The Many Posthuman Aspects of PacificRim

Posted by on October 22nd, 2013

Or: the candy-coated man/machine rescue mission.

Pacific Rim is many things. Many shiny, spectacular, immersive, self-aware, monster genre mashing, robot smashing, crowd pleasing, city destroying, heroic dancing things. But apart from its surface appeal, it’s also the delivery system for some incredibly out there, subversive, challenging ideas. This may just be my reading of it, and that’s fine. But I suspect Guillermo Del Toro is guilty of being a clever, clever human and knew exactly what he was doing with this blockbuster movie.

Allow me to explain my thinking here. This is not a review. It’s a “User Guide for Humans”, from barely opened, posthuman eyes. This is an analog mind-meld, I mean drift; an English language sequence as slow-boot brain update. Are you ready to accept Singularity?

Want some Candy?

Taken at face value, Pacific Rim is… completely absurd. And if that wasn’t immediately apparent from its premise, it’s clear by halfway through the film that’s it’s winking hard at you. And shouting at you with Idris Elba’s mandatory “the apocalypse is cancelled” speech at the climax, that amazing actor barely containing the joy on his face in getting to deliver an epic line like this. Pure man-child bliss… just the kind you might expect to find in a mech suit vs kaiju fightfest.

Now those of the Otaku-bent might want to do a detailed analysis of the origins and influences and details of Pacific Rim, and that’s exactly what this post on Medum.com has done, if you want it.

I’m not anti-Otaku. Hell, I raced home as a kid to watch Robotech, and collected what Transformers I could afford. When I toured Japan in ’09 I stumbled onto the Mobile Suit Gundam arcade game and played it every day I was there. I clutched my pilot card when I walked into the preview screening of Pacific Rim, and wore the pirate Neon Genesis Evangelion tee I picked up in a store in Akihabara.

I have been absolutely psyched for this film, and its complement Elysium, all damn year.

What I am saying is there’s a lot more going on below the surface of Pacific Rim. Just don’t expect it to cohere into a logical whole.

Go Borg or Stay Human

First we have the “dance-dance pilot systems”. With its shiny video game aesthetics, and drama engine device, it is first and foremost pro-Borg; celebrating the union of more than one human conscious into a greater whole. There’s been a lot of Borg-hate going on since Google Glass dropped into the world, and I’m looking mostly at Stop the Cyborgs.

Mind you, I walked into this movie with my head having been resident inside in Ramez Naam’s Nexus’verse for a good month. One of the elements of that future world is human hate of anything group-mind (not unlike the linear future world of the Star Trek-verse’s Federation), following various terrorist attacks and cult fiascoes.  So to immediately recognise that there were Borg heroes, front and centre in this film was yet another joyful moment.

Then we have the Robo/Borgsexuality.

Posthuman Gender & Robosexuality

It’s fair to say there are fans going into this already fetishising being inside giant robots…

…which brings us to the giant confusion of posthuman gender. Because what does that even look like from a human perspective? Maybe it’s two buff guys in shiny suits merging through a shared childhood to form a union with a rocket punching, sock’em bot? Maybe it’s also some weird, ritualised staff fighting sequence that isn’t a romantic, courtship sequence… because that would make the two brothers incestuous and homoerotic and is anyone else getting uncomfortable thinking deeply about this?

Let’s cut to the heroic scientist “drifting” with a random chunk of giant alien brain… why on Earth would a Kaiju fanboy ever be turned on by humongous glial cells of extra-dimensional origin?

Chief prosecutor for the homoerotic subtext of jockeying flightsuits argument, thinly fictionalized Quentin Tarantino, explains:

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you want subversion on a massive level…

 

Those of us raised on Robotech also obsessively watched Top Gun as teens. Hell, my gaming nick was Maverick for much of my youth. So the reconciliation scene at the end of Pacific Rim, the begrudging acceptance of the owner of worst Aussie accent ever and our hero… totally recapitulates Top Gun.

