Monday, October 02, 2006

You, Robot?

(Kokoro and Einstein at NextFest)

This past weekend was no exception to our habitual festival visits. On Saturday, we went to Wired NextFest, which is an annual convention that displays gadgets and technologies that lead right into the future. There were many impressive, innovative, and just plain funny inventions, but (as usual) I would like to address a somewhat serious issue and discuss the area of the convention designated as Robot Row. Maybe I am simply paranoid, but I can't help thinking of such movies as I, Robot and Blade Runner when viewing these new robotic technologies. I feel like saying, haven't we learned anything from the movies? Yes, I will acknowledge the fact that movies are not the best source of truthful information, but I found it somewhat alarming that the NextFest guide itself states, "Sure, robots will one day be our masters." ...!

I also feel that a very serious issue with robots is how some are created as gender specific. There were many female robots at NextFest, and though they are inanimate objects, each still displayed the stereotypical, idealistic, female characteristics of large breasts and tiny waists, and many of them were created to perform servile functions. The most disturbing of these robots, in my opinion, was one named Kokoro. This was by far the most advanced robot I've ever seen; I didn't even know that robots of this caliber existed. Kokoro is an Actroid, which means that she was designed to perform various functions in different situations. She could be a receptionist, a nanny, or perform any sort of meet and greet duties.

My main concern with Kokoro is that her features and gestures are extremely humanistic, to the point that I worry whether she could actually replace a human. More specifically, that she could replace a woman. I feel that this concern is actually grounded in some form of reality due to the fact that when I was looking at the display of Kokoro, it didn't take too long before some men behind me began to make sexist remarks, which almost (and sadly) seem apparently inevitable when looking at an object that has obviously been extremely feminised. They said something in the vein of Kokoro being able to do everything a real woman could without causing any of the difficulties that real women do. Aside from being incredibly offended, it also made me wonder what kind of problems that robots such as Kokoro will create in the future. (Lest we not forget the "pleasure robots"of Blade Runner.) More alarming, though, is the thought that perhaps some people would prefer an object to a real woman because the robot would have no choice but to follow orders. What does this mean for women in the future, and for humanity in general? I don't mean to call doomsday here, but I do think that this is an extremely important issue that needs to be addressed in conjunction with the evoution of technology; one should not advance without the other. I just don't want the importance of real people to be forgotten amidst the excitement of new techonlogies.


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