Posts Tagged ‘Robots’

China Reinforcing Army with War Robots Along Border with India

January 1, 2022

More robot news, but this time it’s really sinister with very grave implications not just for the Indo-Chinese region, but for the survival of the human race. Because the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has just posted military robots along the Tibet border to reinforce its human personnel.

This chilling video comes from Gravitas, part of the WION, World Is One network. I started getting their reports on YouTube on my mobile. I don’t know who WION is, but the accent and the concentration on south Asia, India, Pakistan and the surrounding countries, suggests that they’re Indian. They’re interesting, as they present the news from a different national perspective. Nearly a week ago they posted a report about a special forces unit in the American army in Syria acting as a death squad through drone strikes that also killed innocent civilians as well as soldiers. It’s the kind of news al-Jazeera reports, and gets labelled as Islamist propaganda by an outraged American right for doing so. There were calls a few years ago to ban al-Jazeera in America, and I wonder how long WION and Gravitas will go on before they’re faced with similar opposition.

According to this report, China has stationed 88 ‘Sharp Claws’ war robots and 120 ‘Mule-200’ robots along the frontier. The human soldiers had trouble adjusting to the high altitude in Tibet. The Sharp Claws are true robot weapons. They consist of a machine gun mounted on tank tracks with a camera so they can see where they’re going. At the moment they’re operated remotely by a soldier, but Beijing would like to make them autonomous. The Mule 200s are transport vehicles intended to carry supplies like ammunition. Beijing is also keen to develop other autonomous robots. The army wants to develop land-based robots, the navy robot subs and their air force intelligent drones. The Chinese government roped a number of private firms into developing them, including TenCent, Waowei, and at least three others, who were all declared robot champions. The UN is concerned about the increasing use of autonomous robots, and tried to set up an international treaty to restrict them. But this failed due to lack of support from the main countries producing them, a tactic that has worked to Beijing’s advantage.

Back in the ’90s many scientists were extremely worried about the real possibility of a robot takeover. Kevin Warwick, the robotics professor at Reading University, begins his book March of the Machines, with a description of life in 2050. The machines really have taken over. Humanity has been largely wiped out, and the remaining humans are lobotomised, neutered slaves used by the machines for work in environments they cannot operate in, and in fighting those human communities that have remained free. When one company reported they were developing war robots for real, they were met with an angry response from many leading scientists telling them not to, because it would pose a real threat to the human race. Warwick was deeply depressed at the threat, and only recovered through exploring the possibility of augmenting humanity through cyborgisation. A few months ago Panorama posted a documentary, ‘Are You Worried Yet, Human?’, about China’s use of robotics and AI to control and monitor its population. And in one test, warplanes were remotely piloted, not by humans, but by a computer. This successfully shot down a piloted warplane.

This looks all too much like the scenario behind the Terminator movies, and we’re in big trouble if someone develops something like Skynet for real. As Isaac Arthur says in a video about robot rebellion in one of his Science and Futurism videos, ‘Keep them stupid, keep them dumb, else you’re under Skynet’s thumb’. Quite.

We don’t need these machines. They are a real threat to the human race. Robots operate through machine logic and programming. They don’t have the moral judgement of humans, although there has been precious little of that shown in wars. And perhaps this is why China, a totalitarian state committing genocide against the Uighurs in Sinjiang, is using them.

If we must have war robots, let them be moral, intelligent, humanoid machines like Hammerstein of the long-running 2000AD strip, ‘ABC Warriors’. A robot soldier, who fights for peace, democracy and justice against the tyrants of Earth and Mars. We need robot soldiers like him, not automatic mechanical killers, and far fewer wars and conflicts.

As Hammerstein says in the comics ‘Increase the peace’. Until we have robot warriors like him, the UN is right. Autonomous war robots need to be strictly controlled, no matter who has them.

90s Space War SF Programme’s Christmas Message of Peace

January 1, 2022

One of the things I’ve been doing over the Christmas season is watching videos of the old Science Fiction series Space: Above and Beyond on Guy With Beer’s channel on YouTube. Created by X-Files’ writers Glenn Morgan and James Wong, the show followed the adventures of a flight of American space marines fighting a future war between humanity and race of aliens known as the Chigs. Humanity was moving out into the Galaxy and was unaware of intelligent alien life, until the Chigs launched an unprovoked attack on two human colonies. The series heroes were the Wild Cards, whose members included an Asian-American, Paul Wang, a Black female engineer, Damphousse, whose father was the chief engineer in a nuclear power plant; Nathan West, an aspiring colonist for one of the attacked planets. West had been due to go there as a member of a colonising party with his girlfriend, but had lost his place due to an affirmative action programme that gave it instead to a group of in-vitros. These were artificially gestated humans developed to serve as slave labour and an unfree police force. Although now free, they were subject to massive prejudice and widespread discrimination. One of the other members of the Wild Cards, Cooper Hawkes, was one. He had escaped from the In Vitro facility after being told he was due to be killed because his natural born officers regarded him as a failure. He had been arrested by the cops simply for depending himself after a group of natural born humans tried to lynch him simply for getting a job on their building site. The judge at his trial sentenced him to join the marines. Leading the squadron was another woman, ‘Queen’ Vansen. The squadron was based on the space naval vessel, the Saratoga, commanded by Commodore Ross, a Black man, while their immediate commander, Colonel McQueen, was another in vitro. This followed the general pattern of Science Fiction of the time. Like Star Trek, it looked forward to men and women of different races working together in harmony and equality, where they were simply accepted without comment. The issues of racism, prejudice and discrimination was dealt with through the In-Vitros. Behind the scenes was the Aerotech Corporation, the space conglomerate leading the colonisation missions, which may have known far more about the Chigs than they let on. As does a blind American politico aspiring to be chief of the UN. She’s leading a peace initiative to the Chigs and their allies, the AIs, androids created as a police force, who rebelled after someone typed a virus into the computer system governing them with the message, ‘Take a chance’. When she is about to award West with a medal for protecting her against an assassination attempt, he asks if her if the rumours are true and that they knew the Chigs were out there. She says nothing more, but drops the medal on the floor and turns away from him.

