i Robot – Disturbing Automation

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Real Life


Robot “Doctor Who”

Even leaving aside the pop culture jokes about Skynet from the Terminator series and similarly-themed science fiction that provides a violent robot revolution, the future of automation has some unsettling possibilities. On the most practical level, there’s the potential impact many more jobs becoming automated will have on the economy for the working class. There are the military applications, even if the extra step is never taken of installing artificial intelligence in them.

 And likeliest of all, what if, in attempts to make them highly efficient but still useful, their designers end up making them look really creepy? Or even worse, what if designers try to make them look really relatable and end up just barely off enough that the result is more unsettling than robots intended to kill?

10. Osaka University’s Female Simulants

You wouldn’t think that “receptionist” or “news reader” are positions that it would be expedient to automate. They don’t come with any particular health risks or more immediate danger, and projecting an air of warmth and welcoming seems the thing an inanimate object is least qualified to do. A team at the Department of Systems Innovation at Osaka University, headed by Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, nevertheless decided to devote years working on robots that look as much like conventionally attractive women as possible. Among the models that were previewed at an exhibit in 2014 were the kodomoroid, which was designed to serve as a new anchor, and the Otonaroid, which was supposed to be a science communicator. In 2016 Ishiguro’s team displayed “Erica,” a robot that’s meant to serve as a receptionist, to Bloomberg magazine.

The facial features and skin for these robots are impeccable; at least as good as anything that was ever shown at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. However, the way they move their jaws and the lack of articulation in their eyes makes them seem unnervingly mindless. Also, what’s it say about the personnel at your business that the only way you can keep a receptionist is to purchase a robot?

9. Sophia

Osaka University is by no means alone in the field of making robotic versions of conventionally attractive women. David Hanson, founder of Hanson Robotics, has created an android modeled on Audrey Hepburn and his wife that he dubbed “Sophia.” The android has a large amount of articulation in “her” face and excellently textured skin, although why Hanson left the robot with a transparent back cranium reminiscent of the film Ex Machina is unclear. At present the thing that makes Sophia discomforting is that while she has an array of convincing facial expressions, the way she transitions between them is overly precise and unnatural and her artificial voice is emotionless and, again, overly precise.

Hanson’s got another project, which he released in 2005, will seem only too appropriate to fans of science fiction. He has created an android in tribute to author Philip K. Dick, called PKD. If you’re unfamiliar, Dick was the author of stories such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (better known by the film adaptation’s moniker, Blade Runner), which deal in a sometimes surreal manner with the uncertain subjects of identity, memory, and living beings being replaced with automatons. No doubt the author would be horrified to see this robot or have an identity crisis.  Gotta say, good one Hanson!

8. Underwater Snakes

These Norwegian aquatic robots, which were announced in April 2016, bring to mind the Sentinel robots from the Matrix film series, especially with its ominous red glowing eyes. They were developed by the Norwegian organization Kongsberg Maritime and a natural gas and oil company called Statoil to perform underwater observation and inspection. With it’s lack of fins, propellers, and related forms of locomotion (“thrusters” is the term they use in their videos), it’s ideally suited to enter tight, enclosed spaces and allow flexible analysis, even under severe water pressure.

Presumably, considering the nature of the parent company, the intent was to be able to quickly analyze damaged offshore platforms for faster repairs, though it’s also likely going to be useful for inspecting sunken ships and other wrecks. It goes to show that a robot being a bit creepy does not mean that it is useless.

7. Victorian-Era Crawling Baby Robot

It may be surprising to learn that handheld dolls were designed that could move on their own six years before there were dolls with audio recordings installed in them. In 1871, an engineer named Robert J. Clay patented this device, a slight improvement over his original design. Even this was not the model that eventually went to market, as his employer George Clark redesigned it.

Not that even his version was a success, since it was too heavy for a little girl to play with, to say nothing of how easy it was to break in an era when replacement parts weren’t easily ordered. Still, this early robot is honored by the Smithsonian Museum of American History’scollection instead of being buried deep underground where it can never enter a nightmare again. You’d think they’d at least put some clothes on the display model.

6. Pregnancy Simulator

In 2015, the company Gaumard Scientific released a birth training robot for medical students, beginning with Boston University. Even though they cost $62,500, they seem like a bargain for how thoroughly designed they are for the many factors involved in birth. The blood pressure of mother and baby are monitored. So are the oxygen levels. They are settings for vaginal birth, emergency breech birth, and cesarean sections, and forty-six other contingency conditions. They are not 100% autonomous, as the instructors are needed at controls as well, but they’re still vastly more effective than regular old mannequins, and even seasoned students have said they’re “intimidating.” Probably because they didn’t want to admit how creepy the uncanny robots they’re using are.

Since a doctor can hardly expect a birth to be a clean, pleasant process, the robots have been designed to reflect that. The robots aren’t just capable of making noise in response to stimulus that would be painful for a human. They also have blood packs installed in them for bleeding, and the ability to vomit. It’s a bit off-putting that all of them are designed to have permanent expressions of frozen horror, but then again, the doctor probably shouldn’t be looking up there too much anyway.

