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Thursday, 13 December 2018 11:08 am

Where is my robot buddy?

computer mainCOMPUTERS – they’re a bit stink really, aren’t they?

Frozen browsers, corrupted hard drives, internal fans that sound like dentist drills on overdrive – such things do not occur in the halcyon futures of Lucas and Spielberg, Banks and Heinlein.

Imaginary visions of the future have always promised one thing: wicked gadgets that work wickedly.

Marvin the depressed android from Douglas Adams’ pan-dimensionally popular Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy had a brain the size of a planet.

So far we have the I-phone;  16 gig of memory.  Woopie.

Maybe I’m being ungrateful?  I mean, laptops are pretty cool.  So are data sticks shaped like my little pony.

But they don’t work like magic.

Arthur C Clarke, the grandfather of science fiction, said: “Any sufficiently advance technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

My Maxtor 126 gig external hard-drive does not fill me with a sense of magical awe.  It is a big, grey brick of disappointment.

No, the kind of stuff I’m talking about is but a flash in the editor of New Scientist‘s mind’s eye: electronic paper, virtual data screens, HUDs beamed straight onto your retina, wet-wiring, cybernetics, Artificial Intelligence, robotics.  Yes, I am talking about ROBOTS.

Because promises were made to people like me (you know, geeks) promises in the shape of anthropomorphic computers that talk back (Star Trek, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Moon), robots that will not only keep you company but save the galaxy while they’re at it (Star Wars), robots that try to kill you (Westworld, Terminator, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner (although, they’re technically Androids…), love you (Bicentennial Man, The Silver Metal Lover, Saturn 13), take you over and use you as ginormous fleshy batteries (The Matrix).

Promises, my friends, promises which have not been kept.

Ainu the robotic dog is so not going to cut it. But we may not have to wait too much longer.

In Japan, not content with developing the first humanoid robot that can dance, run and sometimes (see below) get up stairs, they’re now working on a robotic head which mimics human emotions. Westworld, here I come!

Sadly, Asimo the Robot is far from perfect.  But at Toyota they’ve got robots to play you music and get you where you need to go.

Seriously, Japan is the future of robot magic.

Just take a look at the 60-foot Gundam towering over Tokyo like some kind of giant futuristic propaganda statue. We welcome our Robot overlords!

At the same time, designers in London are planning for the day we let our household ‘bots do everything for us.

Meantime, right here in Wellington boffins at Industrial Research Lab in conjunction with local artist Katherine Ngatai are experimenting with artificial muscle fibres that will pulse in response to your proximity. Gross!  In all the best ways!

Yes, Robbie the Robot is on the horizon, waving and offering to mix you a martini while saving you from alien attack.

It’s not much to hang on to, but it’ll be enough to keep the ennui at bay the next time Windows Explorer decides it can’t find my document.

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is is a Whitireia Journalism student passionate about pop culture, loud music, comic books and the news. She blogs about gender issues, sexual harassment and violence at but isn't nearly as angry as that might make her seem. She secretly dreams of writing for Fangoria magazine, but would settle for a desk at The New York Times.
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