Posts Tagged ‘Robots’

Right-Winger Belfield Attacks Tesco Humanless Stores – And He’s Right!

June 26, 2021

I’ve put up a number of posts commenting on videos produced by right-wing internet radio Alex Belfield. Belfield is a working class. He says he was born and raised in a pit village, never went to university and was therefore sneered at and looked down upon by his co-workers and superiors in local radio. He has a real chip on his shoulder about this, and is constantly denouncing the BBC and its staff, who are supposedly very middle class ‘Guardian-reading, champagne-sipping left-footers’. He hates the affirmative action programmes for Blacks and modern media identity politics, describing the Blacks and those of other ethnic minorities, as well as the gays, who fill them as ‘box-tickers’. He is particularly scathing about BLM, though there are many reasons why people, not just on the right, should despise them. He’d like the lockdown lifted, Priti Patel to start taking tougher action on the ‘dinghy divers’, the illegal immigrants coming over the Channel in leaky boats. I think he also thinks that many disabled people are just malingerers, and would definitely like the NHS privatised and handed over to private management.

But in this video, Belfield is exactly right. Tesco have announced that they are launching stores that don’t have tills. Instead, it seems, people will just pay for what they want using an app on their mobiles or other device. I can remember something about this on the BBC news a few months ago. In these stores there are to be no, or hardly any, serving staff. You simply walk in, take what you want and leave. There are cameras mounted around the store watching what you pick up, which is automatically deducted from your account.

Obviously there are a number of major issues with this idea. One is privacy. Everyone who comes into the shop is under electronic surveillance, another step towards the kind of totalitarian surveillance society that’s been introduced in China, as very chillingly described in the Panorama documentary ‘Are You Scared Yet, Human?’ a few weeks ago. Another major issue is joblessness. People are naturally worried about the effect further mechanisation is going to have on jobs. Despite assurances that the robot workers in car factories, for example, have created as many jobs as they’ve replaced or more, it’s been predicted that 2/3 of all jobs, particularly in retail, will be lost to technology in the coming decades. It looks frighteningly like the employment situation in Judge Dredd’s MegaCity 1, where, thanks to robots, 95 per cent of the population is permanently unemployed.

In this video, Belfield concentrates on another issue, loneliness. He points out that many people, especially older people, go to the shops because their lonely. These people are going to be made even lonelier by the lack of human contact with shop staff in these places. And this is apart from the fact that not everyone – again, particularly older people – don’t have mobiles or the other gadgets that will supposedly allow the stores’ computers automatically to make the transactions when you use them.

I’m not a fan of self-service tills for the same reason, although I admit that I do use them if there’s a queue. And to be fair, they’ve also been denounced by the Daily Mail, which called them ‘Daleks’ and demanded a return to human service staff when they first came out. I’ve therefore got absolutely no problem with putting this video from the mad right-winger up. He’s saying something that both left and right should agree on.

I’m also sceptical about these stores’ chances for survival. People need contact with other humans, and those businesses that have tried to remove them completely in favour of robots have come crashing down. A few years ago a Japanese businessman proudly opened a hotel operated by robots. There were robots on the welcome desk, including an animatronic dinosaur. I think your luggage was taken to your room by an automatic trolley, and you got your meals from a vending machine. A few months or a year or so later, the whole idea came crashing down. No-one wanted to stay. When journalists interviewed some of the few guests that actually stayed there, they said that it was actually very lonely. There were no other humans about, apart from the maintenance and ancillary staff. At a much less elevated level, a Spanish brothel that had opened with sex robots rather than human sex workers also closed.

It also reminds me of an episode of the revamped X-Files when that came back briefly a few years ago. This had Mulder and Scully eating in an similar automatic restaurant. Problems start when one or the other of them is unable to pay their bill. The automatic till demands payment, which for some reason isn’t going through. The machines working in the kitchen behave ominously. The two paranormal sleuths leave without paying, but they’re followed to their homes by a flock of angry drones. Meanwhile, their phones are continuing to demand the payment they owe the restaurant. Their fully automated, computerised homes start to disobey them and behave awkwardly. The domestic robots also start rebelling. And it looks like the duo will be on the receiving end of the anger of a full-scale robot attack force. Fortunately, this is stopped by one of the two finally getting the payment to go through. It ends with Mulder writing on his report that it matters how we treat our machines. Because how we do will determine how they will treat us in turn. It’s another example of Science Fiction as ‘the literature of warning’ and the threat of the machines taking over. But it does seem to be a reasonable treatment of the fears that such fully automated restaurants and stores provoke, as well as the frustration that occurs when the technology that takes your payment doesn’t actually work. I doubt that Tesco’s stores will automatically send squads of robot warriors after customers who have similar problems. But there will be problems when the machines make mistakes, and don’t charge people for the goods they’ve bought, or charge them the wrong amount, or otherwise go wrong. Which could lead to perfectly innocent people being wrongly accused of shoplifting.

Belfield is right about the threat posed by Tesco’s brave new stores without tills or attendant humans. This will lead to further unemployment, and a lonelier, more alienated society.

Mr H Reviews the Concept Art for Neil Blomkamp’s Aborted Alien 5

June 18, 2021

Mr H Reviews is a YouTube channel devoted to SF, Fantasy and Horror TV, film and comics, and particularly Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, which is one of Mr H’s favourites. Over the past months and weeks he’s posted a number of pieces about the concept art for Alien 5 which is just being released. Alien 5 would have been directed by Neil Blomkamp, the director of the awesome District 9. This was an SF film in which alien refugees arrive in South Africa, and are isolated in shanty towns, where they’re oppressed by a government determined to stop them breeding, and preyed on by criminal gangs who want to use their body parts for muti sorcery. The hero was a government official in one of the government anti-breeding teams, who starts to mutate into one of the aliens after an accident destroying one of their makeshift hatcheries. He is then sought and has to fight in his turn government agents, who wish to use him to unlock the secrets of the military technology the aliens have brought with them.