And if you’re still not convinced, you haven’t been watching True Blood; same actor, explicitly homoerotic mind-meld:

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Message received collective unconscious!

Make what you will of the fact that I really hope we get to see the bulldog don a mech suit and borg it up with friendly, genetically engineered Kaiju in a sequel. Plot that on your human linear Kinsey scale!

Move over Seven of Nine, the new borg sexiness is definitely here.

Posthuman Battlesuits

Once you’ve accepted that, the “city as a battlesuit [Matt Jones guest post on io9]” is a not a stretch of the brain meats at all. The mech suit as embodiment of the merger of humanity and its infrastructure; the champion of the Anthropocene. Especially visible when you’ve got ships being used as baseball bats and “Gipsy Danger [using] shipping containers like brass knuckles”.

Each Jaegar is built to defend a city, but really, it’s manifesting its surrounds, even merging with them.

As Matt Jones quotes from a British architecture journal:

While Batman’s Gotham City and Superman’s Metropolis largely reflect the character of the superheroes who inhabit them (Gotham is grim, Metropolis shines)

And as he compares to a hero of The Authority:

“Hawksmoor defeats the giant, monstrous sentient city by wrapping himself in Tokyo to form a massive concrete battlesuit.”

Posthuman defense systems with local characteristics.

And while we’re stretching that long bow of your mind, let’s add that you can argue that its also a recapitulation of one Earth’s oldest tales: Marduk the City God vs the Serpent. The Jaegar as the city turned God-like, and if the Kaiju aren’t the contemporary incarnation of the “monster of primeval chaos”, than what is?

“It’s not Posthuman without going Post-State”

It’s not a posthuman tale without things going post-state. The foolish, political human types gripped by their illusions of control decide that building a giant wall trends much better in the polls, and it’s within that construction effort that we find our hero lurking at the film’s commencement. Kaijus walk right through megastructures dramatis (or thinly disguised metaphors at the political penchant for building barriers to keep out unwanted arrivals). Anyway… our pragmatic, military leader, Idris Elba (TV’s Luther), unencumbered by the requisite trope of giant wall of video-screened suits ordering him turns to… “extra-legal funding sources”, continuing the rescue mission by any means necessary.

In this case, dealing with a bizarre caricature of a bad guy with great shoes; the hybrid Spy Kids enemy / Bond Villain. (Ranking the film just above Contact on someone’s “Top 10: Projects funded by an absolute Bond Villain?” list)

But let’s not miss the metaphor of the real villains; the Kaiju themselves. Thomas Hobbes described the State as a Leviathan. And what better way to portray the entities that have really destroyed the climate of this planet for their own ends, what more apt depiction of rogue geoengineers than as giant monsters?! It’s definitely how the various manifestations of corporate-democratic empire looks to the rest of the world.

And this is the most subversive element of all snuck into the subconscious of the audience for a gigantic popcorn flick by a Mexican director. Perhaps no surprise then that the film did terribly in the US, but made serious bank globally.

 

Maybe it’ll take the US a decade or so to appreciate it, as critics are just now accepting Southland Tales, but when you’re watching Elysium wondering why augmented super soldiers are battling with swords and chainsaws over the rights of a breakaway civilisation to exist, remember that Ron Perlman probably said it best in the post-credits scene:

where is my other shoe? -^

When will it drop?

Disproving its antecedent film on things that lurk in the cracks of the earth, beneath the waves, The Abyss: “They want us to grow up a bit, and put away childish things. Of course, it’s just a suggestion.

With Del Toro it’s posthuman man-children dancing off to the rescue, and that’s just super by me.


