Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Pull de string! Pull de string!

A small burst of classic zaniness and cinematic excellence.

Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi as Creepy Host Guy in Tim Burton's Ed Wood.

"Bullshit! I'm ready now. Roll de camera!"

Speaking of creepy entertainers, check out this 15-second video clip from a guys' 15-minute DVD highlighting his gyndroid singing (Real Player file). I dare you to turn off the lights and watch it alone.

When I was a kid, exposed to a nascent MTV on long summer days, I found Herbie Hancock's "Rockit" as disturbing as it was magnetizing, as revolting as it was captivating. Perhaps that is the seed, and the best metaphor, for my interest in robotics, AI, etc. Despite my misgivings about SAI (not to mention my all but utter ignorance in electronics, computer programming, etc.), I admit I've long wanted to build my own robot. (Hence, I've got Steve Grand's Growing Up with Lucy placed warmly albeit dustily in my TO READ box.) My favorite movie is Blade Runner and I love 2001: A Space Odyssey, especially its more "HALish" features. My affection for robots is ambivalent, though. I admit I look at the android movement and the robotics frenzy with a kind of morbid fascination. I see people, highly creative and intelligent people, throwing so much effort into making things they actually hope can replicate and then perhaps even "surpass" human achievements, affection, wit, etc. I watch and I marvel. For no matter how eye-catching, and eyebrow-raising, the bots in "Rockit" are, any sane person will see what actually makes the video worth watching: Herbie Hancock, a human, playing solid tunes (ironically displaced off-screen, of course, by being seen repeatedly and only on-screen). That's just what fascinates me about the contemporary robotics movement: no matter how "impressive" the advancements, there is still a thick current of creepiness in it, and, more important, a human foundation for all that progress. Making robots is only instrumentally, or formally, about the robots; ultimately, fundamentally, it's about ourselves, about the inventors themselves. The excellence of robots, then, is a complex, confusing expression of a basic human desire for artistic excellence.

Or maybe I'm wrong. I know just as well as anyone how works of art can take on "a life of their own," which is exactly the point of "From the Forest Itself". Given my ambivalent feelings about these matters, it's very hard to articulate, much less arrive at, a fixed position. For the moment, I'm pulling a Forrest Gump: "That's all I have to say about that."

In the meanwhile, I leave you to enjoy the mellifluous murmurings of HAL himself, singing "Daisy, Daisy", the first song ever sung by a robot (c/o

P.S. Here is a random anonymous comment about Greek Orthodox crib notes. Can you trace out the actual Greek?

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