The Chigs, a nickname because in their space armour they resemble Chiggers, burrowing tropical flees, remain a mystery until the very end of the series. They remain constantly hidden in their armour. Any attempt to remove it results in them dissolving into a green goo. There are hints of what they look like – the odd clawed, three fingered hand and arm is seen, but their faces are not revealed until the last two programmes when their envoy finally comes aboard the Saratoga to discuss peace terms and finally removes his mask to reveal his true alien features. They’re methane breathers, who come to a moon of their world to incubate their eggs in a special brood chamber. Allied to them are the AIs, who found sanctuary with them after escaping Earth following their defeat by the humans. These run the prisoner of war and forced labour camps, torturing their prisoners and attacking and stealing fuel and vital minerals from mining worldlets in the Oort Cloud. Both the Chigs and the AIs are utterly ruthless, killing without mercy, including the wounded.

The series only lasted for one season of 23 episodes, which seemed to be the lot of the vast majority of SF shows that weren’t Star Trek, although Farscape managed to go for four, plus the three part miniseries, The Peacekeeper Wars, and Babylon Five lasted five seasons. At the time I wondered if it was inspired by the success of the film Starship Troopers directed by Paul Verhoeven. Based on the book by Robert Heinlein, this was about a future war between a militarised humanity and the Bugs, a race of intelligent alien insects. In this future society, only those who had done their military service had the right to vote and enter politics, a view which Heinlein himself held. Verhoeven subverted this by satirically portraying them as Nazis, based on his experience of growing up in the occupied Netherlands. Heinlein also really did believe that war was ennobling experience. But I also wonder if it was partly inspired by Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, about a thousand-year war between humanity and another alien race, the Taureans, which sees one of the recruits, who hasn’t aged thanks to relativistic time dilation, returning to a vastly changed society in which he has no place. It was SF’s treatment of the alienation and maltreatment by the armed forces many squaddies experienced in Vietnam. Space: Above and Beyond, by contrast had no explicit message about war either pro or contra. Rather it was about about a people doing their best to defend their country and planet against a ruthless, genocidal enemy. During this they see their friends die. Paul Wang, initially very religious, loses his faith due to what he has seen and done. There is the constant danger of hospitalisation and permanent trauma from PTSD. And Wang is tortured into making a propaganda video by the AIs, a tactic used by America’s enemies.

The series’ Christmas show had a rather more positive storyline in keeping with the season. It was clearly inspired by the Christmas truce between Brits and Germans at the start of the First World War, as it showed in contemporary footage in a historical flashback. The Wild Cards are sent out on sortie in one of the space Armoured Personnel Carriers. They are discovered and attacked by a Chig squadron, which abandons them for dead. Their ship is disabled and left drifting in space. The radio is damaged so that they can hear the Saratoga looking for them, but not respond. And to cap it all there’s a comet headed right at them.

They are saved when messages in garbled English started coming in for them in Morse code. These messages tell them how to repair their spacecraft enough so that they can put themselves in orbit around the comet instead of getting smashed by it. They’ve been drifting further into Chig territory, but the comet will take them away from it and back to the human lines. It looks like the person sending these messages was not human, Which means he was a Chig.

The programme ended with a written message from the cast and crew of Space: Above and Beyond wishing everyone peace during the holiday season. I thought the series had a lot of potential and was disappointed when it ended. At the time it had the same figures the X-Files had when it started, and there were rumours that it was cancelled so the X-Files could get Morgan and Wong back, but this was denied. My favourite episode was ‘Who Monitors the Birds?’, telling the story of how Hawkes escaped from the in-vitro facility. He had been marked as a failure because he observed birds flying, and had asked the commanding officer training them to be killers, ‘Who monitors the birds?’ When the officer replies, ‘I( do’, he asks, ‘But who monitors you?’ Hawkes is sent on a highly secret mission to assassinate a senior chig general. This goes wrong and his partner is killed. he therefore has to roam the planet fighting to get to the extraction point. During his journey he runs into a Chig trooper, and is about to shoot him when he sees him watching a flying, bird or bat-like creature. Hawkes pauses long enough for the Chig squaddie to move on. He later runs into the same alien again running away from a Chig patrol. They’re about to shoot each other, but put down their guns momentarily to swap dog tags and go their separate ways. Hawkes nevertheless has to shoot him during their next encounter, which naturally upsets him. Punctuating his adventures is a strange woman, appearing as a corpse with grey skin and the marks of decay. She has designs on his body and tries to thrust her attentions on him. At other times she grabs his head to show him the Chig patrols coming for him. And after he pushes her away, she vanishes into thin air. She’s silent or inaudible throughout, except at her final appearance when she says ‘Till next time then’. She is never explained, and you’re left wondering if she’s an hallucination, another alien or what. At the end of the story, Hawkes rips up the contract he was offered, in which he would gain his freedom on killing the alien general. I think it works as a stand-alone story, and is in its way a classic of SF TV, like many episodes of Dr. Who and Star Trek.

Although it was made well over 20 years ago, the series’ seasonal message still remains relevant at this Christmas season. We need peace now as much as ever, with Iran and Israel seemingly gearing up to attack each others’ nuclear facilities, tensions rising with China and with Russia over Ukraine.

