Chicago Tribune John Kass column
Jan 11, 2013 (Chicago Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Robot-domination fans around the world are grieving now that Hollywood director Steven Spielberg has suspended production on the long-anticipated science fiction extravaganza "Robopocalypse."
The proposed film is based on the novel of the same name by robot scientist Daniel H. Wilson about what happens to humans when robots take over the world.
"I'm disappointed," Wilson told me in a telephone interview Thursday. "Hopefully, it will come together on down the line. ... Hollywood is fickle, man."
Spielberg released a statement saying the movie was too expensive to produce and the script "is not ready."
Many robot stories are variants of the "Frankenstein" tale: Man creates life, becomes his own god and pays for it. In modern tellings, humans are virtual slaves to technology. Once robots walk among us, some foolish scientist decides to give them "feelings," and everything goes to hell. They become self-aware, they turn evil and then they use our dependence on technology to hunt us down and crush our skulls.
So isn't it possible that Spielberg is already under evil robot control, since robots about to go evil wouldn't want this movie out before they're ready
"That's possible," Wilson said. "But it's pretty unlikely. If there is a superintelligent machine out there pulling the strings, I don't think the movie industry would be the first place they'd start."
The first thing we need are some new rules for robots. The first is that all evil robots, like evil apes, criminal masterminds, Darth Vaders (and Madonna), end up using English accents.
"Perhaps it's because the English design the speech synthesis capabilities " Wilson asked. "I don't know if it stands for all of the British. Then you've got your Austrian accents, as in the Terminator.
"It seems that the good robots are always shouting about 'Danger, Will Robinson,'" Wilson said.
In American accents.
Another thing about evil robots: They have superstrength and flash red eyes before they kill.
"If you look at robots in robot uprising movies, from the perspective of a consumer products person, you've got to wonder: Who decided to give them red eyes " Wilson said.
"Who decided to make them strong enough to jump off of a building and leave cracks in the pavement and then get up and walk away I have a feeling that the best way to make a robot is to make it incapable of harming a person, by making it too weak or slow to even accidentally hurt someone. In real life, when we start seeing these robots in our lives, they're going to be a lot slower and more gentle than what's been portrayed."
Like those carpet-cleaning robots you've seen, gentle little disks that wouldn't harm a cat as they suck up crumbs and stray bobby pins and such. Once they start speaking proper English -- Hollywood's shortcut to symbolize supreme intelligence -- we're dead.
Yet if evil robots were really smart, you'd think they'd engineer some reproductive organs to have little robots of their own.
"I would be much more afraid of robots if they had genitalia," he said. "One robot's got genitalia, the other one doesn't, I'm running faster from the robot with genitalia."
Another rule of robots is that just when red-eyed asexual robots are wreaking havoc far away, a grizzled, middle-aged human is sitting next to the campfire in the relatively safe wilderness.
He starts reminiscing about the good old days, those days before all that frightening technology took over the world and was subverted by evil. He smiles, talking in low tones of V-8 engines and Detroit steel and chocolate sodas. And, as he sighs, wistfully, the robots leap out from the bushes and crushes his skull with clomping feet.
"Except for the 'crushed by a robot' thing, I think you're describing Thanksgiving for every family in the United States," Wilson said. "That's pretty much the way it is, right Every new generation has new technology that the older generation struggles to understand. They remember a better time when things were simpler."
Ah, those days when you could order a chocolate soda, and robots wouldn't crush your head.
Fools among you will dismiss sci-fi as the peculiar domain of nerds, but the thing is, good sci-fi is highly political. And "Robopocalypse" is no exception.
The survivors flee to an Indian reservation. Whenever they use technology, the robots detect it, and track them. So humans are forced to live off the grid. No more texting during dinner.
"In Robopocalypse, some humans don't make it. They go out there in the country, and they starve. It's about what happens when we experience a drastic change in our environment," Wilson said.
Wilson's latest book, "Amped," is about scientific discoveries designed to help those born with mental and physical disabilities.
But then the technology explodes. The disabled who have been given new powers eclipse the unimpaired. Does a parent compel a child to have brain surgery because others in her class are surpassing her Can a nation force its people to artificially augment themselves because a rival country is doing it wholesale
"The whole field of neuroprosthetics and biomedical engineering is blowing up right now," Wilson said. "It'll be really interesting to watch how this technology comes into our bodies and changes us.
"Every new piece of technology is like a lily pad," he said. "And it's tough to know just when to jump off."
You'll know, when the robots start sounding like Jude Law. Then it's time to run.
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