Archive for April, 2018

The ever warm topic of robotics is heating up once again.

It’s hard to disentangle if the advent of two robot related TV shows is causing this spike of automated interest, or whether a bunch of companies have held their recent press releases to coincide with the promotional campaigns for said shows. Regardless of the timing, or the machinations of marketeers, there’s no doubting a shift in the wider messaging around the advent of more sophisticated robots within our lives.

To help define what we’re on about, have a look at these two pieces of data released by the business publication Forbes. The first shows off the countries that currently have the highest populations of industrial robots, while the second similar list marks out the countries with the greatest risk of human job losses to robotic workforces.

More demonstrable evidence of this tipping point can be found in the fact that Japan is addressing one interesting Sci-Fi issue – The Silver Tsunami – by introducing robot engineers to supplement an aging construction workforce. A similar situation is happening within North American agriculture, where the combined factors of a retiring itinerant workforce and a better standard of living in their native countries is leading to diminishing number of labourers within fruit farming. The solution? Harvest CROO Robotics!

It’s not just the human workforce that are being supplanted by increasing numbers of machines. While The Guardian’s round-up of robots mimicking animal behaviour neglects to mention Festo’s styalised droids, it does refer to NASA researching robotic bees for Mars exploration, as well as an octopoid robot powered by chemical reactions and hydrolics – that means zero mechanics parts.

So these are just some of the stories clustering behind the sensational moments depicted in the already well-received Westworld season two (see above), and the return of Channel 4’s Humans. Whether we like it or not, social demands, technological advancements and the needs of industry are making these fictions a reality. Which means the robotic revolution isn’t coming. It’s already here.

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We’ve always tried to highlight the peripheral gems within the peripheral entertainment that is Sci-Fi. But what happens when that genre goes more mainstream than ever before?

Over the past few months we’ve called out the number of high production value films and TV shows that continue to emerge – most notably on Netflix. With Amazon’s recent signing of ‘Zoe’ by Drake Doremus and the serialisation of William Gibson’s The Peripheral, there seems to be no slowing down in futuristic interest. A backlash to this current glut is, however gaining momentum.

Ridley Scott has been critical of the genre in the past, citing a concern that visual output was becoming homogenised – backed up by a recent article in Esquire. Meanwhile, James Cameron has complained – rightly so in our books – about the sheer volume of super hero movies coming out of Hollywood. Admittedly, there has been opposition to these statements with a number of younger fans and critics highlighting an ‘old guard’ increasingly out of touch. But there’s also been some notable defence.

Perhaps this is all just a bi-product of the genre’s heritage. For every Samuel Delaney ‘Nova’ in your pantheon of great literary works, there was a plethora of forgettable pulp fiction currently languishing in charity shops across the world.

The argument falters, though, when considering the current two-fold crisis. First, the world has already become an imagined space where we all carry personal computers, have our elections hacked by technocrats and wonder at whether robots becoming domestic appliances is a good and useful thing. Secondly, the genre is now so mainstream that it’s struggling to generate new and engaging ideas in the glare of perpetual public scrutiny.

Hopefully, there’s enough innovation still happening on the outskirts – new thinking that just needs time to gain a foothold within the zeitgeist. Charlie Jane Anders believes so, and this site has already been advocating the interesting reinventions that have been happening within LGBT, Afrofuturism and the recent bloom of Chinese authors.

Regardless, saturation remains a bad thing. A negative reaction is coming, and we will see a drop off in popularity as production investment favours something with a better return. Sci-Fi though, has a proven track record of adaptation. The bug-eyed monsters fell away when the mind expanding ’60s and ’70s investigated inner space which in turn, dropped back to allow room for cyberspace. What all the creatives within whatever medium need to do, is follow the advice of Eames from Inception and not be, “afraid to dream a little bigger darling.”

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