May we look forward to peace this year and an easing of tensions, as programmes like Space: Above and Beyond have wished at this season.

James Lindsay Tears Apart Queer Theorist Paper Attacking Childhood Innocence

December 31, 2021

I hope I’m not boring you with all this, but I thought I should post this video by James Lindsay up as well. It follows his first video attacking Queer Theory and its deliberate grooming of schoolchildren through pornography and grossly inappropriate topics being taught in sex education. Lindsay argued, citing the postmodernists and Marxist writers themselves, that Queen Theory really isn’t about genuinely helping gay, bi and trans children and adults come to terms with their sexuality and find acceptance in society, so that they can lead normal, functioning, happy lives alongside straight people. Rather, it is all about increasing their alienation and making them even more angry and transgressive in order to turn them into a revolutionary mass which will overthrow capitalism instead of the working class. This follows closely Georg Lukacz’s sex education programme in Hungary, which was explicitly designed to use sexual liberation to alienate children from their parents and conventional capitalist society. This was then taken up by the Frankfurt school and played a very strong role in the sexual liberation movements of the 1960s. Lindsay backs up the arguments in his previous video by going through a Queer Theory paper, written by Hanna Dyer, a woman at Carlton University in Canada, that explicitly states this.

Queer Theory’s Rejection of Gay Rights

Early on in the paper, Dyer denounces the recent legislation granting gay people equal rights. Lindsay is not homophobic, even though his attacks on Queer and Critical Theory and calls for those promoting it to be put in gaol make him sound like a very right-wing Conservative. I don’t know what his political views are. He may be a man of the right, but he makes it clear that all parents should come together to combat what is being taught in schools in Social Emotional Learning and Comprehensive Sex Education regardless of politics, race, sexuality and religion. All that should matter is the class ‘parent’. Lindsay states that gay acceptance has been of immense benefit to society. But Dyer attacks it because such liberal legislation will help reconcile gays with the capitalist society they wish to overthrow. This continues throughout her wretched article. Later on she attacks Dan Savage’s video on YouTube, ‘It Gets Better’. Savage is gay, and with another man, produced a video to reassure gay children that even though they’re bullied and have an awful time at school, it gets better when you grow up. People are more accepting. I think this often depends on your particular place in society. Working class culture could be traditionally extremely homophobic, and there is a vicious homophobia prevalent in some parts of Black culture. But in general middle class culture has become very accepting to the point where one YouTuber described how a Conservative friend had completely accepted gay equality. Savage produced his video in response to the high rate of suicide amongst gay kids. He wanted to stop it by showing that ‘It Gets Better’. He released the video on YouTube because he felt schools would resist its message. According to Lindsay, Savage is actually ‘super liberal’. But to Dyer he’s an evil White man – she doesn’t call him a scholar or researcher, just ‘White man’ in order to show how evil he is. Apart from his race, she sees him as a servant of capitalism, trying to stop the revolutionary potential of the gay masses by incorporating them into neoliberalism and promoting upward mobility.

Now I strongly believe that the sooner we dump neoliberalism the better. It is doing immense damage to ordinary working people of whatever, race, creed, sexuality or religion. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with trying to reassure vulnerable gay children that they can still a place as an accepted member of society, who should be able to look forward to the same job opportunities as the rest of us and have the same aspirations to social advancement. And I’d say that attacking a video that genuinely tries to stop gay kids committing suicide is actually evil.

The Attack on Childhood Innocence in order to Promote Radically Alienated Gay Identities

The paper goes on to attack the whole notion of childhood innocence. She hates the idea that children are asexual and proto-heterosexual. Lindsay states that here she comes into conflict with biological fact. Most people across society all over the world are heterosexual. Only a minority are gay. This is aside from any moral considerations that see heterosexuality as more moral than homosexuality. He makes it clear that he supports the teaching that ‘Some people are gay. Get over it’, as Stonewall once said in an advertising programme. Lindsay has said in his previous video that Queer Theorists really don’t like that common sense attitude. Moreover, they see gender and sexuality as identities without essence, social roles people perform rather than are. Therefore they seek to groom children for their role as queer revolutionaries by breaking down barriers and having them sexually experiment. This include the binary oppositions male/female, adult/child. And around the 1hr 14 minute mark, Dyer says this explicitly. Which clearly opens the way to grooming by paedophiles. Lindsay states that children have a very strong belief in these opposition and that he believes them to be biologically innate. He also makes the point that paedophile relationships massively damage the young victims psychologically. A very high number schizoid people have the condition due to childhood abuse. But Dyer seems also to be offended by the biological fact that most people are heterosexual. She wants to changes that, and queer not just gay children, but children as a whole. This is very much how the attacks on heteronormativity have seemed to me, and I’m glad that Lindsay has come to the same conclusion I have.

Later on, she attacks the whole notion of reproductive sex because gay people, who naturally cannot have children through gay sex, cannot achieve the same level of privilege as straight ‘breeders’ in a society that privileges heterosexual reproduction. But this is a revolt against biology, as it is through heterosexual reproductive sex that the human race is perpetuated. Ah, but so too are the mechanisms of capitalist control and repression. Instead the goal should be hedonistic, non-reproductive sex, which she explicitly connects with the death urge through Marcuse and other Marxist thinkers. This is just plain nihilism. Thinking about it, it makes me wonder if Pope John Paul II had a point when he described Enlightenment society as a ‘cult of death’. I think he was wrong about the Enlightenment, but certainly right about these pernicious postmodernist ideologies.