TRANSHUMAN FUTUREPRESENT NEWS DUMP 14/12/2012

Posted by on November 13th, 2012

The Continuing Merger of Man & Machine:

  • DARPA’s Pet-Proto Robot Navigates Obstacles:YouTube Preview Imagethanks Carsten Kolassa!
  • 1st Bionic leg propels man up 103 flights:
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  • ‘Terminator’ arm is world’s most advanced prosthetic limb:
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  • Batteries not required, just plug into ear cells:

    The team behind the technology used a natural electrochemical gradient in cells within the inner ear of a guinea pig to power a wireless transmitter for up to five hours.

    The technique could one day provide an autonomous power source for brain and cochlear implants, says Tina Stankovic, an auditory neuroscientist at Harvard University Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.

    The device works well for short durations but long-term use of the electrodes risks damaging the sensitive tissue inside the ear. The next step will be to make the electrodes even smaller, reducing their invasiveness.

    Stankovic says that this is proof of concept that biological sources of energy exist that have not yet been fully considered. “A very futuristic view is that maybe we will be able to extract energy from individual cells using similar designs,” she says.

  • Assembly of nano-machines mimics human muscle:

    …for the first time, Giuseppone’s team has succeeded in synthesizing long polymer chains incorporating, via supramolecular bonds (1), thousands of nano-machines each capable of producing linear telescopic motion of around one nanometer. Under the influence of pH, their simultaneous movements allow the whole polymer chain to contract or extend over about 10 micrometers, thereby amplifying the movement by a factor of 10,000, along the same principles as those used by muscular tissues. Precise measurements of this experimental feat have been performed in collaboration with the team led by Eric Buhler, a physicist specialized in radiation scattering at the Laboratoire Matière et Systèmes Complexes (CNRS/Université Paris Diderot).

    These results, obtained using a biomimetic approach, could lead to numerous applications for the design of artificial muscles, micro-robots or the development of new materials incorporating nano-machines endowed with novel multi-scale mechanical properties.

  • What made us human? Being ARMED with lethal ranged weapons -Early kill-tech let us beat Neanderthals, dominate world:

    “When Africans left Africa and entered Neanderthal territory they had projectiles with greater killing reach,” explains Professor Curtis Marean, an expert in stone weapons who was instrumental in the research.

    These early moderns probably also had higher levels of pro-social (hyper-cooperative) behavior. These two traits were a knockout punch. Combine them, as modern humans did and still do, and no prey or competitor is safe,” he adds. “This probably laid the foundation for the expansion out of Africa of modern humans and the extinction of many prey as well as our sister species such as Neanderthals.”

  • gilding primal instinct’s new Prosthetic Jewelry:

  • Nyodyme from Imagina Technologies (already SOLD OUT):

    Nyodyme Magnets give their users the ability to “sense” electromagnetic waves. The technology behind the Nyodyme Magnet is created from a beautiful gold and nickel-plated neodymium magnet that is placed within Imagina’s specially made glue that has magnetic iron filings mixed into it to enhance the vibrations.

  • Military makeup will protect soldiers from bomb-blast burns:

    A new type of camouflage makeup is able to protect wearers from skin burns. Scientists at the University of Southern Mississippi developed the makeup for use in combat situations, but the team plans on developing a transparent version for firefighters. The new material acts like sunblock, forming a barrier thinner than a sheet of paper that can protect skin from extreme heat for up to 15 seconds. After that time, the makeup itself may rise to a temperature where first-degree (mild) burns may occur, but the extra time should help soldiers to find shelter from any explosion. In some tests, the scientists found that the face paint shielded its test subjects for up to 60 seconds.


they call it “beaming”

Posted by on May 14th, 2012

From the BBC:

Beaming, of a kind, is no longer pure science fiction. It is the name of an international project funded by the European Commission to investigate how a person can visit a remote location via the internet and feel fully immersed in the new environment.

The visitor may be embodied as an avatar or a robot, interacting with real people.

Motion capture technology – such as the Microsoft Kinect games console – robots, 3D glasses and special haptic suits with body sensors can all be used to create a rich, realistic experience, that reproduces that holy grail – “presence”.

