popular culture? We fear them (Terminator), we respect their intelligence and befriend them but consider them ultimately dangerous (2001: A Space Odyssey, I Robot), we find them adorable (RJD2, Wall-E), we idolize them (Optimus Prime), and finally, we see them as modern sirens (Austin Powers' Fembots).

The design of the robot is of vital importance. It is the designer who helps realize the robot's potential for good, by translating the incomprehensible robotic technology into the language of humanity. For robots to interact beneficially with humans in the future, designers must make them holistically likeable, trustworthy, respectable. At the design stage, a new robot becomes either a Zune or an Ipod, a Wall-E or a Terminator.

Take a look at this Youtube video depicting a nanobot replacing a human neuron. Although the technology is years off, this process has enormous medical potential. Patients with ailing brain cells could recieve nanobots replacements with identical signalling capacity – think of these neuron nanobots as the pacemakers of the brain. If the technology advanced sufficiently, I would be theoretically possible to replace each neuron with a nanobot, leaving an individuals unique brain architecture fundamentally sound – like replacing a wooden boat, one board at a time.

But how can you view this video without being terrified!? Is there not something inherently frightening in watching that nanobot spring tentacles and wind its way up the axon like a sinister kudzu vine? And why is the video so dark? A sentinel (from the Matrix) could swim by and not look out of place in this video.

If we want people to embrace this sort of technology we must think about aesthetics and design. It sometimes hard for scientists to think like this, but it's important.

1 comment:

  1. The title of this post also describes my thought process upon meeting a new person.

    Have you already posted about The Uncanny Valley?