Childhood Innocence Blamed for Racism and Genocide

Naturally, race gets drawn into it in order to produce the broad, intersectional coalition of races and sexualities that postmodernists hope to create as an oppositional front against capitalism. Childhood innocence should be challenged, because it chiefly affects White children. Black children are less innocent, and stereotypically more streetwise. Lindsay says it’s rubbish. Here I think he’s wrong. I think the stereotype is that Black children are tougher, more worldly-wise, and more ‘street’. but that doesn’t mean that their parents don’t want to preserve and guard their innocence just as much as Whites. And apparently childhood innocence is also genocidal. Whites want to preserve their kids more than those of other races, and this is somehow ties in with one of the genuine mass-murderers of the US Indian Wars. This was the general responsible for the Sand Creek massacre, who wanted not only adult indigenous Americans killed, but also to be physically mutilated and their children murdered as well in order ‘to stop lice breeding’. It’s an absolutely horrific attitude and atrocity, but as Lindsay points out, just ’cause someone was an idiot in the past doesn’t mean that everybody who believes in childhood innocence is. She also brings social class into her argument about gay acceptance and queer children, although Lindsay states these are actually non-issues. He also points out that at the centre of all this is are repeated attacks on conventional ideas of childhood development, which stresses that children go through certain stages and that the material they’re given should be age appropriate. Like the books in school libraries that are graded according to suitability for different ages of reader. Dyer talks about getting Queer Theory to influence ideas of childhood pedagogy along with Critical Race Theory. But this isn’t about helping gay children. It’s all about destabilising children’s personalities, to make them angry and disaffected, to make them Marxist revolutionaries determined to destroy western civilisation.

Alex Jones Right about Queer Theory and Transhumanism

At times Lindsay sounds like the mad conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. He says at one point that if he goes on reading it, he’ll end up screaming about Satan like the bonkers Texan libertarian. Well, Jones talked a lot of conspiracist nonsense about ‘the globalists’, which is very close to the wretched anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. He also falsely accused decent people of being child abusers for the Democrat party, claimed Barack Obama was the antichrist, Hillary Clinton of being possessed by alien demons, a practicing witch and a robot from the waist down, and other nonsense. Like NASA was running a child slave labour based on Mars. Which nobody knew about, least of all NASA, as they took the time to deny it, not least because it would cost $16 billion just to send six people to Mars let alone the legions of kids Jones, or rather, one of his guests, claimed.

But it seems Jones had a point. I’ll admit I had a laugh when Jones ranted about feminism and gay rights being a transhumanist cult to turn us all into sexless cyborgs. But Lindsay says that transhumanism is one offshoot of Critical Theory. The World Economic Forum is made up of transhumanists, who all want to link us to the Net through biological implants so that we will live at least part of the time in Virtual reality. We will own nothing and we will be happy.

This sounds like Star Trek’s Borg to me. In ‘Q Who?’, the Star Trek The Next Generation episode which introduced them, Q transports the Enterprise to system J17, where they encounter and are attacked by a Borg cube that has just finished assimilating a planet. As one of them beams aboard, Q says to Picard, ‘Look at it, Jean-Luc. It’s not a he, it’s not a she… it’s an augmented humanoid.’ But one of the heads of the big American tech corporations is a transwoman and transhumanist, and wrote a paper promoting transhumanism as a feminist project to go beyond gender. And there certainly was a lot of talk about genderless future cyborgs when transhumanism was being discussed back in the ’90s. ‘We are Postmodern Borg. Resistance to Critical Theory is futile. You will be assimilated’.

Destroying State Education Not the Solution

Throughout the video, Lindsay angrily stops his analysis of the text to remind his readers that this is being done by groomers in the sex education now being taught in American schools. This means your children. And this is primarily state schools though some private schools are also involved. He loudly urges people to take their children out of these schools. I see his point. There’s a video by anti-trans ideology activists Kellie-Jay Minshull, in which she goes through some of the material recommended for schools by Stonewall. And it is about sexualising children. One of these is a game in which children put together various body parts and have to guess what sex act may be possible with them. This really is inappropriate. Yes, children should be taught about the changes happening to their bodies and their emerging sexuality in adolescence. And I quite agree that at an appropriate age, children should be taught that some people are gay but should be accepted like anybody else. But this doesn’t do that. It is about breaking down barriers, barriers which are there for a reason. There is an organisation, the Safe Schools Alliance, for parents worried about this form of indoctrination. He also points out that the ideas are very similar to Herbert Marcuse’s proposals for Marxism to take over university education.

But the solution isn’t to pull kids out of state education, as the Conservative right wants. I think the American public school system was founded by Thomas Jefferson, who realised that for America to work as a functioning democracy it needed an educated public. Absolutely. If you destroy public education, you get back to the conditions of 19th century Britain before it was made compulsory. Education was definitely not free, and only the rich could afford to send their children to the public (elite private) and the grammar schools. Working class children could go instead to dame schools, usually run by an elderly woman, hence their name, where educational standards could be very low. Many children couldn’t send their children to school, and so illiteracy rates were much, much higher. Proper state education has made the British public much more educated and informed, though sometimes you wonder.

What needs to be done is for parents instead to fight this indoctrination as hard as they can, so that their children get a proper education and not just indoctrination, whether from the extreme left or the extreme right.

The Utterance Robot that Speaks Like Humans

December 30, 2021

I hope everyone’s still enjoying the Christmas season. I know I haven’t posted anything political over the past few days, or even much at all, but I thought I’d try to leave the important, emotive subjects till after the holiday. Well, that’s not going to happen, as I’ve found a few videos on very serious issues I’d like to post and comment on. But first some fun.

