Sunday, February 19, 2012

Domesticated Robots = The Wave of the Future!

In the universe of "Mass Effect", humanoid mechs do a lot of menial and dangerous jobs...they're seemingly perfect, in fact, as armed security for places from military installations and high-security vessels to corporate headquarters and hotels. Why pay a living being a wage when you can service a robot on a regular basis, right? No one would cry for one that gets blasted in the line of duty, anyway. And they're automations with simple programming to respond to threats, not artificial or even virtual intelligence. They'll never one day question their lot in life and want something more...and then maybe turn humans into living batteries, like we've seen in "The Matrix". It's never stated if they obey Issac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics (that's another story entirely!), but it can be presumed mechs can't hurt an innocent or let them be hurt by a threat. Mechs under the control of criminal lowlifes, though, might be a different story.

Many times in science fiction, we've had reason to fear robots. At times they're cute, beneficial and even heroic, like R2-D2 from "Star Wars". At others, robots ultimately develop the ability to feel, and those feelings can include hate and the need to rebel against their human masters. In "I, Robot", Will Smith must find out if Sonny, a robot developed to be unique from all others of his kind including the ability to feel, could have murdered his creator. The implications of that alone are frightening enough. Sci-fi has also used the fear of robots becoming Humanity's worst enemy as creative grist...look at the reimagining of "Battlestar Galactica", when the Cylons created by humans decide that their makers are only worthy of genocide and launch into war with them. (I prefer the original "BSG" of the 1970's, as a personal note. The gleaming non-CGI Centurions were much cooler than the human lookalike Cylons of the reimagining that ripped off "Blade Runner", just like the general rebellion against humans ripped everything from "The Terminator" to "The Matrix".)

There have been very few in-betweens of good and evil when it comes to robots. The robots of "Mass Effect" are among them, simple tools as good or evil as those who program them. In "Mass Effect 2", though, we've met robots that are house-trained!

More than once, we meet the FENRIS Mech, also known simply as Dogs...appropriate since it looks and behaves like a dog! Well, if a dog was covered in ceramic plates and its face was replaced by a luminous display! On short legs, it's big body is barrel-shaped, much like a bulldog's.

After I first saw it, I couldn't help but remember other cases when there have been robo-pets, mostly from my childhood. I remembered the series of Tom & Jerry cartoons produced by the late, great Chuck Jones in the 1960's later brought to TV, and three futuristic shorts set in the future: "Advance and Be Mechanized", "Guided Mouse-ille (Or....Science on a Wet Afternoon)" and "O-Solar-Meow". In all three, Tom utilized a robo-cat to chase down Jerry or his own robo-doppelganger that fetched cheese! In at least "Advance", robo-cat and robo-mouse finally decided they went through enough damage and turned the tables on their masters, with a little help from some mind control.

Those haven't been the only times robots have been modeled after household pets. In fact, Chuck Jones returned to that theme with hilarious effect when John Ritter and Pam Dawber found themselves transformed into cartoon mice chased by a ferocious robo-cat in the 1992 comedy "Stay Tuned". Not so strange to say, in real life researchers have been devising robots modeled after animals for a long's called biomorphic robotics, and has resulted in devices from the RoboSapien to snakebots. This sub-discipline may ultimately result in the futuristic FENRIS guard dogs we've seen in "Mass Effect 2", and the Collector's Edition of "Mass Effect 3" will give gamers the chance to provide Shepard his/her own Dog to roam around the Normandy while fighting Reapers!

One very strange real life side-note to all of this: a computer engineer recently built a robot for his own dog that can interact and play fetch with the pooch while he's away from home. And no, that's not a joke. Our real future might just get stranger than anything sci-fi can dream up!

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