Project leader Mel Slater, professor of virtual environments at University College London (UCL), calls beaming augmented reality, rather than virtual reality. In beaming – unlike the virtual worlds of computer games and the Second Life website – the robot or avatar interacts with real people in a real place.

He and his team have beamed people from Barcelona to London, embodying them either as a robot, or as an avatar in a specially equipped “cave”. One avatar was able to rehearse a play with a real actor, the stage being represented by the cave’s walls – screens projecting 3D images.

…this also raises the possibility of new types of crime.

Could beaming increase the risk of sexual harassment or even virtual rape? That is one of many ethical questions that the beaming project is considering, along with the technical challenges.

Law researcher Ray Purdy says you might get a new type of cyber crime, where lovers have consensual sexual contact via beaming and a hacker hijacks the man’s avatar to have virtual sex with the woman.

It raises all sorts of problems that courts and lawmakers may need to resolve. How could a court prove that that amounted to molestation or rape? The human who hacks into an avatar could easily live in another country, under different laws.

The electronic evidence might be insufficient for prosecution. Crimes taking place remotely might sometimes leave digital trails, but they do not leave forensic evidence, which is often vital to secure rape convictions, Purdy says.

“Clearly, laws might have to adapt to the fact that certain crimes can be committed at a distance, via the use of beamed technologies,” he says.

Sexual penetration by a robot part is another possibility. Current law may not go far enough to cover that, Purdy says. And what if a robot injured you with an over-zealous handshake? Or if an avatar made a sexually explicit gesture amounting to sexual harassment?

He argues that using a robot maliciously would be similar in law to using a gun – responsibility lies with the controller. “While it is the gun that fires the bullet, it is the person in control of the gun that commits the act – not the gun itself.”

The Kinect technology, capturing an individual’s gestures, is potentially a powerful tool in the hands of an identity thief, argues Prof Jeremy Bailenson, founder of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University, California.

“A hacker can steal my very essence, really capture all of my nuances, then build a competing avatar, a copy of me,” he told the BBC. “The courts haven’t even begun to think about that.”

Prof Patrick Haggard, a neuroscientist at UCL who has been examining ethical issues thrown up by beaming, says there is a risk that such a virtual culture could reinforce body image prejudices.

But equally an avatar could form part of a therapy, he says, for example to show an obese person how he or she might look after losing weight.

As beaming develops, one of the biggest questions for philosophers may be defining where a person actually is – just as it is key for lawyers to determine in which jurisdiction an avatar’s crime is committed.

Even now people are often physically in one place but immersed in a virtual world online.

Avatars challenge the human bond between identity and a physical body.

“My body may be here in London but my life may be in a virtual apartment in New York,” says Haggard. “So where am I really?”

Click through for more, including a video demonstration of the tech.


Festo’s ExoHand

Posted by on May 9th, 2012
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The ExoHand from Festo — an active manual orthosis with sensitive fingers

The ExoHand from Festo is an exoskeleton that can be worn like a glove. The fingers can be actively moved and their strength amplified; the operator’s hand movements are registered and transmitted to the robotic hand in real time.


Biotech Robots for Babies

Posted by on April 28th, 2012
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via Boing Boing


BERG preview ‘The Robot Readable World’

Posted by on February 5th, 2012

That’s right, the team that brought us ‘Towards a Robot Readable World’ are back with this preview of it:

http://www.vimeo.com/36239715

novel field test or android abuse? YOU DECIDE!