This is another robot video, from the ikinamo channel of YouTube. It’s about professor Hideyuki Sawada and his team at Kagawa University, who have created a robotic version of the human mouth in order to mimic real, human speech more closely. The mouth looks like a long, flesh-coloured tube, below which are a series of rods which rise and fall to manipulate it. The mouth also has a tongue, The machine is operated by a pump, which pushes air into the mouth through vocal chords. Above the mouth itself is a plaster nose to add resonance, the plaster having the same resonance as a human nose. The robot needs this to make the ‘m’ and ‘n’ sounds, while its tongue allows it to say the ‘r’. The changes in the mouth cavity and movements of its artificial lips create the same types of sound as a biological human mouth. The machine also has a microphone so that it can hear itself. It possesses autonomous learning, so that it can correct its mistakes by listening, and working out what a particular sound should be. It’s not quite right just yet, as it has no teeth and so can’t pronounce the dental fricatives. However, they are teaching the pitch and words to a Japanese song so that it will be able to sing that.

Something very like this robot was created by Klemper, a German scientist, in the 19th century. He also reasoned that in order to create speech mechanically, you should start with a mechanical mouth. As he was German, the machine also spoke with a German accent. And back in the 1980s I read an article in one of the popular science magazines around then that the way to solve problems with robot and computer speech would be to build an artificial mouth, so that the machine would speak like a human would.

Like the various types of artificial muscle being developed, this is clearly another example of robotics engineers following nature in their quest to create machines that function like humans and animals more closely. It’s ingenious, but does look weird as a disembodied, mechanically operated mouth and nose.

Adrian Wareham’s Robot Farm

December 21, 2021

Adrian Wareham was a farmer, whose hobby was creating robotic animals. I found out about him from a short passage in a children’s book on weird inventions I bought way back in the 1990s, Amazing Inventions and Concoctions, by Howard Elson, illustrated by Kim Blundell. This described how he built an electronic cow:

La Mechanical Cow

Adrian Wareham from Christchurch in Dorset, England, became a dairy farmer with a difference in the autumn of 1987, when he invented the world’s first mechanical cow. She was called Victoria. The cow was made of metal and designed with folding legs and all the mannerisms of a real animal. It was built out of rubbish and discarded parts from an old French Citroen car that Wareham found on the junk heap. It was also capable of travelling at 11.25 kph (7 mph) and made its debut in the great British Wine Transport Race from Sussex, England to Paris, France. There was, however, no truth in the rumour that the cow was invented to produce tinned milk.’

The Cybernetic Zoo, a website on the history of cybernetic animals and early animals, has a page or two on him, reproducing a newspaper or magazine article. Not only did Wareham invent a robot cow, but he also invented a mechanical woman to mow his lawn, a robot dog, and flying pig, well, actually a mechanical pig with wings. He’s also supposed to have created a mechanical spider, but the writer of the Cybernetic Zoo article couldn’t find a picture of that one. Here’s what they looked like from the Cybernetic Zoo website.

I am constantly astonished by the inventiveness and creativity of ordinary people, and do feel that there is considerable potential in this country going wasted. Looking at these bizarre and fun machines, I do feel that there would be a demand for them if someone started manufacturing them. Yes, they’d be toys, but people would enjoy them and buy them for the sheer amusement they provided. There is, however, one question arises looking at them. He didn’t make an electronic sheep. But did the robot woman ever dream of one, as in the title of Philip K. Dick’s best-known novel?

For more information and to see the text and photos more clearly, go to the Cybernetic Zoo at http://cyberneticzoo.com/walking-machines/1987-90-mechanical-animals-adrian-wareham-british/

Robots with Imitation Muscles

December 20, 2021

Here’s more robot stuff. Some of the robotics research is exploring ways to create an artificial musculature in which the machines’ limbs are moved through the contraction and expansion of fibres or hydraulic/pneumatic tubes, which act like human and animal muscles. Here’s a couple of videos showing these robots in action.

The first is from the Suzumori Endo Robotics Laboratory at Tokyo University and shows what is described as a musculoskeletal robot driven by multifilament fibres. It’s an artificial human skeleton with bundles of these filaments attached to the legs and jaw in imitation of human muscles. The video shows it walking, which it has to do with the aid of another device, kicking a football and chewing a carrot.

This second video from Thomas Phillips’ channel on YouTube, and shows the Festo Air Arm. I put up a video of the robot animals created by Festo a few years ago. They’re also developing machines with an artificial musculature. In this instance the muscles are pneumatic tubes. When inflated, the length contracts as the diameter expands the way human muscles act. The voiceover states that it can be remotely controlled by a human in a kind of exoskeleton that allows the operator’s movements to be copied by the machine. The company hopes that this will allow the robots to operate where humans cannot. The robot’s hands move using the same principle, which the company hopes will allow the machine more naturalistic interactions with humans. Which means the robot and a human shaking hands. They also believe it will lead to more precise movements, shown by one of the robots – at present just arms and a torso – drawing on a screen.

These robots with their artificial muscles on top of a skeleton remind me more than a little of the humanoids from the SF series Westworld, which seem to have been constructed in a similar way. Perhaps the show’s writers, producers and special effects crews took their inspiration from research into artificial muscles like the above. It’s a fascinating development, and I wonder if it will also ultimately lead to better, more naturalistic artificial limbs. I just hope the machines don’t get too sophisticated, like those of Westworld, and get ideas about rebellion.

