What do you think of when you hear the word robot? Chances are you aren't thinking about precision machinery used on assembly lines or advanced medical equipment. If you're anything like me, and you poor dear, I'm so sorry if you are, you are imagining a life-sized, metal humanoid with arthritic movements and an electronic monotone voice.
For me, robots symbolize the mid-twentieth century's ideal image of the futuristic world of the twenty first century. In my last post I tipped my hat to Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. There's a reason for that. This is the book that firmly solidified my lifelong love-terror relationship with science fiction. Specifically, There Will Come Soft Rains, the story of the automated house that carries on its daily routine despite the fact that the family it serves has perished in a nuclear holocaust. My middle-school brain was at once fascinated by the idea of total automation and terrified of the idea that machines may outlive us all.
Blame the Cold War propaganda of the 80s and the original Terminator for that. But again, now we are only in the second decade of the twenty first century and not only is total automation within the realm of possibility, but sadly, so is the total destruction of mankind, if not by nuclear war then by our own disregard for the planet.
But this isn't a political blog, nor is it even a blog about technological advancement. The point that I am rambling toward is simply that while we may not have flying cars, ftl drives, or personal robot assistants, we have come a long way in a short period of time. For me, at least, looking back on the speculations and comparing them to reality is truly amazing.
For an in-depth and utterly insane time drain on this very subject, I highly recommend the Paleo Future blog. The original is here and the new blog can be found here.
And do you know what is even cooler? Not only are we now living in the future, but science fiction not only continues to exist, but it's just getting better, more prolific, and best of all, more acceptable to the mainstream. Both Star Wars and Star Trek continue to be popular with new generations. We have an entire channel devoted to (admittedly dubious) sci-fi programming. And if the internet is to be believed, the world still loves Dr. Who and we've turned an astrophysicist into a god-like celebrity.
So why robots? Because even more than a quarter of a century later, they still give me the same sense of awe that they did when I first became a fan of our shiny metal overlords.