Alien 5 would have followed on directly from James Cameron’s Aliens, making Alien 3 and Alien 4 elseworlds stories set in an alternative timeline. In the universe of Alien 5, corporal Hicks and Newt would both be alive, as would Ellen Ripley, and ready to fight H.R. Giger’s most infamous brainchild yet again. The film was apparently all set and ready to go into production with Cameron scouting out locations for filming. It was stopped because Ridley Scott, Alien’s director, didn’t want it interfering with his Alien films. Scott claimed that Alien 5 didn’t have a script, which has been contradicted by the concept artist, Geoffroy Thoorens, who said his paintings were based on a preliminary treatment. Apparently the real reason Alien 5 was cancelled was Scott’s ego. He was jealous because Cameron’s Aliens was more popular than his, the film which launched the franchise.

Whatever the personal politics and clash of egos behind the decision, it’s a pit that Alien 5 wasn’t made because it would have been awesome. The art shows Hicks as a combat vet, scarred from the acidic blood with which he was sprayed during his battle with the evil critters in Aliens, but ready to put on that combat armour. From the art, Mr H. surmises that the plot is about Ripley and her team coming aboard a facility somewhere – there are paintings of a space station and a oil-rig like structure on a storm-tossed ocean. This facility may not be run by Wayland-Yutani, the evil company in the Alien movies. There are no Wayland-Yutani logos or markings. However, it seems the facility has got a Leviathan spacecraft, which is covered in the resin secreted by the Aliens. This also seems to be taken apart in an attempt to back engineer it. The company are also harvesting the eggs, and it seems that the company has actually won. They’re farming the Aliens to use them as bioweapons. A queen alien escapes, and all hell breaks loose.

The film adds a new stage to the Alien lifecycle. This is the trematode, a wormlike creature with pincers and proboscis, which eats its way into its victim’s guts and lays tiny facehuggers. The art shows one marine pulling one of these little bastards of his stomach, while another character is attacked while pinned under a door. There’s also a nod to the cityscape of Blade Runner, in that one of the paintings shows a futuristic city very much like Scott’s depiction of the LA of 2019. But this has a gigantic tower, which may be a space elevator or space bridge, and which contains a hollow running its length, possibly to throw something up into orbit. The company appears to have produced biomechanical armoured suits, resembling the Alien exoskeletons. Ripley dons one of these to fight the queen, who is killed by fire from a railgun or something similar. Another painting shows the space bridge or whatever it is on fire. This suggests that it’s the corporate head office, and that not only has Ripley or her successor defeated the Aliens, but she’s also taken down the company that thinks it can cultivate and control them. Here are the videos.

I’m afraid I’ve posted these videos out of chronological sequence, as I haven’t watched them in order. I hope you can still follow the progress through them, however.

Mr. H speculates that the art may be released because there is renewed interest in the movie. However, he eventually settles on the explanation that the Non-Disclosure Agreements that have prevented release of the art have finally lapsed, as Disney is on the point of buying Fox. I find this a particularly grim prospect. I don’t think it’s at all healthy for a sizable portion of Hollywood and western film entertainment to be part of a giant, global monopoly. I also don’t think Disney are the corporation that’s best suited to real, innovative Horror or dark SF. They’re based on family-friendly entertainment, and while they have considerably diversified, especially with the acquisition of Lucasfilm and Star Wars, I really don’t think they’re suited to managing darker films and concepts.

It’s a pity that Alien 5 wasn’t made. It would have been far better than Alien: Covenant, which I found disappointing and uninspired. It got rid of the interesting ideas and sole remaining character in Prometheus. The Engineers are all wiped out by the evil robot David, who has also murdered Shaw, and is now just keen on breeding more of the proto-Alien creatures, until one finally appears at the end. This threatens the new heroes, is defeated, but not before the heroine finds out right at the end as she’s going into hypersleep that the robot she has trusted up to now isn’t the ship’s good android, but David, who has smuggled the Alien eggs and embryos on board.

I think part of the problem is that Scott simply has lost interest in the Xenomorphs. He’s said that they’re not scary anymore, and that robots are more frightening. Hence the appearance of the evil robot, David. But I think he’s misunderstood the situation. People still want to see the Xenomorph. A year or so ago there were a series of short films released on YouTube by various directors set in the Alien universe and where different characters have to fight or deal with the Aliens. These generally speaking weren’t long – about 15 minutes or so, more or less. But they were well done with some interesting ideas. They showed that directors could still make an entertaining and original story with the creatures, and that there were more than enough fans willing to watch them.

It also seems that Scott’s role in the original movie has been overhyped. Some of the creative decisions that built the franchise were not his, but came from the two producers, Hill and Giler. These included the appearance of an android and the hiring of H.R. Giger as concept artist for the creature. Scott was brought on as director at the very last minute. It’s an excellent movie, and Scott is a brilliant director – I rate Alien and Blade Runner as masterpieces of 20th century cinema – but he isn’t the be-all and end-all of the Alien franchise. I agree with Mr H that the studio shouldn’t have bowed to him and cancelled Blomkamp’s flick.

One of the commenters on one of these videos suggests that, if the film isn’t going to be made, then a comic or graphic novel should appear to tell the story. Apparently this has been done with the alternative Alien 3s that were submitted and scripted. I think it would be an excellent idea. I’d also like another Alien movie to appear, though I’m not sure I’d like it to be the final episode of the trilogy Scott set up with Prometheus. Not after Covenant, unless there’s far more interest in the Aliens. Scott’s a great director, and part of me thinks that it would be good to see how his trilogy ends, but I also think that it’s time the franchise was perhaps handed over to someone younger and with a greater appreciation of the Xenomorph’s popularity.

But the release of this concept artist shows not only the imagination and skill of Thoorens, the artist behind it, but also that there is still considerable interest in Alien movies and that they haven’t been exhausted of ideas. Not just yet. They just need the right director.

Disabled Girl Gets Bionic Arms Based on Movie ‘Alita’s’ Heroine

April 3, 2021

Okay, I’m sorry I haven’t put anything up for the past week or so. It’s the usual reasons, I’m afraid: I’ve been busy with other things and for the most part, I simply haven’t found the week’s news inspiring. I felt there was precious little I could add to the excellent coverage and analyses given by Mike and Zelo Street. And so, rather than simply repeating what they had to say, I preferred to keep silent. But there are some stories that do need further comment, and I certainly intend to cover them. But before I do, here’s a more positive, rather heartwarming piece I found on YouTube.