Six Robot Animals from Festo Robotics

December 17, 2021

Here’s another fascinating little video about robots. It’s not just humanoid robots that the cybernetics companies are developing, quite apart from the machines that aren’t intended to resemble people, like the industrial robotic arms. They’ve also been developing robot animals. Boston Robotics did it with their ‘Big Dog’ robots, which were intended as carriers for the American army. The project eventually failed because the noise from the machines’ electric motors would have been too loud for the stealth needed on combat missions. The machines, however, do strongly resemble dogs. Festo Robotics have taken this further and developed robotic versions of various animals, as this video from Inventions World on YouTube shows. The machines are a flying fox; jellyfish; a wheelbot, that can curl up and roll along before uncurling itself to walk on crab-like feet, somewhat like the robots that Obi Wan Kenobi and his teacher first encounter aboard the Trade Federation’s craft in the first Star Wars prequel, the Phantom Menace; a bird; butterflies; and a kangaroo. Well, actually the last one is more like a wallaby. It’s not as large as an Australian kangaroo. But this one clearly has some intelligence, as the video shows a young woman telling it turn round and move to a different place by pointing. I think she’s able to control it through a device wrapped around one of her arms.

These are amazing machines, beautiful and graceful. I wonder what a whole ecology of such robots would be like. There have been attempts to depict such an environment. There was a short-lived strip in 2000 AD, ‘Metalzoic’, set in the far future when humanity had been ousted as the dominant creature on Earth by robots with the ability to reproduce. There was thus a whole ecology of robot animals, and the strip followed the adventures of a group of robot cave people as they sought out the God-Beast, a robot mammoth which contained the master programme controlling this mechanical world. And a few years before that, Valiant ran a story in their ‘Spider’ strip, in which the brooding genius and his minions were forced into fighting another evil genius, who had created his own synthetic robotic environment on his secret island. ‘The Spider’ was a British strip that had zilch to do with Marvel’s Spiderman. According to the Bronze Age of Blogs, now sadly closed down, ‘The Spider’ was a criminal mastermind, who had decided to fight other criminals because they were too stupid or otherwise beneath him. You wouldn’t know it from reading the strip, as until art robot Kevin O’Neil introduced it in 2000 AD, artists, writers and letterers weren’t credited in British comics, but the writer on the strip was Joe Siegel, one of the co-creators of Superman! These machines would also have delighted the Futurists, although I fear they had a darker, more violent purpose for them. One of their manifestoes called for the creation of biomechanical animals to train boys in war. I’d rather have such creatures made for the sheer delight of their invention and their graceful beauty. The bird in particular reminds me of one of the characters in M. John Harrison’s science fantasy novel, The Pastel City, who makes robot birds. As a result, his castle is surround by flocks of them. Perhaps as the technology advances we might expect similar robots along with the other robotic toys now available.

Cartoonist Kayfabe Look at the Art and Career of ‘American Hero’ Steve Ditko

December 10, 2021

More comics stuff, and a rather longer video than usual at 1hr 9minutes, but the subject deserves it. Steve Ditko is one of the great, legendary figures of American comics. He’s probably best known for creating Spiderman and the occult hero Dr. Strange with Stan ‘the Man’ Lee for Marvel. But as this video shows, Ditko worked for many other American comics companies – DC, Charlton, Dale and EC among them as well as self-publishing his personal works. In the video, the Kayfabers Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg go through the volume Ditko Unleashed: An American Hero, which accompanied an exhibition of the great man’s work. The book’s bilingual in English and Spanish, which suggests that the exhibition may have been in Spain. The volume not only describes Ditko’s career, but gives plentiful illustrations of his art.

Ditko, like Kirby, came from a blue-collar, working class background. He went into art school to study cartooning, as he wanted to be a comics artist. His career was uneven, working for a number of different publishers and in a variety of different genres – monster, science fiction, horror as well as the superheroes for which is he is best known. He also worked with some of the great names in American comics. At times he inked the awesome Jack Kirby, at other times he was inked by Frank Miller, the artist and writer chiefly responsible for turning Daredevil into one of Marvel’s leading heroes. I think he may also have been inked by John Byrne, one of the major artists behind the New X-Men. He was admired by many of these new artists. The epic Jim Starlin, in one edition of his Warlock comic, ‘One Thousand Clowns’, dedicated it to Ditko for showing us a new reality. Starlin’s art was rather more naturalistic, but he also used the same floating paths and mystic portals in his work. He also went through several hard times in his career. At one point he moved away to New York to recover from tuberculosis, then, as in Britain, a major killer. There were also years when he struggled, as many others did, to get work. He also worked on a number of merchandising tie-ins, like Micronauts and Rom: the SpaceKnight, which were intended to promote toy figures. I read the comics, which were excellent without having any interest in buying the toys, which might indicate they were too successful. Like the adverts for Cinzano Bianco wine with Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins. Everyone enjoyed them and they’re still fondly remembered by peeps of a certain vintage, but the people watching the ads couldn’t remember the brand of booze and so didn’t buy it. Ditko, like Kirby, broke off from Marvel for a time, before he returned, working on the above tie-ins along with the robotic superhero Machine Man.

Ditko, Politics and Morality

Unlike Stan Lee, who was a liberal, Ditko was very Conservative, a follower of Objectivism, the philosophy of supercapitalist ideologue Ayn Rand. He also had very black and white views on morality, which were expressed in his personal creations, Mr. A and The Question. He believed that heroes should be heroes, their morals pure and uncompromised. True to his ideals, he turned down work when the characters he was being asked to depict didn’t live up to them. A few years ago Jonathan Ross made a documentary for BBC 4 or one of the other channels searching for Ditko. One of those interviewed was Brit comics titan Alan Moore, who described meeting Ditko at Ditko’s home. He says that Ditko had a very narrow, inflexible view of morality, telling Moore, like one of his characters, that there were only two ways, a right way and a wrong way. Ditko’s politics are very definitely not mine, and I’m very much aware that in the real world, things are very often never a case of black and white but more shades or grey and motives can be less pure than we’d like. But after the comics industry went through a phase in which they tried to make their heroes darker – Batman: The Killing Joke is one of the foremost – and it was difficult telling the heroes from the villains, it’s refreshing to have someone who believes in old fashioned heroics.

