Describe your favorite robot invasion nightmare. Chances are it involves humanoid machines from the uncanny valley; they look almost like us but miss the mark on just a few key details. Big creep factor.
Or maybe you worry about perfect imitation; a world in which we can’t use our eyes to tell the difference at all. Turing Test/Voight-Kampff territory.
Ok, so this was partially an excuse to post the disco dancing scene from Ex Machina. Don’t blame me. Given my own lack of natural rhythm, I have to live vicariously through humanoid simulacrums.
You know how it is.
As for our real-world attempts to build realistic human robots—we’ll get there eventually. But robotic biomimicry of insects and animals is moving waaay faster.
Just watch Harvard’s new robotic bee land sideways on a wall and perch there:
It doesn’t look like an actual bee yet, but it’s got the motion down, which is more than we can say for humanoid robots. The rest is cosmetic.
As with almost everything related to biotech and robotics, there will be positives and negatives. The bee makers, for example, have suggested their creations might work as pollinators. We are running low on biological bees right now, so that could be a big help.
But imagine a time when you swat bugs in your home not because they gross you out, but because they might be surveilling you.
Think a modern quadcopter drone buzzing by your window is creepy? You’re right! Now watch these robotic cockroaches cooperate to get up and over steps.
I don’t think they will be crawling over our sleeping faces anytime soon, but the technology presents an unsettling new way to break inside someone’s home.
Note to self: patent the robotic roach motel IMMEDIATELY. Who wants to partner with me? I’m looking for anyone who can do what I can’t: invent things, build stuff, understand basic technology… really anything more complex than simple addition and subtraction.
You may be thinking that my examples don’t look much like actual biology. They almost have the moves down, but our eyes can easily differentiate. Then take a gander at this new cyborg stingray, created from both metal and living tissue (rat cells, specifically).
Slap a mottled gray paint job on that cutie, and just try to tell the difference.
So what will we do with our bio-realistic robot animals? Keep them as pets? Or make them companions for our real animal pets? I wouldn’t mind getting a friend for Bullet that doesn’t require trips to the vet and expensive prescription cat food. (never mind that the robot itself would cost a gazillion dollars–this is fantasy.)
How about using them to be a cosplay hero? Once we get the technology, someone with enough disposable income is going to pull off the most epic Squirrel Girl cosplay imaginable.
But those are just the fun ideas. I’m contractually obligated to include at least ONE horrific dystopian theory at the end of every Coffee and Chaos Theory post.
Um… let’s say… remote-controlled cyborg mosquitos steal your blood for DNA-based identity theft.
There, that should do it.
So what would creep you out more? A real roach in your hair or a robotic one? A real gnat buzzing your eardrum or a synthetic one swimming up your ear canal?
Robotic humans are starting to sound pretty good. At least they can dance.