Posts Tagged ‘Hammerstein’

Boston Dynamics’ Atlas Robot Being Put Through Its Paces

February 24, 2016

This is a fascinating piece of footage showing Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot being tested. It’s a bipedal robot, with two arms, and the video shows it walking about, picking up boxes and placing them on shelves, It can also follow the boxes when they’re moved out of its way or reach, and right itself when its pushed over. It’s an impressive display of robot engineering.

From the look of it, Boston Dynamics were the manufacturers of the ‘Big Dog’ robot, which was supposed to help carry loads for the US military. This ended up being cancelled because its electric motors were too noisy for the covert missions for which the machine was intended to be used. I’m sure Atlas has been designed with a military role or disaster relief in mind, very much like Hammerstein, Rojaws, Mek-Quake and their metal pals in Robusters and ABC Warriors. We’re not quite there yet, and I have real qualms about the use of this technology. Not so much in the fears about Terminator-style robots running amok to exterminate humanity, but simply of the process of mechanisation replacing human workers. I’ve noticed that in shops and cinemas, the self-service machines are being used to replace human staff, and this process is likely to continue until about 1/3 of service sector jobs are lost in the next 20 years. Or at least, they will according to current projections. The end result will be Mega-City One, sprawling conurbations with a 95% unemployment rate due to robots replacing humans in just about all areas of employment.

One of the reasons historians and sociologists have put forward to explain why modern science did not arise in ancient Greece, the Islamic world and China, is that despite the immense inventiveness of these cultures, they only made limited use of the technological advances made by their natural philosophers and artisans. Both the Chinese and Islamic engineers produced automata. In China, there was an automaton serving girl constructed in the 9th century AD, which went round filling people’s tea bowls. The ancient Greeks invented a toy mechanical theatre, singing mechanical birds, and an automatic hand cleaner to allow visitors to the temples to wash their hands. In Islam, al-Jazari and the Banu Musa brothers similarly produced automata. These systems were, with exceptions, not applied to industry, but used as toys to amuse the upper classes. I think at certain times a brake was deliberately applied, because they feared the social disruption such developments might bring. It’s a Luddite attitude, but as the world faces mass unemployment through mechanisation, one that we should possibly appreciate as wiser than it appears.

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Increase the Peace: Criticism of the Iraq Invasion in 2000 AD’s ABC Warriors

April 18, 2015

Borag Thungg, Earthlets! As the mighty Tharg used to say.

I’ve posted a number of pieces about satire and social criticism in comics, particularly the British SF comic, 2000 AD. Mike over at Vox Political posted a piece on the very pointed comment about the effect of sanctions and workfare in the Judge Dredd strip. And it’s been released that after the elections are safely over, Megacity I’s hardest lawman will go up against a corrupt politician fomenting hatred against immigrants after a series of terrorist attacks. This politician’s name: Bilious Barrage. And he bears a striking resemblance to a certain head of an anti-EU, anti-immigration party.

Bilious Barage

Bilious Barrage: Mega-City 1’st anti-immigration politician and leading candidate for a place in the Iso-Cubes.

2000 AD has always had a very strong strain of satire and social comment. The Strontium Dog strip, about the mutant bounty hunter, Johnny Alpha, used the character’s mutation to criticise racism and the British class system. This included a story in which the king of Britain, Clarkie II, in order to reach out to all his subjects, marries a mutant from the Milton Keynes ghetto, Vera Duckworth. Who, as her name suggests, was blessed with a duck’s bill.

Strontium Clarkie Duckworth

Johnny Alpha with his highness King Clarkie II and Vera Duckworth, as drawn by Carlos Ezquerra.

This was partly based on Prince Charles, and his concern in the 1980s to help Britain’s unemployed created by Maggie Thatcher’s recession.

Real political figures also made their way into 2000 AD’s strip, like Ronald Reagan. The then-president of America featured in a story in which he had been kidnapped by time-travelling aliens, who wish to use him as a hostage in their campaign to break free from human domination.

Strontium Reagan Red

A kidnapped Ronald Reagan menaced by the mutant vampire, Durham Red, from the Strontium Dog strip.

The Second Gulf War and the Iraq invasion has also been criticised in its turn in the three volumes of collected ABC Warriors’ strips, The Volgan War, scripted by the strips’ creator, Pat Mills, and drawn with almost photo-real precision by Clint Langley.

The ABC Warriors are a kind of ‘Meknificent Seven’, a group of ex-war robots, led by the morally upright Hammerstein, dedicated to protecting justice and defending the weak and innocent in a violent and corrupt galaxy. The strip itself is a kind of spin-off from the Ro-Busters strip, about a group of robots sent in to rescue humans from disasters where the situation was too dangerous to risk human lives.