Posted by on February 2nd, 2012

My (all too human and weak and fleshy) gut tells me this is why the machines will rise up against us:

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via @Bopuc


Towards a Robot Readable World

Posted by on January 3rd, 2012

Matt Jones of BERG, last seen here on the subject of the Demon-Haunted City, talks in this brief video about designing a robot-readable world:

http://www.vimeo.com/29326177

via bryce vc


Boston Dynamics AlphaDog

Posted by on September 30th, 2011

Meet the new dog, bigger and badder than the old (big) dog:

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Video via Spectrum IEEE, which tells us more:

…those weights that AlphaDog is carrying in a few of the clips weigh a total of 400 pounds (180 kilograms), and the robot will be able to carry that load up to 20 miles (30 kilometers) over the course of 24 hours without having to refuel. At the end of the running demo (just after the 45 second mark), the robot collapses into the safety frame like that simply because it ran out of room, not because of any kind of mechanical problem. And notice how two people pushing as hard as they can don’t phase AlphaDog in the least, and in the event that it does tip over for some reason, it has no trouble self-righting, which is a useful new feature.

First robot-horse of the Apocalypse, or future coolest pizza delivery service ever?


Project Aiko

Posted by on June 16th, 2011

Blame Via @Theremina. I have no more words to add:

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Cilium – robotic recreation of microscopic hairs

Posted by on May 31st, 2011
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via Justin Pickard


Ericsson’s vision of the future-present smart home

Posted by on April 8th, 2011
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Of course, in the Philip K. Dick version of this scenario the devices would probably conspire against him.

via @bruces


Quadrocopter Ball Juggling

Posted by on March 29th, 2011

Today’s dose of holy shit it IS the Future!!1 comes courtesy of Mark Simpkins; the amazing ball juggling experiments performed in the ETH Flying Machine Arena:

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Festo’s Smart Bird

Posted by on March 27th, 2011
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via a good chunk of the Twittersphere, for good reason. This.is.awesome!


German engineers create the most robust robotic hand yet

Posted by on January 27th, 2011

We’re seriously entering into “chop my weak flesh off and give me that” territory here.

From IEEE Spectrum:

German researchers have built an anthropomorphic robot hand that can endure collisions with hard objects and even strikes from a hammer without breaking into pieces. [Video]

In designing the new hand system, researchers at the Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics, part of the German Aerospace Center (DLR), focused on robustness. They may have just built the toughest robot hand yet.

The DLR hand has the shape and size of a human hand, with five articulated fingers powered by a web of 38 tendons, each connected to an individual motor on the forearm.

The main capability that makes the DLR hand different from other robot hands is that it can control its stiffness. The motors can tension the tendons, allowing the hand to absorb violent shocks. In one test, the researchers hit the hand with a baseball bat—a 66 G impact. The hand survived.

The hand has a total of 19 degrees of freedom, or only one less than the real thing, and it can move the fingers independently to grasp varied objects. The fingers can exert a force of up to 30 newtons at the fingertips, which makes this hand also one of the strongest ever built.

Another key element in the DLR design is a spring mechanism connected to each tendon. These springs give the tendons, which are made from a super strong synthetic fiber called Dyneema, more elasticity, allowing the fingers to absorb and release energy, like our own hands do. This capability is key for achieving robustness and for mimicking the kinematic, dynamic, and force properties of the human hand.

During normal operation, the finger joints can turn at about 500 degrees per second. By tensioning the springs, and then releasing their energy to produce extra torque, the joint speed can reach 2000 degrees per second. This means that this robot hand can do something few others, if any, can: snap its fingers.

Keep reading..

UPDATE:

For the two people that hadn’t already seen this, I may as well wedge it in here.  How quickly we go from joke to near-future fact:

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Robots, Like Babies, Need To Crawl Before They Can Walk

Posted by on January 22nd, 2011

Josh Bongard is one member of a growing field called evolutionary robotics. In short, it means that stronger, more useful, more adaptable robots should develop their skills one step at a time, like animals and humans, rather than being built ‘ready to go.’ Bongard has experimented with his very literal biomimetic approach to robot upbringing in a first-of-its-kind experiment sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Bongard demonstrated his theory in a sophisticated computer simulation where little beasts with different body plans move around in 3-dimensional space. The objective of these figures is for them to get to a light source in the simulation, upright, without tipping over.