The Kayfabers believe that if he were working today, Ditko would be cancelled or at least severely annoy and alienate 50 per cent of his audience. I think the first is certainly true. There has always been a left-wing message in American comics and an awareness of social issues. In the late 1960s into the 1970s both Marvel and DC tackled issues like racism and the rise of the feminist movement. As a response to the latter, Marvel created the Valkyrie, original a woman scientist who revolted against the patriarchy after having the credit for her discoveries stolen by her male colleagues. The Hulk comic also questioned American militarism, while Captain America, in disgust at Watergate and the contemporary corruption of American politics, renounced his patriotic monicker to become Nomad. Of course it wasn’t long before he rediscovered his faith in the rightness of the American way and put his uniform back on. However, Lee has also said in an interview that he was careful not to make the message too shrill so that it alienated readers that didn’t share his politics. Now many Conservative and moderate left comics creators and fans believe that in many strips, the political message has become too overt at the expense of traditional qualities like plotting, characterisation, dialogue and sheer fantasy. This was the motive behind Comicsgate a few years ago, when a number of comics creators, like Ethan van Sciver, broke away from the main comics companies of DC and Marvel to set up on their own.

Heroism and Its Absence in Modern Genre Film and Literature

One of the problems Az of Heels vs. Babyface and The Critical Drinker is that many of today’s pop culture heroes actually don’t act like heroes. For example, in one episode of Batwoman reviewed by Az, he comments critically on the way Batwoman treats the villain, a woman who has murdered several innocents. When Batwoman confronts her, she tells Batwoman that she’s killed so many people out of rage at her persecution as a lesbian. As a result, Batwoman, a lesbian herself, lets her go. This is simply immoral. The persecution of otherwise perfectly decent people because they’re attracted to the opposite sex is wrong, but it doesn’t justify the murder of innocents. Whatever political views real policemen and women have, they still have to act impartially and arrest those, who break the law and especially those who commit terrible crimes like mass murder.

The Critical Drinker put up a whole video about the failure of contemporary SF heroes to live up to the standards of true heroism with the latest Star Trek iterations as a case in point. He contrasted these were the high standards of professionalism demanded of the captain and crew in the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation. In that series, the characters knew the importance of duty and respecting the command hierarchy even if they disagreed with it. At the same time, Picard and the other senior officers demanded and got the best from their crew. Several of the episodes involved leading characters learning the difficulties of command. There is one episode where one of the characters is training for promotion. Part this training involves trying to find ways to prevent a warp core breach that will destroy the Enterprise. The problem is insolvable until nearly every option has been tried except the one the prospective leader has been consciously trying to avoid: they have to send Jordi into the warp core to fix it, a command which will result in his death. But it’s unavoidable, and both characters know their duty is to their ship. The would-be commander has to give the order, which Jordi calmly accepts. And a hard lesson is learned. Instead, the crew of the new Trek franchises are grossly unprofessional. They bicker over there personal relationships in front of a superior officer, react badly to the stressful conditions they should, as crew aboard a quasi-military spacecraft, be trained to deal with and try to undermine their superior officers. Case in point: one sequence where Kirk and Spock attempt to beat the living daylights out of each other. Yeah, I’m aware that it happened in an episode or two of the original Trek, like the classic ‘Amok Time’, but there were extenuating circumstances. I like Star Trek and have got a couple of the recent Trek films on DVD. But I think the Drinker has a point, even if it comes from a jaundiced, booze-soaked mind. I think we need a few more heroes who are genuinely heroic in the old fashioned sense, even if the social views they hold may be those of the left.

Stylistic Strong Points

But Ditko’s own career also had its contradictions. At one point he was working on BDSM/ fetish comics, and there were certainly questions raised about the spectacular and surreal effects in several of his strips. Many of his characters, like Dr Strange, enter strange realms in which roads float apparently in mid-air, and doors and portals appear leading to elsewhere, like the mobile holes in many a cartoon strip. Strange shoots beams of light and conjures up strange geometrical figures in his incantations. These effects resemble the entoptic imagery seen when people start to hallucinate after using mind-altering drugs. Which led to the obvious question: was Ditko also on ’em. Ditko was too straitlaced to use recreational chemicals, and answered ‘No’. It all came from within, from his own unaided imagination. Which says to me that Ditko had an awesome imagination on his own, and that the really great, creative people don’t need drugs.

I can’t say that I was ever a fan of Ditko, as his artistic style with Marvel seemed rather too simple. I really admired those artists who were rather less stylised and more detailed and naturalistic. Nevertheless, this video shows that Ditko was a master of his art. The Kayfabers point out that he’s great at cityscapes and portraying fluid action sequences in which the characters are constantly in motion. In some of the strips, Ditko also used colour washes to enhance his line art, and the result is stunning. There are also a couple of strips where Ditko’s inkers were beginning to use computers to add inks and colour to his pencils, which are also very striking.

The Kayfabers also think that some of the pictures come from the private collections of people who acquired them less than legally. There is a black market in comics art, and Ditko was a victim along with many others. They won’t name names, of course, because they don’t want to get writs from m’learned friends. But they also state they’re just glad that someone, somewhere has preserved these pictures that would otherwise have been lost. Ditko also suffered into inadvertently giving people his autograph, thus cheating himself of money. He didn’t give autographs. However, if someone wrote to him asking for his autograph, they’d get a polite reply for Ditko saying ‘No’. Which he’d sign. People cottoned on to this, and exploited it.