It was put up by the tech company, Open Bionics, which makes state of the art, and very stylish, prosthetic limbs. Narrated by Hollywood director James Cameron, it tells how the company created a pair of superb artificial arms for British teenager Tilly Lockey. Lockey had lost her arms from septicaemia caused by meningitis. But, as Cameron shows, she had never let her disability hold her back, and the video shows Ms. Lockey as a junior school girl painting using an artificial arm. Cameron’s best known as the director of such hits as Aliens, The Terminator, Terminator 2, Avatar and Titanic, but he was also the producer of the film Alita – Battle Angel. Based on the Manga of the same name, Alita is the story of a mysterious cyborg girl, found by a doctor rummaging around the rubbish dump below an airborne city in which Earth’s rich and powerful live, far above ordinary masses, who live in the city below it. The doctor repairs the girl, who has lost her memory. Slowly Alita begins to recover bits of her history, joins the other cyborg players in a murderous sports race, attempts to become one of the cyborg warriors fighting crime and evil in this future world, and is forced to confront the villains controlling this new society from the floating city above it.

Cameron points out that cybernetic limbs are expensive, but the company is working to make them affordable. They’re also trying to make them attractive, which is why they’ve based those they’ve give to Tilly on the arms of Alita’s heroine. As well as getting the arms, the girl also got to attend the film’s premier.

I have a feeling Open Bionics might be based in Bristol. If I’m right, they used to be part of the cybernetics lab at the University of the West of England, which has done some impressive robotics research. The lab set up a commercial company to produce artificial limbs based on characters from Science Fiction movies.

As for Alita, I think it got mixed reviews. Some critics were spooked by the character’s large eyes, but I think that was simply following the artistic conventions of Manga comics and translating it to a live action film. Some critics said that while it wasn’t that good, it was actually far better than some of the rubbish being produced by Hollywood at the time. I’ve got it on video and liked it. There are rumours of a sequel being made, which would be great if they were true. But unfortunately the Coronavirus lockdown has meant that many Hollywood projects have had to be put on hold. The release of Denis Villeneuve’s much-awaited version of Dune has been postponed to October, when hopefully the cinemas will re-open.

The video’s obviously a piece of corporate promotion, but it’s great that the company and its talented engineers are working to make technologically impressive artificial limbs at affordable prices, and that they’ve given them to this spirited young lady. I have a feeling she’s also one of the women featured on the Shake My Beauty YouTube channel, which features other disabled women talking about life with their prosthetic limbs. While also demonstrating that having mechanical arms and legs certainly doesn’t make them less beautiful or capable of enjoying normal, physical activities including sports.

Video of Trevithick’s Steam Carriage in Bristol

March 14, 2021

I’ve an interest in the real, Victorian technology that really does resemble the ideas and inventions in Steampunk Science Fiction. This is the SF genre that, following Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and other early writers, tries to imagine what it would have been like had the Victorians had cars, aircraft, robots, spaceships, computers and time travel. And at certain points the Victorians came very close to creating those worlds. Bruce Sterling’s and William Gibson’s The Difference Engine, set in the Victorian computer age, was a piece of speculation about what kind of society would have emerged, if William Babbage’s pioneering computer, the Difference Engine of the title, had been built. And also if the 1820s Tory government had fallen to be replaced the rule of Lord Byron. The 19th century was a hugely inventive age, as scientists and engineers explored new possibilities and discoveries. George Cayley in Britain successfully invented a glider, in France Giffard created a dirigible airship, flying it around the Eiffel Tower. And from the very beginning of the century scientists and inventors attempted to develop the first ancestors of the modern car, run on coal and steam, of course.

One of these was a steam carriage designed by the Cornish engineer, Richard Trevithick, in 1801. This was built, but wasn’t successful. This did not stop other engineers attempting to perfect such vehicles, and steam cars continued to be developed and built well into the 20th century. The most famous of these was the American Stanley Steamer of 1901.

I found this short video on Johnofbristol’s channel on YouTube. It shows a replica of Trevithick’s vehicle being driven around Bristol docks. From the cranes and the building over the other side of the river, it looks like it was shot outside Bristol’s M Shed museum. This was formerly the site of the city’s Industrial Museum, and still contains among its exhibits some fascinating pieces from the city’s industrial past. These include the aircraft and vehicles produced by Bristol’s aerospace and transport companies.

Book on Fascism in Black American Literature Between the Two World Wars

January 20, 2021

Mark Christian Thompson, Black Fascisms: African American Literature & Culture between the Wars (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press 2007).

This is one of the other books I’ve been reading during the last few days. It’s a fascinating examination of a little known episode of Black American literary history when, in the 1930s and early 1940s, a number of Black American authors and activists took over elements from European Fascism to form their own version of the totalitarian creed. The blurb reads

In this provocative new book, Mark Christian Thompson addresses the startling fact that many African American intellectuals in the 1930s sympathized with fascism, seeing in its ideology a means of envisioning new modes of African American political resistance. Thompson surveys the work and thought of several authors and asserts that their sometimes positive reaction to generic European fascism, and its transformation into black fascism, is crucial to any understanding of Depression-era African American literary culture.

Taking on a subject generally ignored or denied in African American cultural and literary studies, BLACK FASCISMS seeks not only to question the prominence of the Left in the political thought of a generation of writers to change how we view African American literature in general.

Following the introduction, it has the following chapters:

  1. Black Literary Fascism
  2. The Myth of Marcus Garvey: Black Fascism and Nationalism
  3. George S. Schuyler and the God of Love: Black Fascism and Mythic Violence
  4. “In Turban and Gorgeous Robe”: Claude McKay, Black Fascism, and Labor
  5. His Rod of Power: Zora Neale Hurston, Black Fascism and Culture
  6. Richard Wright’s Jealous Rebels: Black Fascism and Philosophy

Conclusion: Historical Black Fascism, Black Arts, and Beyond

For some, this is no doubt shocking and uncomfortable reading. Thompson states that his book will be controversial, because it seems to challenge the dominance and achievements of Marxism in Black American politics and culture of the period. He does not seek to deny this, but to argue that there was a significant turn away from Communism towards Fascism at the tail end of the Harlem Renaissance, and that this was no mere blip in the career of the figures discussed, as some historians and critics have claimed. It’s also remarkable, in that as victims of racism it seems to run counter to reason that Black Americans would embrace a viciously racist ideology associated with White supremacy. But by the early 1940s some Black youngsters had become so alienated from their country, that they were singing songs about how they thought they’d move to Germany because they’d be better off there. The likelihood is that these kids probably didn’t understand what Nazi Germany was really like. The Black intellectuals, who turned to Fascism, didn’t support its specific European versions. They didn’t want to become Nazis or supporters of Mussolini’s Fascists. But they took elements of generic Fascism and adapted it as a vehicle for their own nationalist aspirations and desire for pan-African racial uplift.

Defining Features of Black Fascism

Thompson considers that the main elements in this turn were a dissatisfaction with Communist multiculturalism, the expectation that Ethiopia would produce a strong, modernising leader to redeem Blacks across the world, admiration for newly independent Haiti, and anti-Semitism. Black Fascists rejected Communism, because they were afraid that its emphasis on racial collaboration and the class war would lead to Blacks’ own aspirations and needs being neglected and Blacks used instead to improve conditions for White liberals. The Communist party in turn attempted to harness Black nationalism for the general class struggle, by defining Black Americans as working class. But this also created an anti-White racism that characterised all Whites as members of the exploiting classes. Which strikes me as not at all unlike Black Lives Matter and Critical Race Theory. The expectations of Black leadership from Ethiopia came from Psalm 68 in the Bible, which states that, after Egypt, Ethiopia will raise its hands to God. Ethiopia was the one African nation not conquered by the Europeans in the 19th century, which seemed to many Black Americans that the country was destined to lead the Black people. Coupled with this was the hope that Black Americans would return to Africa to take up positions of leadership and power in the continent, and free her from the European colonial oppressors. At the same time, the American army had just withdrawn from its occupation of Haiti. Many Black Americans admired this Caribbean nation because of the way it had thrown off French rule in the late 18th century to become a free, Black republic. At the same time, its new president, Stenio Vincent, sweeping autocratic powers dissolving the lower house and allowing him to appoint a sizable proportion of its senate. It was not a democracy in the American sense, as Zora Neale Hurston recognised, but an elected monarchy. Anti-Semitism and a hatred of Italians and Greeks among working class Blacks in Harlem was also part of the turn towards Fascism. The Black soapbox Caesar, Sufi Abdul Hamid, wished to create a separate trade union exclusively for Blacks. He was one of the leaders of a boycott against the White-owned department stores, which refused to employ Black clerks. He succeeded in getting this reversed, but his inflammatory anti-Semitic rhetoric – many of the stores were Jewish owned – resulted in the 1937 Harlem race riot.

Marcus Garvey and the Invasion of Ethiopia

Chapter one is a general discussion of Black American fascist aesthetics. The first of the writers and activists to be examined is Marcus Garvey, the founder and leader of the United Negro Improvement Association. This was a mass organisation, whose hierarchy was based on that of the army, with Garvey giving his followers various military ranks. Militantly nationalistic, the organisation also campaigned for a return to Africa, and Garvey was also impressed with the Italian Fascist corporatist state. Rejecting Communism, he instead supported private property. Blacks should work to acquire wealth, that they should then use to build the new Black state. However, private wealth should also be limited. Only the state should be able to hold investments over $5 or $6 million.

Of the figures discussed in the book, Garvey is the most overtly Fascist. Indeed, in a 1937 interview he claimed that Hitler and Mussolini based their movements on his. He was no fan of Mussolini, however, after the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, which also caused him to become a bitter critic of its former emperor, Hailie Selassie. Selassie had scarpered to London following the invasion, which bitterly disappointed Garvey. He had also expected the Ethiopian emperor to modernise the country, turning it into a modern, Fascist, corporate state, which would embark on its own destiny of imperial conquest. Selassie had not done this. Garvey also sneered at him because of the Biblical lineage of the Ethiopian monarchy. This claimed descent from Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Thus, Garvey attacked him because he was, by virtue of this descent from the great Israelite king, Jewish. This was in contrast to Simon of Cyrene, who was Black, and Jesus, who was mostly Black.

Schuyler’s Pulp Fiction Supervillain Black Liberator

George S. Schuyler was a Black American writer and journalist, described by the book as somewhat like H.L. Mencken. He had started off as a vague socialist, believing that Africans were innately Communistic, and pan-African. Well, he was until he visited Liberia, which left him bitterly disillusioned to the extent that he wished the US army would invade so that America could take over and improve the country. This changed again with the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. Schuyler, like many other Black Americans, was outraged and wanted to raise an army of Black American volunteers, who would go and fight for the African nation. Seeking advice from the American foreign department, he was told that was impossible as America wished to preserve its neutrality. Schuyler thus turned to literature to express his anger and desire for revenge, writing the pulp story Black Empire. This tells the story of Dr. Belsidus, a Black American genius, who takes over Africa with his organisation, the Black Internationale, turning it into a military superpower through able to repel the Italians and then embark on the genocidal conquest of Europe through advance Black super science. Black scientists create death rays, hydroponic farms, fax machines and hypno-robots. Hypno-robots? Yes. Belsidus creates a new religion and deity, the God of Love, whose mission is to inculcate Black Africans with belief in their noble descent from the Babylonians and Egyptians and their future greatness. The hypno-robot is a giant, 50-foot tall figure of a naked Black man representing the God of Love, which has the power to move, raising its arms and nodding its head. Its eyes light up to hypnotise the congregation, so that they will become mentally receptive to Belsidus racial doctrines. Aiding Belsidus are a series of White women, his lovers, whom he casually murders if they fail him in bed or in their tasks of bringing down European rule. Belsidus comes across as Yaphet Kotto’s villain in the Bond film, Live and Let Die, but even nastier. He’s a genocide who ruthlessly kills White men, women and children. The story’s a nasty revenge fantasy, written by Schuyler to compensate for the Italian invasion. Schuyler himself didn’t stay a Fascist, but instead became a noted Black Conservative intellectual.

McKay, Sufi Abdul Hamid and Black Labour

Claude McKay was another Black American who had started out as a Communist, but then moved away from it, converting to Roman Catholicism. In the 1930s and ’40s McKay was also concerned with building a Black labour movement for which he also adopted aspects of Fascism. He was also an admirer of Sufi Abdul Hamid, an eccentric individual who styled himself Bishop Amiru Al-Minin Sufi Abdul Hamid, an Egyptian, but whose real identity may have been Eugene Brown of Philadelphia. Hamid had founded his own cult, the Universal Temple of Tranquillity. In 1932 he led a jobs boycott in Chicago and in 1934 led a similar boycott against Blumstein’s department store in Harlem. He was not popular with the other Black intellectuals, who regarded him as a charlatan and racketeer. Before his death in the late 1930s he was trying to promote himself as a cult leader in an attempt to challenge Father Divine. Called the Black Hitler because of his virulently anti-Semitic speeches, Hamid was partly responsible for the 1937 race riot, for which he was unsuccessfully prosecuted by the Jewish Minute Men. He appears as ‘Omar’ in McKay’s unfinished novel, Harlem Glory. This is partly an examination of the divided psychology of Black America. ‘Omar’ represents its Fascist side, while Father Divine, who appears as ‘Glory Savior’, and his cult, the ‘Glory Soulers’, represent religion and Communism.

Hurston, Moses and Haiti

Zora Neale Hurston is included because of her novel about Moses leading the Exodus, Moses, Man of the Mountain, in which both the greatest of the Hebrew prophets and his adversary, Pharaoh, have the nationalistic, genocidal qualities of modern Fascist dictators. Hurston also linked Moses to Haiti’s founder, Toussaint L’Ouverture. L’Ouverture’s power was represented by the Voodoo god, Damballah, who was also Moses’ rod of power. Damballah’s a snake god, while one of the miracles Moses performed was changing his staff into a snake. This novel is strongly influenced by Hurston’s admiration for Haiti and its authoritarian leader.

Cross Damon, Fascist Murderer or Existentialist Anti-Hero

Wright was another Communist intellectual, who then went to France to hang out with Sartre. He then wrote his own existentialist novel, The Outsider, about a former postal worker, Cross Damon. After losing his job, and suffering problems from the women in his life, Damon becomes a murderer, committing a series of killings across America. The novel was widely criticised at the time for not saying anything about the condition of Black America. Thompson argues that this is untrue. The book does examine their plight, as Damon personifies the Fascist tendency within Black America through his ruthless pursuit of the power over life and death. His murder of two twins, one a Communist, the other a Fascist, shows that to Wright these political creeds were essentially the same, and that Damon is also similar to them through their murder.

The Black Arts Movement and Neo-Fascism

The Black Arts movement was a post-War phenomenon, in which Black intellectuals and artists attempted to create a distinctly Black artistic culture, in contrast and opposition to that of White America. This chapter argues that historic fascism ended with the Second World War, and that its post-War successor, neo-Fascism, is markedly different. Fascism itself is also broader than Nazism, with which it has been identified, and which has itself been reduced to murderous anti-Semitism. It is a distortion, therefore, to describe the Nation of Islam as Fascist and genocidal simply because they held a joint rally with the American Nazi party, for which the party’s Fuhrer, Lincoln Rockwell, donated $20 to them. The chapter nevertheless states that the Black Arts movement constitutes an extreme form of Black nationalism, and ends with a call for it to be examined as a form of neo-Fascism.

Belsidus’ Statue and Fascist Homosexuality

Thompson’s a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, so the book is less a work of political science as literary criticism. Thus it frequently refers to the works of such literary theorists as Georges Bataille, Foucault, Althusser and Guy Debord. I found some of the book’s arguments extremely convoluted, particularly in the chapter on Wright and The Outsider. There are times when he seems to be arguing for the Fascist nature of Cross Damon, from that character’s difference to or opposition to Fascism. He also follows the German writer, Ludwig Theweleit, in considering that their is a homosexual component to the Fascists’ adoration of their leaders. This causes the book to contain some bizarre passages about the significance of the penis in some of the pieces discussed. For example, he writes of the Belsidus’ 50 foot statue of a naked Black man

The statue is what Siegried Krakauer calls the “mass ornament”: a ritual object that is “an end in itself”. But even after the “ritual meaning” of such objects is discarded, “they remain the plastic formation of the erotic life which gave rise to them and determined their traits”. (146). The mass ornament is emptied of its ritual content and plenitude and re-cathected with an erotics of power that seeks to control the masses’ libidinal urges by converting them into an iconic religious outpouring. This is why Schuyler’s mass ornament is depicted as “a huge statue of a nude Negro standing with legs apart, gazing sardonically downward with arms crossed. It was all of 50 feet high and every part of the body was clearly depicted” (58). The bearer of the sardonic gaze cannot be mistaken. “Sardonic” is, after all, one of Schuyler’s favorite adjectives for the good Doctor and his notorious gaze. Also inescapable in this mammoth fifty-foot statue of a male Negro is an anatomical accuracy that surpasses the bounds of decency. If one wondered whether Dr. Belsidus’s movement followed the fascist phallocentric logic of male ego-reintegration Theweleit theorizes, the appearance of the fifty foot “God of Love” in all his anatomical glory removes all doubt. (pp. 90-1).

Black Fascism and other Forms of Dictatorship

The book acknowledges that none of the authors and activists discussed founded Fascist parties or movement, and he regards them as individual figures rather than the leaders of mass Fascist organisations. Garvey, with his militaristic nationalism and claims to have inspired the European Fascist dictators is the closest figure to European Fascism. So too is Sufi Abdul Hamid with his emphasis on labour, Black separatism and anti-Semitism. Hamid’s similar to the Nazis in another way: they also hated the department stores as an example of ‘Jewish capital’. Schuyler’s Black Empire is a revenge fantasy, whose hero – or anti-hero – would certainly qualify as a Fascist, even though Belsidus himself doesn’t appear to his followers to make speeches from the balcony. He just leaves that to his naked 50-foot robot. But this doesn’t make Schuyler himself a Fascist or mean that he is calling for a similar Fascist movement. It is questionable, however, whether Hurston’s Moses or Pharaoh are really fascist either. Political scientists have debated the difference between Fascism and other forms of authoritarianism and aggressive, intolerant nationalism. Noel O’Sullivan in his book, Fascism, argues that it possesses distinct features that distinguish it from the militant, dictatorial regimes of some of the nations in Africa and the Developing World. Stenios Vincent was highly authoritarian, but it’s questionable whether his regime can be considered Fascist. This also raises the question of how far Hurston’s Moses and Pharaoh are Fascists, although they certainly act in a way which could be described as fascistic. I find the argument about Wright’s The Outsider rather less convincing. It may be that Cross Damon partakes of part of the psychology of Fascist and Communist dictators through his murders, but it seems to me to be a straightforward piece of existentialist literature rather than an examination of Black American Fascism. It reminds me of Albert Camus’ novel of the same name, about a Frenchman in Algeria who murders an Arab out of boredom. Wright’s outsider is another murderer, but is a Black American rather than French.

Conclusion

I don’t know how far the Black Arts movement could be described as neo-Fascist, but historians of post-War British Fascism have noted the radical revisions of doctrine the BNP went through under its generalissimo, Nick Griffin. But Critical Race Theory does seem very similar to the Communist party’s simplification of race relations in America to Black workers versus White exploiters. My guess is that an examination of the Black Arts movement would uncover clear parallels and influences from European neo-Fascism, as would Black Lives Matter today.

The 1920s’ View of the Future

January 10, 2021

I found this fascinating video on the ‘1920s Channel’ on YouTube. It’s about the decades view of the future, taken from the pulp magazine, Science and Invention, founded and edited by Hugo Gernsbach. Gernsbach is one of the major figures in 20th century SF. An immigrant to America from Luxembourg, he was passionately enthusiastic about science and technology and founded the first the first SF pulp magazines. He also wrote an SF novel, Ralph 124C41 + A Romance of the Year 2660, and coined the term ‘scientifiction’ to describe the new genre. This was shortened and altered by his successors and rivals to become the modern term.

The channel’s main man says he’s interested in 1920s futurism because it falls between the ‘Steam Punk’ predictions of the Victorians and the ‘Atom Punk’ of the 1950s and 1960s, although it also has some elements of the ‘Diesel Punk’ of the 1940s. He states that the 1920s and the 1950s were similar decades, in that both followed major wars but were periods of optimism. Most of the illustrations were by Frank R. Paul, Gernsbach’s artist, who is now justly respected as one of the foremost pioneers of SF art. Among the inventions and developments the magazine predicted are massive, skyscraper cities now a staple of SF in such classic films as Metropolis and Blade Runner. But the magazine also predicted underground cities, as well as improved scientific instruments like astronomical telescopes, devices for signalling Mars, bizarre machines for taking care of one’s health, like the ‘sun shower’ and health meter. There are new entertainment media, like television and a cinema with four screens, as well as new musical instruments like the Theremin. This last creates sound through the alteration of a magnetic field by the player’s hands. It’s one of the many instruments played by the hugely talented Bill Bailey. The magazine also looked at the vehicles of the future. These included moving walkways, cars and railways. Cars wouldn’t be confined to the road, but would fly, and the magazine also showed the new aircraft of the future. Humanity would master anti-gravity and fly beyond Earth into space. At the same time, new ships and flying boats would cross the oceans, while people would venture underneath the seas in diving suits that somewhat resemble the metallic suits created to withstand the crushing pressures of the ocean depths. And the magazine also predicted that SF staple, the robot. One of these was to be a ‘police automaton’, like Robocop.

The illustrations are taken from worldradiohistory.com, where they’re available for free, and the video is accompanied by some of the music of the period, so be warned!

Futurism Of The 1920s – YouTube

It’s interesting watching the video to see how much of modern SF was formed in the decade, and to compare its predictions with reality. Most of these predictions haven’t actually become reality. Flying cars are still waiting to happen, we don’t have zeppelin aircraft carriers and skyscraper cities haven’t quite become the dominant urban form. Nor do we have truly intelligent machines and robots. On the other hand, I think the ideas and devices Gernsbach and Paul discussed and portrayed in the magazine still have the power to inspire, and think that they would make a great source of ideas for future, aspiring SF writers.

Boston Dynamics’ Dancing Robots

January 1, 2021

The American robotics company Boston Dynamics posted this video on YouTube a few days to wish everyone a happy New Year. It shows some of their various robots dancing to Gordon Berry and the Contours’ ‘Do You Love Me’. The robots include the bipedal, anthropomorphic Atlas robot, as well as a four-legged machine and one with two legs ending in wheels. The machines do an uncannily good display of human dancing. Some of the commenters on the video naturally felt that if robots can do all this, it won’t be long before they take over. Others suggest that the machines haven’t done any of it. It’s been done by human actors using green screen. I think this is probably right, following the video of a combat robot in action. This also looked unnervingly real, until the producers put up a video showing how they had made it. And it was all done by a human actor, whose image was replaced by that of a robot using CGI. If the dancing robots are similarly the product of computer graphics, then at one level it’s a disappointment and at another a profound relief that just yet they don’t quite have those abilities.

But regardless of how it was produced, it is hugely entertaining! Please watch and enjoy!

Do You Love Me? – YouTube

‘I’: British Government Considering Solar Power Satellites

November 17, 2020

A bit more space technology news now. The weekend edition of the I, for Saturday 14th November 2020 carried a piece by Tom Bawden, ‘The final frontier for energy’ with the subtitle ‘Revealed: the UK is supporting a plan to create a giant solar power station in space’. The article ran

Millions of British homes could be powered by a giant solar power station 24,000 miles up in space within three decades, under proposals being considered by the government.

Under the plan, a system of five huge satellites – each more than a mile wide, covered in solar panels and weighing several thousand tons – would deliver laser beams of energy down to Earth.

These would provide up to 15 per cent of the country’s electricity supply by 2050, enough to power four million households – with the first space energy expected to be delivered by 2040. Each satellite would be made from tens of thousands of small modules, propelled into space through 200 separate rocket launches, and then assembled by robots.

The satellites would use thousands of mirrors to concentrate the sunlight on to the solar panels, which would be converted into high frequency radio waves. These would be beamed to a receiving antenna on the Earth, converted into electricity and delivered to our homes.

While the prospect of a solar space station beaming energy into our homes might seem outlandish, advocates are hopeful it can be done. The Government and the UK Space Agency are taking the technology extremely seriously, believing it could play a crucial role in helping the country to fulfil its promise of becoming carbon neutral – or net zero – by 2050, while keeping the lights on.

They have appointed the engineering consultancy Frazer-Nash to look into the technical and economic feasibility and it will report back next year.

“Solar space stations may sound like science fiction, but they could be a game-changing new source of energy for the UK and the rest of the world,” the science minister, Amanda Solloway, said.

“This pioneering study will help shine a light on the possibilities for a space-based solar power system which, if successful, could play an important role in reducing our emissions and meeting the UK’s ambitious climate-change targets,” she said.

Martin Soltau, of Frazer-Nash, who is leading the feasibility study, said: “This technology is really exciting and could be a real force for good. It has the potential to transform the energy market and make the net-zero target achievable – and from an engineering perspective it looks feasible.”

Previous analysis by other researchers on economic viability suggests space solar could be “competitive” with existing methods of electricity generation but that will need to be independently assessed, Mr Soltau said.

If the UK is to become net zero it needs to find a green source of energy that is totally dependable because the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun definitely doesn’t always shine.

This is where solar space comes in, with its panels sufficiently much closer to the sun that they are not blighted by clouds and darkness.

“This would provide a baseload of energy 24/7 and 365 days a year – and has a fuel supply for the next five billion years,” said Mr Soltau, referring to the predicted date of the sun’s eventual demise.

Until recently, this project really would have been a pipe dream – but two developments mean it is now a realistic prospect, Mr Soltau says.

The first is the new generation of reusable rockets, such as the Falcon 9 launcher from Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which mean satellites can be sent into space far more cheaply.

The cost of launching objects into low Earth orbit has gone from about $20,000 (£15,000) a kilogram in the early 2000s to less $3,000 now – and looks to fall below $1,000 in the coming years, he says.

At the same time, solar panels are much cheaper and more than three times as efficient as they were in the 1990s, meaning far fewer need to be sent into orbit to produce the same amount of energy.

Mr Soltau is hopeful, although by no means certain, that his study will find the technology to be feasible in economic and engineering terms – with the technology looking like it’s on track.

The five satellite solar power station system envisaged by the Government will probably cost more than £10bn – and potentially quite a lot more – more than the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, which would produce roughly similar amounts of electricity, is expected to cost about £30bn, including decommissioning, Mr Soltau points out.

When all is said and done, there’s no getting away from the fact that building a satellite of that size and complexity in orbit is a mindboggling task. But it could well be feasible.

The article was accompanied by this diagram.

The captions read

  1. Solar reflectors: Orientation of satellite with respect to the Sun controlled to constantly reflect sunlight onto the solar power array below.
  2. Solar panels and transmitters: Approximately 60,000 layers of solar panels that collect the sunlight from the reflectors, and convert this to transmit high frequency radio waves.
  3. Power transmission: High frequency radio wave transmission from satellite to receiver on ground.
  4. Ground station: approximately 5k in diameter rectenna (a special type of receiving antenna that is used for converting electromagnetic energy into direct current (DC) electricity), generating 2 gigawatts of power enough for 2 million people at peak demand.

The solar reflectors are the objects which look rather like DVDs/CDs. The box at the top of the diagram gives the heights of a few other objects for comparison.

The ISS – 110m

The London Shard – 310m

The Burj Khalifa – 830m

The Cassiopeia solar satellite 1,700m.

The use of solar power satellites as a source of cheap, green energy was proposed decades ago, way back when I was at school in the 1970s. I first read about it in the Usborne Book of the Future. I don’t doubt that everything in the article is correct, and that the construction of such satellites would be comparable in price, or even possibly cheaper, than conventional terrestrial engineering projects. I went to a symposium on the popular commercialisation space at the headquarters of the British Interplanetary Society way back at the beginning of this century. One of the speakers was an engineer, who stated that the construction of space stations, including space hotels, was actually comparable in cost to building a tower block here on Earth. There was just a difference in attitude. Although comparable in cost, such space stations were viewed as prohibitively expensive compared to similar terrestrial structures.

Apart from the expense involved, the other problem solar power satellites have is the method of transmission. All the previous systems I’ve seen beamed the power back to Earth as microwaves, which means that there is a possible danger from cancer. The use of laser beams might be a way round that, but I still wonder what the health and environmental impact would be, especially if the receiving station is around 5 km long.

I also wonder if the project would ever be able to overcome the opposition of vested interests, such as the nuclear and fossil fuel industries. One of the reasons the Trump government has been so keen to repeal environmental legislation and put in place measures to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from doing its job, is because the Republican party receives very generous funding from the oil industry, and particularly the Koch brothers. And there are plenty of Tory MPs who also possess links to big oil.

At the moment this looks like a piece of industry PR material. It’s an interesting idea, and I’ve no doubt that it’s factually correct, but given the resistance of the British establishment to new ideas, and especially those which might involve government expenditure, I have grave doubts about whether it will actually ever become a reality. Fossil fuels might be destroying the planet, but there are enough people on the right who don’t believe that’s happening and who get a very tidy profit from it, that I can see the oil industry being promoted against such projects for decades to come.

Robot Takeover Comes Nearer as Britain Intends to Employ 30,000 Robot Soldiers

November 11, 2020

If this is true, then the robot revolution that’s been haunting the imagination of Science Fiction writers ever since Frankenstein and Karel Capek’s Rossum’s Universal Robots just got that bit nearer. Monday’s edition of the I for 9th November 2020 carried this chilling snippet:

Robot soldiers will fight for Britain

Thirty thousand “robot soldiers” could form a key part of the British army within two decades. General Sir Nick Carter, head of the armed forces, told Sky News that “an armed forces that’s designed for the 2030s” could include large numbers of autonomous or remotely controlled machines.

This has been worrying many roboticists and computer scientists for decades. Kevin Warwick, the professor of cybernetics at Reading University, begins his book with a terrifying prediction of the what the world could be like three decades from now in 2015 in his 1990s book, March of the Machines. The robots have taken over, decimating humanity. The few humans that remain are desexed slaves, used by the machines to fight against the free humans that have found refuge in parts of the world difficult or impossible for robots to operate in. Warwick is absolutely serious about the threat from intelligent robots. So serious in fact, that he became a supporter of cyborgisation because he felt that it would only be by augmenting themselves with artificial intelligence and robotics that humans could survive. I went to see Warwick speak at the Cheltenham Festival of Science years ago. When it came to the time when he answered questions from the audience, he was naturally asked whether he still believed that robots could take over, and whether this could happen as soon as 2050. He replied that he did, and that the developments in robotics had brought it forwards by several decades.

There have been a series of controversies going back decades when a country has announced that they intend to use robot soldiers. When this happened a few years ago, it was received with denunciations by horrified scientists. Apart from the threat of an eventual robot revolution and the enslavement of humanity, a la the Matrix, there are severe moral questions about the operation of such machines. Robots don’t have consciences, unlike humans. A machine that’s created to kill without proper constraints will carry on killing indiscriminately, regardless of whether its targets are a soldiers or innocent civilians. Warwick showed this possibility in his book with a description of one of the machines his department has on its top floor. It’s a firefighting robot, equipped with sensors and a fire extinguisher. If there’s a fire, it’s programmed to run towards it and put it out. All well and good. But Warwick points out that it could easily be adapted for killing. If you replaced the fire extinguisher with a gun and gave it a neural net, you could programme it to kill people of a certain type. Like those with blonde hair and blue eyes. Set free, it would continue killing such people until it ran out of bullets.

Less important, but possibly also a critical factor in the deployment of such war machines, is popular reaction to their use against human soldiers. It’s been suggested that their use in war would cause people to turn against the side using them, viewing them as cowards hiding behind such machines instead of facing their enemies personally, human to human, in real combat. While not as important as the moral arguments against their deployment, public opinion is an important factor. It’s why, since the Vietnam War, the western media has been extensively manipulated by the military-industrial-political complex so that it presents almost wholly positive views of our wars. Like the Iraq invasion was to liberate Iraq from an evil dictator, instead of a cynical attempt to grab their oil reserves and state industries by the American-Saudi oil industry and western multinationals. Mass outrage at home and around the world was one of the reasons America had to pull out of Vietnam, and it’s a major factor in the current western occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Popular outrage and disgust at the use of robots in combat could similarly lead to Britain and anyone else using such machines to lose the battle to win hearts and minds, and thus popular support.

But I also wonder if this isn’t also the cybernetics companies researching these robots trying to find a market for their wares. DARPA, the company developing them, has created some truly impressive machines. They produced the ‘Big Dog’ robot, which looks somewhat like a headless robotic dog, hence its name, as a kind of robotic pack animal for the American army. It all looked very impressive, until the army complained that they couldn’t use it. Soldiers need to move silently on their enemy, but the noise produced by the robots’ electric motors would be too loud. Hence the contract was cancelled. It could be that there are similar problems with some of their other robots, and so they are waging some kind of PR battle to get other countries interested in them as well as an America.

I’m a big fan of the 2000 AD strip, ‘ABC Warriors’, about a band of former war robots, led by Hammerstein, who are now employed fighting interplanetary threats and cosmic bad guys. When not remembering the horrors they experienced of the Volgan War. These are truly intelligent machines with their own personalities. In the case of Hammerstein and his crude, vulgar mate, Rojaws, a moral conscience. Which is absent in another member of the team, Blackblood, a former Volgan war robot, and ruthless war criminal. I really believe that they should be turned into a movie, along with other great 2000 AD characters, like Judge Dredd. But I don’t believe that they will ever be real, because the difficulties in recreating human type intelligence are too great, at least for the foreseeable future. Perhaps in a centuries’ time there might be genuinely intelligent machines like C-3PO and R2D2, but I doubt it.

The war robots now being touted are ruthless, mindlessly efficient machines, which scientists are worried could easily get out of control. I’ve blogged about this before, but the threat is real even if at present their promotion is so much PR hype by the manufacturers.

It looks to me that General Carter’s statement about using 30,000 of them is highly speculative, and probably won’t happen. But in any case, the armed forces shouldn’t even be considering using them.

Because the threat to the human race everywhere through their use is too high.

‘I’ Article about Micro Robots That Can Repair Body from Inside

August 28, 2020

Here’s a piece of optimistic science news. Yesterday’s I for 27th August 2020 carried this article by Tom Bawden, ‘Microbots can be injected to repair human body’, reporting that scientists have developed tiny robots that may injected into the body to carry drugs or repair tissue. The article runs

Scientists have created a new kind of microscopic walking robot that is shorter, thinner and narrower than the width of a human hair and can be injected into the body in a syringe.

Researchers hope that this new kind of robot – the first to carry and use onboard electronics – can be used to deliver drugs deep into human tissue or to sew up miniature blood vessel wounds deep in the body.

They hope that within five to 10 years the robot – currently a prototype that has been tested successfully in the lab – can be developed into smart, autonomous devices that can explore an area without the need of human guidance, according to a study in the journal Nature.

In their current form, these are the first microscopic robots that incorporate semiconductor components, allowing them to be controlled with electronic signals.

Each bot consists of a circuit made from silicon photovoltaics – which convert light into electricity and functions as the torso and brain – and four electrochemical “actuators”; components that function as legs.

The researchers control the robots by flashing laser pulses at different photovoltaics, each of which charges up a separate set of legs. By toggling the laser back and forth between the front and back photovoltaics, the robot walks.

“Machines like these are going to take us into all kinds of amazing worlds”, said Marc Miskin, of the University of Pennyslvania.

There’s also a snippet stating that they hope to use the robots for neurology:

The researchers are exploring ways to soup up the robots with more complicated electronics that could result in swarms of microscopic robots being dispatched to probe large areas of the human brain.

Scientists have been working on such robots for a long time. I think the ultimate goal is to develop nanorobots – robots so tiny that they could climb inside and repair cells. It’s been suggested that such machines could be so effective that they’d give people immortality. On the other hand, such nanobots have also raised the spectacle of the ‘grey goo’. In this scenario, scientists develop self-replicating nanomachines that simply turn everything into a grey goo. These escape, and destroy the world. I think we’re a long way from that just yet. The robots do, however, remind me of the old SF movie, Fantastic Voyage, in which a crew and their submarine are miniaturised and injected into a wounded scientist to save his life. But obviously without the miniaturisation technology and Raquel Welsh, who was one of the stars.

However, from reading the article it seems that they haven’t quite perfected remote control. I don’t see how using a laser to guide its legs would work if the robot was injected far away from a light source inside someone. But perhaps I’m missing something. I also have grave doubts about using them to explore the human brain. I’m very much aware that this would be immensely useful, considering how little we still know about it, but the technology seems to me also to have the potential for massive abuse. For example, if swarms can be injected into the brain to explore, it’s possible that they could also be used to alter the brain and control the person on whom they’re being used.

There’s clearly much potential here, but I wonder how long it will actually be before there are any practical machines developed from these devices.