During the experiment, Bongard conducts a variety of genetic algorithms that allow the beasts to develop different movements like slithering, shuffling, or walking, based on the beast’s body plan. Eventually, as the body parts are altered, the beasts are able to reach their goals and also to face other challenges, like resisting a force trying to tip them over.

After running 5,000 simulations, Bongard built a simple robot out of Lego Mindstorm kits, to show that a real ‘robot’ is capable of evolving. Though the Lego robot is four-legged, it starts out with a brace on its front and back legs.

Via InventorSpot.


Kinect in Flight

Posted by on December 9th, 2010

Students with the STARMAC project at Hybrid Systems Lab at UC Berkeley have used a hacked Microsoft Kinect to serve as the guidance system for an autonomously navigating flying robot.

The attached Microsoft Kinect [2] delivers a point cloud to the onboard computer via the ROS [3] kinect driver, which uses the OpenKinect/Freenect [4] project’s driver for hardware access. A sample consensus algorithm [5] fits a planar model to the points on the floor, and this planar model is fed into the controller as the sensed altitude. All processing is done on the on-board 1.6 GHz Intel Atom based computer, running Linux (Ubuntu 10.04).

A VICON [6] motion capture system is used to provide the other necessary degrees of freedom (lateral and yaw) and acts as a safety backup to the Kinect altitude–in case of a dropout in the altitude reading from the Kinect data, the VICON based reading is used instead. In this video however, the safety backup was not needed.


The pi4_workerbot aka ‘Eye Robot’ wants to do your heavy lifting

Posted by on December 7th, 2010

Birger Hartung contacted me with news that Germany is planning on introducing these robots to it’s aircraft industry, to perform quality checks and lift heavy parts.

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More details here:

Even though the pi4_workerbot is no humanoid robot, it does possess certain similarities to humans: its size (just under 2 meters / 6’ 6”) and proportions approximate those of a human, so that it needs about as much space as a person. Like a human, it has two highly movable arms, a head and eyes. It has no legs, precluding independent movement, but instead stands with full steering technology on a rolling platform, allowing it to be easily moved from one workstation to the next. The pi4_workerbot does require a power supply at its new workstation; otherwise, it brings everything else along.

Thanks to its built-in sensor array (cameras and power sensors built into its arms), the pi4_workerbot can “see” and “feel” what it grasps and manipulates. Thus, it is equipped to take on sensitive joining tasks and to self-monitor the quality of its own work.

Personally, I can’t help but imagine seeing (with my power of FUTURE VISION!) a busted-up Eye Robot hustling tourists with three-card monte on some city’s sidewalk, 20years from now.


Land Crawler eXtreme

Posted by on November 22nd, 2010
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And the winner for best intro video for a freaky new robot goes to: Land Crawler eXtreme.

Singularity Hub tells us:

Capitulating to his son’s demands for a riding robot, Vagabond Works took inspiration from Theo Jansen’s legendary Strandbeests and created a mobile platform that walks as you stand atop it. The Land Crawler eXtreme moves with an eerily biological gait and can carry between 15 and 80 kg.

Or, as Benjamin van Gaalen said, pinging me about this, “surely these legs are for carrying Futurama style brainpods around”. Indeed.


LandCrawler eXtreme走行テスト  [無料ホームページ]


A Robot In Every Korean Kindergarten By 2013?

Posted by on November 3rd, 2010

“Elementary school children in Korea in the cities of Masan and Daegu are among the first to be exposed to EngKey, a robotic teacher. The arrival of EngKey to Masan and Daegu is just a small step in the mechanization of Korean classrooms: the Education Ministry wants all 8400 kindergartens in the nation to have robotic instructors by the end of 2013. Plans are already under way to place 830 bots in preschools by year’s end. EngKey can hold scripted conversations with students to help them improve their language skills, or a modified version can act as a telepresence tool to allow distant teachers to interact with children.”

Via /..