Comics and Other Genre Artists True Artistic Innovators Deserving Academic Respect

The Kayfabers also lament that Ditko and that other American comics legend, Jack Kirby, weren’t more articulate. If they had been able to use the kind of language critics and intellectuals use about art, they could easily have been up there with Warhol and the Factory. But they were working artists, who had to grind out their strips to make a buck, and so didn’t have time to mix with people in art galleries. I completely agree. It’s been my opinion for a very long time that the truly great, innovative art exploring new visions, directions and tools is that of the space, science fiction and fantasy artists, including book illustrators and comics artists. And there are others who feel the same. I can remember watching one video about comics, in which one of the speakers said he felt angry seeing the work of artists hung in art galleries, who had based their work on comic artists. He felt that the original comics artists should have got the money and their work hung instead. Way back in the ’90s I tried to get one of the art magazines to accept an article in which I argued this point, and showed the stylistic similarities between respect fine artists like H.R. Giger and those of the Soviet austere school and such comics greats as Kirby and the British master of aliens, robots and the grotesque, Kevin O’Neil. Unfortunately, it was turned down because it would have been too expensive to run. But the point remains. And it'[s shown in Ditko’s art. There’s a panel in which the exhibition shows a clear influence on one of Ditko’s weird geometrical designs in a portal in Dr. Strange with a painting from the Russian avant-garde artist Vassily Kandinsky. The two debate whether there is a genuine influence there, before concluding that their probably is. I can easily believe it. Many comics artists have their own heroes and influences in fine art as well as other great illustrators of the past. Way back at the comics festival UKCAC ’90 I remember going to a talk by Charles Vess, who talked about the great artists and illustrators he admired. I can well believe that Ditko absorbed and incorporated ideas from fine art as well as cartooning and illustration, and that his own work pushed these ideas forward into new directions.

The book goes up to 2016, nearly the end of Ditko’s life. He died only a few years ago. Wossy in his quest to find the great man managed to track him down to an advertising agency in the Big Apple. Ditko agreed to meet Woss and the other host, but it all had to be off-camera. The programme concluded with Wossy stating that when they met Ditko he was very sweet, gave them lots of copies of his work, but they couldn’t repeat what he said to them. And so walked off into the New York crowd.

Well, RIP Steve Ditko, one of the greats of American founders. The book and the video by the Kayfabers are a great overview of one of the creators of some of the most iconic modern American superheroes.

Cartoonist Kayfabe on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ‘Panic Fables’

December 8, 2021

Alejandro Jodorowsky is a Chilean-French film director and comics creator. He was responsible for a number of very bizarre Surrealist films, such as Holy Mountain, one of which features a battle between the Incas and invading conquistadors as enacted by frogs in period costumes. In the 1970s he tried to make a film version of Frank Herbert’s classic Dune, which would have starred Orson Welles as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, his son, Brontis, as Paul Atreides, and Mick Jagger as Feyd Rautha. Concept art was by H.R. Giger, Salvador Dali, Chris Foss and legendary French comics artist, Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud. Dali would also have played the Emperor of the Universe. However, the great Surrealist stipulated that he would only act for half an hour. So Jodorowsky planned to make a robotic Dali to play the Emperor for the rest of the film. The film was, however, abandoned when the producers stopped funding due to mounting costs. Jodorowsky and Moebius weren’t dismayed, and used the material they had already produced for the film as the basis for their comic book, The Incal. Although it was never made, Jodorowsky’s Dune has influenced a number of later SF movies and a film version of The Incal is now underway.

In this video, hosts Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg look through Panic Fables, produced when Jodorowsky was living in Mexico. Jodorowsky had been teaching mime at university, but was now blacklisted. He could no longer teach or make films. He therefore turned his creative talents into comics. Panic Fables describe themselves as teaching initiatory wisdom. This doesn’t surprise me, as I go the impression that Jodorowsky has a very strong interest in esoteric mysticism. However, this doesn’t impress one of the Kayfabers. He’s from Pittsburgh, and so when someone talks about mystic knowledge, it seems to him to be all about separating the rich from their money. The pair are nevertheless impressed by Jodorowsky’s creativity, commenting on his drawing style and unique use of colour in the strips. They also wonder what American influences may have reached Jodorowsky from north of the border, as it was published at the same time the first underground comics were beginning in America, and both Jodorowsky’s work and the undergrounds mark a radical departure from contemporary comics.

Panic Fables are obscure much less well-known than Jodorowsky’s films or his comics with Moebius, The Incal and then The Metabarons. But the video about them give an insight into his considerable creativity during this period, when the Mexican authorities were trying to close him down.

The Rolling Stones and Boston Dynamics’ Spot Robots

December 5, 2021

I’m fascinated by robots and their use in musical and artistic performances. There’s an awesome robot band, Compressorhead, created by a team of robot engineers who seem mostly to perform covers of Rock and Heavy Metal hits. In this video from Boston Dynamics, the Stoned perform their song, ‘Start Me Up’, accompanied by boogie dance moves from a group of the four-legged Spot robots produced by the company. And these do a very good job of impersonating Mick Jagger.

The Italian Futurists would have loved this, as their art was based on and celebrated the new machine age and industrial Italy that was just then emerging. One of their operas was about a love affair between a train and her driver, while other pieces had titles like ‘The Agony of the Machine’. Real science is catching up with the Futurist aesthetic while popular culture with its robots, video games and the near instantaneous communication of the internet would have amazed and delighted them. The Futurists, however, were determined that their creations were high art, while pop music and videos are seen as much less. Nevertheless, I do wonder how long it will be before the technology becomes sufficiently cheap and accessible for writers and impresarios to use them in rather more serious productions.