March 17, 2014

Life with robots — Is it pathetic to want them to insult us?

It's just a Scrabble-playing robot that says things like "I can't believe your feeble mind was able to play that word," but still... it's some kind of sign of our craving for more human interaction. But I think robots that insult us are a very old idea in sci-fi books and movies. I was prompted to blog this because it's in the Wall Street Journal, but as I'm writing this post, I'm thinking that the only thing that's interesting here is that the Wall Street Journal thinks it's interesting.

I Googled "robots that insult," and the first thing that came up was a long list of insults Dr. Smith aimed at the robot on "Lost in Space." "Bellicose Bumpkin" (used 4 times on the series),  "Bubble-headed Booby" (9 times), "Cowardly Clump" (7 times), "Quivering Quintessence of Fear" (only once). That was back in the 60s, and Dr. Smith was insulting the robot, not programming the robot to insult him so he could feel less bereft of human contact.

My search also led me to a piece from last fall titled "Barack Obama: Being like this robot isn't an insult."
Maureen Dowd of The New York Times likened the Barack Obama-Joe Biden relationship to the "Robromance" on "Almost Human," a Fox cop show arriving Nov. 17.

Dowd compared Obama to the show's "attractive black robot who is highly evolved, logic-based and designed to be as human as possible." Then she wrote dismissively of "Obama's android air."...
The columnist tells us about the "Almost Human" robot character who is "as altruistic and considerate and empathetic as you'd want," and concludes:
Being called a robot isn't an insult if you're being compared to Dorian. It's a compliment.
Again, I have not found an article about a robot who insults. This is the assertion that it's not an insult to be called a robot... at least not when you're Obama. Because if Obama is like a robot, it must be a wonderful robot.


Anonymous said...

Betamax3000 Robot does not insult; Naked Bob Dylan Robot might.

Wince said...

What's worse, being called a robot, or "tin man"?

"Step forward, Tin Man! You dare to come to me for a heart, do you? You clinking, clanking, clattering collection of caliginous junk!

The Cracker Emcee Refulgent said...

It's a guy thing. Playing the dozens, gently or aggressively, subtly or blatantly, is part of normal male conversation among friends, male co-workers, and male siblings. A clever, verbally abusive robot would make an emotionally useful outlet. You could rain maledictions on it with no possibility of hurt feelings.

Beach Brutus said...

"Bubble-headed Booby" - only 9 times -- I would have thought more than that.

George M. Spencer said...

I always felt better when the Robot was with Dr. Smith and young Will.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

STELLA 1: Harcourt! Harcourt Fenton Mudd, what have you been up to? Have you been drinking again? You answer me!
MUDD: Shut up!
STELLA: You miserable, conniving toad!
MUDD: I order you. Shut up, Stella!

Star Trek

Wince said...

Jonathan Harris looks back at Dr. Smith and the Robot.

I decided he was my alter ego and was wise to me, and a danger to me. Always calling in the dreadful alliteratives to keep him down, so he wouldn't expose me.

Wince said...

Johnathan Harris was an actor's actor.

Wince said...

Here's one robot insult left off the wiki list.

Dr. Smith actually foresaw the law school bubble. Not because it was the future. The Jupiter II left earth October 16, 1997!

Robot: But I also majored in law. I am a robot of many tastes.

Dr. Smith: You bumptious braggart. Don't just stand there, do something.

Henry said...

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy pointed out that far worse than the robot who insults is the robot who is always cheery:

The Encyclopedia Galactica defines a robot as a mechanical apparatus designed to do the work of a man. The marketing division of Sirius Cybernetics Corporation defines a robot as "Your Plastic Pal Who's Fun to Be With."
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy defines the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as "a bunch of mindless jerks who'll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes..."

Sean Gleeson said...

In Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, Evil Robot Bill and Evil Robot Ted were pretty insulting.

[Evil Robot Bill & Evil Robot Ted are holding the real Bill & Ted over a cliff]
Bill: Ted, we gotta do something!
Ted: Dudes, even though you’re doing this, we... we...
Bill & Ted: ...we love you!
Evil Robot Bill & Evil Robot Ted: Fags!

Chuck said...

Prof. Althouse; the only way that I ever know what is being written by Maureen Dowd is because you keep reading her, and because I like your blog.

I think I'd like your blog even more, if you stopped paying attention to Maureen Dowd.

Sometimes, I am grateful that you read certain things (like The Isthmus) so that I don't have to. Maureen Dowd is not one of those things. I think I not only prefer not to read her, but also to not know at all what she is writing.

Anonymous said...

We've already got a robot that calls us racists. Isn't that enough?

Alex said...

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Mitch H. said...

How is it that no-one has mentioned Bender from Futurama, whose all-purpose epithet for the positronically impaired is "meatbags"?

Sam L. said...

Dems are insulting us sufficiently, sez I.

Sam L. said...

Alex, kudos for Ike's 3 Laws of Robotics!