Posts Tagged 'androids'

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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Westworld

There’s little doubting that the Star Wars series has paid greater homage to the western genre than its military space exploration contemporary. While Star Trek continues to describe journeying into the ‘final’ frontier and, in the Spectre of the Gun, even recreated the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, it’s still a far shout from cowboys in space that was George Lucas’ Episode IV. Look at Luke Skywalker’s interstellar quest initially triggered by the murder of his aunt and uncle, and then consider the plots of any number of vengeance westerns and you’ll see what we’re attempting to unpick with this post.

You’d think, though, that with such a influential conjoining of genres, there’d be a plethora of other quality titles that either preceded Star Wars, or came afterwards. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Valley of the Gwangi (1969), Bravestarr (1987) and Cowboys and Aliens (2011) are really nothing to get overly excited about – unless you factor in a well-earned nod of animated appreciation for Ray Harryhausen’s work in the first instance. Thankfully quality does prevail, as the number of successes within this crossing of worlds out numbers the ‘also rans’.

Westworld (1973) is probably the most notable progenitor within this hypothetical space. Thanks to Yule Brynner’s haunting and relentless gunman, plus an early directorial outing by Michael Chriton, it has garnered appreciation ever since its release. It’s also the springboard for this post, as HBO plan to launch a 2016 TV series with Anthony Hopkins playing the role of Doctor Robert Ford.

There’s a big gap until the 26 episode anime excellence that was Cowboy Bebop (1997). While the feel of the show was definitely weighted towards the Sci-Fi end of the the influential scale, it’s constant riffing over western tropes ensures its inclusion here. Next Firefly (2002). Do we really need to say any more than that? Joss Whedon’s seminal and tragically curtailed TV series, enmeshed American Civil War sensibilities with rabid space zombies and came out shining and bright.

The remaining two space cowboys come from the realms of the comicbook. First up, the three-eye Weird Rider in Allan Moore’s beautifully nostalgic Tom Strong (2002) and then, finally, John Leather – AKA the Dead Ranger – from Warren Ellis’ excellent Planetary series (2005). Which, all told, doesn’t exactly give us a gang of genre warping rustlers, but does pack enough six guns to deputise this extraordinary posse.

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