Machines Versus Biologics

A machine that eats organic creatures; there’s something unsettling, disturbing, wrong about that.

It reminds me of one of my favorite Stephen King short stories, The Mangler. To my delight, they have made a movie based on this short story, and there’s even a sequel. I haven’t seen either movie yet, but they are in my Netflix queue. (As an aside, the Netflix Prize may have been won! Via MetaFilter.)

I just remembered — some years ago, there was a report about a robot that eats slugs, and uses the energy from the slugs to power itself. It was called the SlugBot. Maybe they can revamp one of those robot lawn mowers so that it is powered by its own grass clippings; it would be a sort of robot cow, so maybe they could paint it with the “cow spot” pattern.

Man versus machine is a recurring theme in science fiction. SF author Gregory Benford wrote a sequence of books called The Galactic Center saga; I think there are seven books in the series. In Benford’s universe, there is an epic galactic war between all mechanical life (the Mechs) and all biological life, spanning thousands of years. In the Matrix movies, you have the sinister machines that enslave humans, using them as a source of energy, as if they were living batteries. The Matrix scenario was very reminiscent of a short story by Dean R. Koontz entitled Wake Up To Thunder which I read back in the 80’s, in an anthology of SF short stories; here, enslaved humans were used for computational power, which seems more plausible than using humans as a source of energy (but I note that we already have robots that use flies and slugs as sources of energy!). SF author Dan Simmons’ Hyperion series also pits machines (the TechnoCore) against humans; I might be mis-remembering, but I think the machines used humans for computational power every time humans used teleportation technology that the machines provided. In Battlestar Galactica, you’ve got the Cylons. And of course, in the Terminator movies there’s Skynet.


Addendum (07/16/09): Biomass-Eating Military Robot Is a Vegetarian, Company Says (via MetaFilter)


Addendum (07/17/09): Company Denies its Robots Feed on the Dead (via FARK)

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Akashic Records

For E.N.

The term Akashic Records refers to a sort of non-physical (metaphysical?) record of all human knowledge and experience; I guess that since it’s non-physical, some people now call it the Akashic Field, suggesting that it is all around us and permeates the very vacuum of space. It is a very New Age idea. One of America’s most famous psychics, Edgar Cayce (pronounced kay-see), the “Sleeping Prophet”, claimed to be accessing these records when he went into one of his trances. Although the idea of the Akashic Records may have pre-dated Cayce, I think (not 100% sure) he’s the one who introduced the notion to the public at large.

Dan SimmonsHyperion SF series had something like the Akashic Records. In the Hyperion universe, evil artificial intelligences have seduced the human race with the promise of immortality. But this denial of death comes at a cost: it is destroying the non-physical store of human knowledge and experience (if I recall correctly, Simmons doesn’t actually call it “the Akashic Records”, but that’s essentially what it is). Catholics might not like this series, since the RCC has been co opted by the evil artificial intelligences in the story; but I don’t think Mr. Simmons intended this to be an attack on the RCC. The Hyperion series has a lot of Christian allegory, complete with a half-human half-divine savior of the human race, the crucifixion of this savior, and redemption via her blood. It may also be a metaphor for the dangers of subordinating wisdom (human race) to science (evil artificial intelligences). (Reminds me of the very interesting distinction that Dungeons and Dragons makes between Intelligence and Wisdom.)

The topic of the Akashic Records makes me think of the fabled (very most likely fictional) Hall of Records, which is supposed to be a physical store of ancient knowledge buried beneath the Sphinx. Unfortunately, the entrance to the chamber containing the Records is lost, and is now waiting for some adventurous archaeologist to rediscover it. This could be the basis of an Indiana Jones movie. (And lost stores of knowledge reminds me of the Library of Alexandria!)