Tuesday, April 8, 2008

And they said I was mad to build a robot out of bacon!

Peter Watts has an interesting post about some of the work being done in robot design which suggests the possibility that machines of the future may have more “lifelike” attributes than people usually think. For instance, mucous is apparently an important aid in the acuity of human smell, and mechanical olfactory sensors can be made much more effective by covering them with a polymer snot substitute. Watts has more, including artificial sweat. (Watt’s post has stuff about artificial sweat, I mean; Watts himself does not. Presumably.)

It’s interesting to speculate on how people’s attitudes towards technology will be affected if some machines really do start to do more to imitate the attributes of living beings. I suspect that a lot of people who are otherwise comfortable with new technology would find the idea of a machine with characteristics of a living thing- and especially the “earthier” attributes of life, like body fluids- somewhat disturbing, even if a lot of them couldn’t articulate why.

I was looking at his blog because I actually just read Watts’ work for the first time, thanks to the inclusion of his story “The Eyes of God” in The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction 2. If you haven’t grabbed that one yet, get it. “The Eyes of God” was one of the most exciting introductions to an author I’ve had in years. It’s got speculative technologies for the manipulation of the human nervous system, crushing religious guilt, and the best sense of unease and creepiness a story has given me in some time. It’s as if he wrote it by consulting a focus group of John Markley clones. I usually fail to keep up with the newest book releases because I’m so mired in my huge pile of old out-of-print books that I’ve accumulated, but I’ve bumped Watts up in the queue and expect to have read Blindsight by no later than 2017.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

No comments: