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Nonhuman to Human Understanding the transition through plays and films Sidney Perkowitz Candler Professor of Physics Emeritus Emory University

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Presentation on theme: "Nonhuman to Human Understanding the transition through plays and films Sidney Perkowitz Candler Professor of Physics Emeritus Emory University"— Presentation transcript:

1 Nonhuman to Human Understanding the transition through plays and films Sidney Perkowitz Candler Professor of Physics Emeritus Emory University

2 Robots and the transition to human on stage and screen For millennia people have told stories about nonhuman artificial creatures, some of which were nearly human or became human. In 1921, the play R. U. R. introduced Robots, artificial beings that eventually become more human. R. U. R. was an immediate sensation and has been frequently staged. This year, it inspired Anthony Clarvoe s play Gizmo, and a film called R. U. R. is due out in In cinema, robots have appeared in some 600 films since Early on, Metropolis (1927) introduced a robot that undergoes a nonhuman to human transition, and many other such transitions have been presented in film since.

3 Why examine these transitions on stage and screen? The existential reason is that robots mirror humans, and offer an oblique way to look at ourselves. The pragmatic reason is that there are a lot of robots in the world and they are becoming more accomplished. We may need to think seriously about the dividing line between nonhuman and human, or between nonliving and living.

4 There are many real robots, with more coming There is now more than one robot per 1,000 people globally, and one robot per 100 people in the U. S. and Euro auto industries. The annual growth rate for robots averages 19% since 1988, whereas the human rate is only 1%. The robot to human ratio will only grow.

5 The seminal robot play, R. U. R. For myself, I confess that as the author I was much more interested in men than in Robots. Karel Čapek, Saturday Review, 1923 Karel (L) and Josef (R) Č apek, who invented Robot from archaic robota, a serfs obligation to work, and modern robotnik, worker – actually suggested by Josef.

6 Homage to Karel Čapek and R. U. R. Honda s robot ASIMO laying flowers at Karel Čapek s bust (Prague, 2003) R. U. R. became the name of my son Mikes band Capek s gravesite in Prague

7 R. U. R.s robots Robots were not clanking machines, but made of pseudo-protoplasm that behaved exactly like living matter [and] didn't mind being sewn or mixed together. They were portrayed as near-human organic creations in the premiere and most other early productions. New York 1922 Prague 1921 London 1924 Paris 1924 Guild Tour Production

8 The plot of R. U. R. Robots are pseudo-organic and human-like but emotionless, manufactured only to work – like a gasoline motor says Domin, manager of the R. U. R. factory. Taking pity, Domins wife Helena convinces R. U. R.s head scientist to give the robots feelings. Now they resent their subservience. Their leaders call humans parasites and order the robots to kill all mankind." A lone human, Alquist, survives, but the robots can no longer make themselves. Alquist proposes to dissect one of a robot male - female pair to determine the process. But Alquist finds each robot ready to die to spare the other, because they are in love. Alquist tells them Go…Adam - Eve, implying that they will found a new race. Digital People

9 The messages of R. U. R. Social realities of the time. Helena s vision of robot-human brotherhood and the robot revolution read like the history of the Russian Revolution that created the Soviet Union in 1917, just before R. U. R. was written. Replacing God with man. In 1923 Capek wrote: [Rossum s] dream to create an artificial man … is inspired by his obstinate desire to prove that God is unnecessary and meaningless. Dehumanization and humanization. Technology without morality can dehumanize. Tempered with morality, however, it can change unfeeling robots into fully feeling beings, leading after turmoil to a better version of humanity. Metropolis expresses similar anxieties.

10 A seminal robot film, Fritz Langs Metropolis The city The robot-like workers

11 The plot of Metropolis Metropolis is a future hi-tech city maintained by slave workers. Freder, son of Metropolis Master Frederson, loves the saintly Maria who leads the workers, and wants to help them. To foil this, Frederson plots to replace Maria with a duplicate built by the wizardly scientist Rotwang, who has created a machine in the image of man that never tires…we have no further use for living workers…the workers of the future – the machine men. Rotwang turns his machine woman into a corrupt copy of Maria, who ignites a workers revolution as Frederson wanted. But the workers issues are resolved, the revolt ends, and the film ends with a tag line and a moral: There can be no understanding between the hand and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator. Digital People

12 The robot that turns into Maria

13 Good Maria + robot = bad Maria The real Maria – saintly and innocent The copied Maria – treacherous and lascivious Rotwangs robot

14 The robots transformation, nonhuman to human The transformation

15 The messages of Metropolis Social realities of the time. Still within the era of the Russian Revolution, Metropolis is concerned with the divide between the ruling class and the working underclass. Replacing God with man. Metropolis has extensive religious references and symbols though they do not seem to explicitly raise the issue of Rotwang as God-like creator. Dehumanization and humanization. The robot-like workers are mistreated in the name of technology. Rotwangs science means to replace them with robots, but he also transforms a mechanical robot into a (seeming) human – yet a debased one. Metropolis and R. U. R. explore the gamut of robotic possibilities and the dividing line between nonhuman and human. Together, the play and the film ask whether humanitys creations can outdo nature, and whether humanitys own moral standing gains or loses by creating these beings. And together, the play and film offer different methods to change nonhuman to human, as do other plays and films.

16 Nonhuman to Human on Stage, 1921 to 2012 R. U. R. (1921). Robots are manufactured from synthetic protoplasm in human form but without feelings. When emotion is added, they become fully alive, undertake a violent world-wide industrial revolution against humanity, and found a new race. * By Anthony Clarvoe. World premiere, Penn State Centre Stage, April 13, Gizmo (2012).* Gizmos are flesh mechanisms, manufactured to serve. We see three generations, of increasing fluency and superficial semblance to humanity.…As to the people: this is a slaveholding society. Operating in a corporate world, instead of violent revolution the gizmos quietly cultivate humanitys dependence on them.

17 Nonhuman to Human on Screen, 1927 to 2012 Metropolis (1927). Rotwangs mechanical robot does not look human, but by an electrical and chemical process that transfers appearance and heart, it becomes a physically perfect but morally debased version of the real person Maria. Prometheus (2012).* Weyland Industries has developed an 8 th generation human replica, David, who says I can make your organization more efficient. I can carry out directives that my human counterparts might find…distressing…I understand human emotions although I do not feel them myself. *Directed by Ridley Scott. David

18 Transforming nonhuman to human through the years The monster, Frankenstein (1818, 1931): human brain and body parts + electricity Robots, R. U. R. (1921): synthetic protoplasm + emotion Bad Maria, Metropolis (1927): machinery + human heart + electricity and chemistry Commander Data Star Trek (1987 on) David A. I. (2001) Roy Batty Blade Runner (1982) Officer Murphy/RoboCop RoboCop (1987) Sulla Gizmo (2012) Todays fictional synthetic humans are made of artificial materials and contain computer brains that provide cognition but not always emotion. One exception is RoboCop, a cyborg that combines a metal body with a human brain. David Prometheus (2012)

19 What have we learned about nonhuman to human transitions? Replacing dead body parts in Frankenstein with artificial parts has made the transition less monstrous and more believable. To humanize a robot it is not enough to add an emotion chip to a logic chip. The functions are linked in real brains and that connection needs to be understood. In RoboCop, a real brain in a metal body adds judgment and feeling to superior physical abilities. Beyond nonhuman and human, the interesting future category may be hybrid transhuman. Some fictional robots, such as generations of gizmos and the child robot David in A. I., evolve toward humanity. This follows Alan Turings idea that it would take much effort, like raising a child, to make an intelligent machine. Is David in Prometheus the grown-up David from A. I.? Metropolis, Prometheus, Gizmo, A. I. and other works consider the emotions that natural and synthetic humans might feel toward each other. Can a synthetic human love and be loved? may be one crucial test of a true nonhuman to human transition. Thank you

20 References Horáková, J. Looking Backward at the Robot. In Research and Education in Robotics: EUROBOT 2011, Communications in Computer and Information Science, Vol. 161, D. Obdržálek and A. Gottscheber, eds. (Springer, Berlin and Heidelberg, 2011), pp. 1 – 9. Perkowitz, S. Digital People (JHP/National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 2004). _________ Hollywood Science (Columbia University Press, New York, 2010; Kindle edition, 2010). _________ Representing Robots: Theater First, Film Later. National Academy of Sciences Science and Entertainment Exchange. Aug. 2, _________ The First Robot. Wonders and Marvels, in press. Turing, A. M. Computing Machinery and Intelligence. Mind 59, (1950).


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