Kell Robinson

In preparing for this project I sought material exploring how technology has affected us. I found "Machine as Metaphor and Tool" (a collection of essays) and "Replications" (a book about robots and androids in movies) and pulled up a number of essays on the Web. Whether in thelibrary or on the internet, I looked for subject matter on cybernetics, robots, technology and soforth, but I wanted to find something that speaks to the human condition.

There's no shortage of text on such subjects as cybernetics and technology, either fromthe perspective of AI specialists or cultural critics. In all honesty, what Iread from the contemporary cyber-cultural theorists was the densest, jargon©laden diarrhoea ofthe keyboard I've ever had the miserable experience of reading. 'Nuff said. On to AI.

I shall generalize and say that AI writers fall into two categories. An AI writer may keepa tight rein on himself, and say rigorous and sensible things; which is a matter of simply not letting oneself carried away. Other writers disappoint the experienced, critical reader bydrifting into daydreams. The first kind, while fortunately he doesn't indulge in aberrantoverreaching, unfortunately says nothing that bears on the humanities or social sciences. Thesecond kind lacks rigor and may have very little to say that makes any sense.

The most gratifying thing I read was the 1959 novel "Homo Faber" by Max Frisch. Nearthe outset of the story a commercial airliner is forced to land in the desert of Mexico, and Walter Faber, a Swiss engineer, is on board:

"We remained in the desert of Tamaulipas, Mexico, for four days and three nights, eighty-five hours in all, and there is little to report of this stay. It was not a magnificent experience, as everybody seems to expect when I talk aboutit. It was much too hot for that!. . When the moon rose (I also filmed this) between black agaves on the horizon, we could have gone on playing chess, it was so light, but suddenly too cold; we trudged out to smoke a cigarette, out into the sand, where Iadmitted that landscapes didn't mean much to me, and certainly not a desert.

You don't mean that! he said.

He thought it an experience.

Let's turn in," I said. "Hotel Super-Constellation, a holiday in the desert with all modern convenience.

I felt cold.

I've often wondered what people mean when they talk about an experience. I'm a technologist and accustomed to seeing things as they are. I see everything they are talking about very clearly; after all, I'm not blind. I see the moo nover the Tamaulipas desert--it is more distinct than at other times, perhaps, but still a calculable mass circling round ourplanet, an example of gravitation, interesting, but in what way an experience? I see the jagged rocks, standing out blackagainst the moonlight; perhaps they do look like the jagged backs of prehistoric monsters, but I know they are rocks,stone, probably volcanic, one would have to examine them to be sure of this.

Why should I feel afraid? There aren'tany prehistoric monsters any more. Why should I imagine them? I'm sorry, but I don't see any stone angels either, nor demons; I see what I see--the usual shapes due to erosion and also my long shadow on the sand, but no ghosts. Why get womanish? I don't see any Flood either, but sand lit up by the moon and made undulating, like water, by the wind, which doesn't surprise me; I don't find it fantastic, but perfectly explicable. I don't know what the souls of the damnedlooked like: perhaps like black agaves in the desert at night. What I see are agaves, a plant that blossoms once only and then dies. Furthermore, I know (however it may look at the moment) that I am not the last or the first man on earth;and I can't be moved by the mere idea that I am the last man, because it isn't true. Why get hysterical? Mountains are mountains, even if in a certain light they may look like something else, but it is the Sierra Madre Oriental, and we arenot standing in a kingdom of the dead, but in the Tamaulipas desert, Mexico, about sixty miles from the nearest road,‘"which is unpleasant, but in what way an experience? An airplane to me is an airplane, I can't see it as a dead bird, it's a Super-Constellation with engine trouble, nothing more, and it makes no difference how much the moon shines onit. Why should I experience what isn't there? Nor can I bring myself to hear something resembling eternity; I don't hear anything, apart from the trickle of sand at every step. I am shivering, but I know that in seven to eight hours the sun will be shining again. What is all this about the end of the world? I can't imagine a lot of nonsense, merely in orderto experience something. I see the sandy horizon, whitish in the green night, twenty miles away at a guess, and I don'tsee why there, in the direction of Tampico, the Other World should begin. I know Tampico. I refuse to feel afraid. It was altogether too mystical for me."

A few months later Faber, ill with cancer, records impressions of a conversation withhis former mistress:

"Discussion with Hanna--about technology (according to Hanna) as the knack of so arranging the world that we don't haveto experience it. The technologist's mania for putting the Creation to use, because he can't tolerate it as a partner, can'tdo anything with it; technology as the knack of eliminating the world as resistance, for example, of diluting by speed, so that we don't have to experience it. . . the fact that technologists try to live without death. Her own words: "Youdon't treat life as a form, but as a mere sum arrived at by addition, hence you have no relationship to time, because youhave no relationship to death." Life is form in time. Hanna admits that she can't explain what she means. Life is not matter and cannot be mastered by technology."

I react to all this talk of cyberspace, alive machines and so on much the way WalterFaber reacted to the desert. I can't see how it would capture the imagination of a person withcommon sense, or a feeling for the planet world. So I've come up with the idea of communicating my viewpoint across a robotic medium©©since that's what this class is about.


Build a fairly simple remote control robot with two powered wheels and a caster orswivel wheel. R/C will consist of two cheap walkie talkies with two or more control channelsbased on audio tone generators/decoders connected to the speakers of the walkie-talkies. Choices: two control channels based on the circuits in figs 30©16,17, or twelve channels using DTMF ("touch tone") keypad and decoder. As a bonus, can leave speaker on robot walkie-talkie unit connected for public use. (With speaker connected, hearing control tones of 1K or 2K Hz will be unavoidable during locomotion.)

Possible scenario: robot approaches pedestrian, stops, says (for example) "Technologiststry to live without death," or some other phrase. If operator can come up with a set of epigramsthat will really have an impact, so much the better. Wisdom not from the mouths of babes, butfrom robots perhaps? Calls for a survey of writing dealing with technology/consumerism,alienation, fear of the loss of agency to machines, etc. (possible authors to look at might includeBaudrillard, Blake, Walter Benjamin, maybe even Nietzsche? Suggestions?)


"Technology is the knack of arranging the world so that we don't have to experience it."

"Technologists try to live without death."

"You don't treat life as a form, but as a mere addition sum, hence you have no relationship totime, because you have no relationship to death." (Pedestrian smashes robot.)

"Life is form in time."

"I think that in the future television will get even better."

"For the first time 'humans' became visible."

"The somnambulism of matter."

(Above two quotes from "Perforations" interview with Robert Cheatham and Chea Prince.)

"The introduction of labor into the world replaced intimacy, the depth of desire and its freeoutbreaks, with rational progression, where what matters is no longer the truth of the presentmoment, but, rather, the subsequent results of operations." (Georges Bataille)

"Advances in medicine and technology compel the most responsible people to adopt new measures." ("Homo Faber")