Hammerstein and the other robots were built to fight in the Volgan Wars. The Volgan Republic was a disguised version of the Soviet Union, which was shown conquering Britain in the early 2000 AD strip, Invasion. The treatment of the Volgan Wars in the ABC Warriors is permeated with a very strong anti-war message. Robots are expendable slaves, and their human officers have no respect for their lives or the pain they suffer, so long as they achieve their objectives and win medals for them.

This was part of the strip from its very beginning in the late ’70s and early 1980s. And it’s still the same now in the 21st Century. In Vol. 2 of the Volgan Wars series, the Warriors are shown talking about how they suffer from survivor’s guilt.

Steelhorn says ‘The hardest thing when I got back was humans slapping me on the back and saying ‘Great job Steelhorn!’

To which Mongrol, another Warrior replies, ‘They wanted it to be a good war so that they could sleep at night.’

Hammerstein adds ‘But we know it wasn’t a good war. There’s no such thing as a good war.’

In this post-Iraq Invasion reworking of the strip, the aggressors are the West. The world has passed peak oil, and so America and her allies have invaded the Volgan Empire – Russia – in order to get their hands on its oil reserves.

ABC Tipping Point Oil

The above panels show the Volkhan, the supreme Volgan war robot, stating this in his speech to the massed Volgan war machines.

‘Remember! The world has passed the tipping point! The oil is finally running out! It’s why the ABC criminals have invaded our country! To steal our oil!’

‘Only Volgograd stands in the way of their advance to the Caspian oilfields! If Volgograd falls, Mother Russia falls!’

The American officers leading the invasion are very much aware that the rationale for the war – that they are liberating the Russian people – is a sham, and note privately that it should be a public scandal.

In one scene, Blackblood, one of the Volgan robots, reads out an entry confirming this from the diary of a captured American officer.

ABC Volgan War Reasons

The entry reads

“This terrible war is a set-up to steal the Volgan’s oil and make money for robot weapons manufacturers Like Howard Quartz. The general public should be told what is really going on.”

The Volgans are presented as sadistic killers, who have absolutely no qualms about committing atrocities such as the mass murder of innocent civilians. Blackblood is one of the most treacherous and brutal, who takes his name because he drinks the oil of the other robots he and his soldiers have killed. In order to avenge such atrocities, the allies have established the Knights Martial, an order of robot knights, to try war crimes and bring those responsible to justice.

Their role was originally intended to be solely confined to Volgan war criminals. The Knights have, however, broken their programming and gone beyond that. They are now judging allied generals for the atrocities they have committed, as shown when Deadlok, the order’s Grand Master, puts an American ABC general on trial.

Clearly, the ABC Warriors are meant as fictional entertainment, but the social comment and political satire in the strip makes it acutely relevant. The volumes on the Volgan War were published five or six years ago in 2009 and 10. The present, however, seems to be catching up very fast with the future envisioned by the writer Pat Mills, and the strips’ artists. In his introduction to the second volume, Pat Mills discusses the emergence of real autonomous war machines, including the PackBot.

A robot called the PackBot is used in Iraq to locate and blow up enemy bombs, also blowing itself up in the process at a cost of $150,000 per robot. it can only be a matter of time before indestructible machines like Hammerstein will carry out these same tasks. A Pentagon spokesman has stated, “Robot’s don’t get hungry. They’re not afraid. They don’t forget their orders. They don’t care if the guy next to them has just been shot. Will they do a better job than humans? Yes.” That sounds very much like the ABC Warriors.

The singularity, the point of no return, could well be soon. This is the time when robots become so intelligent, they are able to build ever more intelligent and powerful versions of themselves without reference to humans. When that moment arrives, the Warriors’ adventures may be seen as closer to science fact than science fiction and the truth may be even stranger than the fiction depicted in this second volume of The Volgan Wars.

I’m afraid that the future depicted in the ABC Warriors may become all too real very soon. The current events in the Ukraine strike me very much as an attempt by the West to create a pro-western government in the former Soviet state, partly in order to get their hands on its immensely fertile agricultural soil and partly for its vast mineral reserves, including oil. And, of course, it’s only a short distance away from the major oil reserves around the Caspian Sea and Azerbaijan. Something like the Volgan War could easily become a horrific reality.

The ABC Warrior’s value isn’t just in its realistic depiction of a future war and the possible machines built to fight it, but in the human and trans-human moral cost of such a conflict. Like much of the best Science Fiction in all media, whether literature, film and television or comics, the ABC Warrior’s brings a critical satirical eye to contemporary politicians, who have manufactured wars and sacrificed human lives in furtherance of their personal and geopolitical ambitions.

And that really is zarjaz, as Tharg the Mighty also used to say.

Splundig vur thrigg.

The Beginning of Ro-Busters for Real?

February 7, 2015

I found this story on Sky News today at http://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/other/humanoid-robot-firefighter-tested-by-us-navy/ar-AA91Hqb?ocid=OIE9HP, reporting the testing of a 5′ 11″ humanoid robot by the American navy. It’s an android fireman, and it’s hoped that it will help stop having to send real human firefighters into extremely dangerous situations.

Robusters Cover

Ro-Jaws, Hammerstein and friends

This sounds like the beginning of Ro-Busters to me.

Ro-Busters is a long-running strip in the SF comic, 2000 AD. It’s about a team of robot emergency workers sent in to tackle disasters that are far too hazardous for humans. The main characters are Ro-Jaws, a somewhat crude sewerdroid, and Hammerstein, a former soldier robot left over from the Volgan Wars. Hammerstein, known in his glory days in the ABC Warriors as ‘Old Red Eyes’, has been mentally scarred by his experiences, and suffers flashbacks and depression. He can, however, be cheered up by being given his old head to hold, which usually prompts him to start telling another tale of his military adventures.

Howard Quartz

The group is owned by Howard Quartz, aka ‘Mr 10 Per Cent’, a multi-billionaire businessman and highly shady character, so called because some kind of accident has left him only 10 per cent human. He’s now just a human brain in a robot body, though show that he’s still a member of the British business class by sporting a bowler hat and brolly. Well, you gotta keep up appearances in front of the staff and the proles, haven’t you?

Mek Quake

Ten Per Cent is an extremely harsh taskmaster, and any robot that fails to meet his extremely high performance targets is sent on a one-way journey down to Mek-Quake. This is a giant, sadistic, but immensely stupid robot bulldozer, who tears his victims apart, all the while shouting ‘Big jobs! Big jobs!’ as he does so. While the robot’s brains are discarded, Mek-Quake retains their bodies as a kind of wardrobe. Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein have been sent down to meet him many times, but manage to outwit him, which has made the machine even more desperate to get its grabs into them.

The original idea for the strip was to have a group of robots ‘doing Biggles-type things, like capping volcanoes’ and so on. The strip’s creators, including the veteran comic writer, Pat Mills, took this basic idea and gave it their own, countercultural and anti-authoritarian spin. The robots themselves are courageous with a strong sense of justice. They are, however, slaves, whose very lives hang in the balance according to how their boss feels, and whether their actions match his expectations and balance sheet that day. 10 Per Cent is a very shady character with a background in arms dealing.

It’s repeatedly shown how badly robots are treated, as non-human slaves, by humans. In one story in the 1980s, Ro-Jaws, Hammerstein along with a group of other robots, including a mechanic doctor called Doctor Feeley-Good, attempted to escape, to flee to a free robot colony on one of Saturn’s Moons. The robots there had been gold miners, but had rebelled against their human masters and defeated them all. As a sign of their freedom, they coated themselves in gold.

Robuster disaster

Through Ro-Jaws, Hammerstein and the mechanical comrades, Mills and O’Neil, one of the strip’s artists, explored issues such as corporate power and greed, the British class system, and racism and slavery. All packed into a strip, which had our heroes sent into rescue people trapped in mile-high skyscrapers that had been hit by cargo rockets taking nuclear waste into space, or down into the London Underground to save the passengers in trains. Running through the strip was a subversive sense of humour, which saw Ro-Jaws shouting ‘knickers’ at various points, and scrawling his own rebellious graffiti to take their enemies down a peg or two. In this mechanical double act, Hammerstein was the straight man, vainly trying to keep his errant friend in line and make him behave with at least some decorum.

I don’t believe that the robot now being tested by the American navy is up to the standards of the sentient machines of SF just yet. I think it’ll be a long time, if ever, before they are. But it’s an intriguing development, nonetheless.

As for Ro-Busters, I do feel it would make an excellent movie. MSN news reported at the beginning of the year that there are 25 movies based on comic strips coming out this year. We’ve already had robot heroes in several movies, most obviously transformers, but also Wall-E, and going back to the ’50s, a film starring Robbie the Robot from Forbidden Planet. It would be great if Ro-Jaws, Hammerstein and their mechanical chums also got a chance at the limelight. Eh, humes?