5. Affeto the Robot Baby

The uncanny valley is mentioned a lot when a robot is so close to a human being, but not quite there. But this particular robot, another one from Osaka University, doesn’t look that close to a human being, yet it’s much more unsettling than the robot receptionists and everything else from our previous entries. If nothing else, Hisashi Ishihara and Minoru Asada’s 2012 creation really goes to show just how far the development of artificial skin has come in the past few years.

It must be said that the demo video for this robot is needlessly creepy. It begins by showing the mechanical inner workings of Affeto, and considering it has twenty pneumatic actuators, it has very mobile arms and a pretty flexible spine. Then they take a moment to show that an artifical ribcage was made for it, as if the skinless face didn’t already closely resemble a skull with eyeballs. Finally, they show what it looks like with skin, and the flesh color could only be described as corpse white. All told, it’s an impressive feat of engineering for a year and a half of work, and very far from cute.

4. Spermazoidal Medical Microbots

As far as robots that operate in aquatic environments go, 2016 also witnessed the announcement of robots so small and useful that they make the somewhat similarly designed underwater snakes from the eighth entry on our list look quaint. They’re robots small enough that they can be injected into the bloodstream that, through the use of harmless electromagnetic fields outside the body, can be made to move tails like bacterial flagellum so that they can “swim” through the body.

Indeed, the design for these microbots was directly inspired by studying bacteria. The idea is that they can operate around or even clear up blood clots, or be used to apply medicine directly where it’s needed in the host’s body. It should be noted that while there are many working prototypes available, inventors Selman Sakar, Hen-Wei Wuang, and Bradley Nelson stressed in their announcement that these robots are still very much in the research and development phase. So it will still be a while before you have to worry about the mental image of countless microscopic tadpole-like robots being remote-controlled through your body.

3. Cassie

This robot, which is mostly just a pair of legs, was unveiled by Agility Robotics, a company comprised of Oregon State University students, in 2017. The company has very high aspirations for this chicken-legged robot that was developed with a million dollar grant. Beyond being used for commercial deliveries and search and rescue missions, Agility Robotics claims that it will function in highly radioactive areas, making it ideal for dealing with nuclear waste.

Cassie’s backward legs are useful in allowing it access to areas that cannot be reached by most wheeled robots. On the other hand, its central component looks like the head of the ED-209 robot from the film Robocop and the thigh areas on its legs look like odd growths.CNBC’s news story on the release of the robot bluntly (but accurately) called it “creepy.”

2. Bomb Robot

Not every robot needs to look creepy to be disturbing. This particular robot is benign in appearance and usually its purpose is almost heroic. However, on July 8, 2016, police in Dallas, Texas were engaged with active shooter Micah Xavier Johnson, who’d barricaded himself in a parking garage. Johnson had been suspected of fatally shooting four officers and wounding seven others during his pursuit and claimed that he’d placed bombs inside the parking garage. Rather than risk any more lives, the police turned to a historically unprecedented solution: they attached an explosive to a bomb removal unit, and used it to take down Johnson.

Now just to be clear, this is in no way a condemnation of the Dallas Police Department. Considering the number of people that had been killed, it is perfectly understandable to neutralize the suspect in such a way. But imagine the precedent this may establish for using robots to deliver bombs to neutralize other suspects or enemy combatants. Or imagine if someone with less morally justifiable motivation than the Dallas Police decides to employ robots in this manner.

1. Robot with the Face of Your Friend

It’s uncomfortable enough to see a face on a robot that’s not quite human. So imagine how disquieting it would be to see the distorted face of a family member, friend, or coworker projected from the inside onto a mannequin head for the duration of an online chat. That’s the promise of the Socibot-Mini, made by the British company Engineered Arts.

First appearing on the market in 2014, it’s built with a connection to a camera that does a 3D scan of the face of the caller speaking through the device, and it also scans the face of the person responding to the face to adjust the facial expression it projects. A reporter for New Scientist claimed it’s accurate enough for the computer to guess the person’s age. Additionally it has a neck that can be remotely adjusted so that the distorted face can maintain a sight line with the other caller. Even Will Jackson, one of the product’s developers, described it as “spooky as all hell.”

Not that it stopped Jackson and the rest of Engineered Arts from charging $9,500 for it. There were plans for a Kickstarter campaign, but no evidence of one ever being attempted surfaced online.

i Robot

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– Disturbing Automation

Popular Movie Locales – WIF at the Movies

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Places Hollywood Can’t

Resist Filming At

10. Trefil Quarry


Trefil Quarry is a large hole in the ground located in South East Wales that features such exciting landmarks as “some rocks” and “a pool of water”. Along with being almost completely bereft of any distinguishing features, the quarry is also located in a relatively difficult to get to area in one of the colder parts of the UK.

So what have they filmed there?

Well for starters the quarry was chosen as one of the primary filming locations for the bloated cinematic turd known as Wrath of the Titans with many of the film’s larger set-pieces, like the Greek Parthenon, being built for real at the quarry’s base.

The quarry has also been used to represent a barren, lifeless planetscape in the film Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and has been featured in both classic and new episodes of Dr. Who, like Planet of the Ood, where it is used to represent the home planet of the eponymous Ood, a race of disgusting penis-faced aliens. It also appeared prominently in episodes of the British magic-drama Merlin because apparently Trefil Quarry is the only place in Britain that has both rocks and water.

9. Pacific Electric Building


A somewhat large building in Los Angeles, Pacific Electric holds the unimpressive record of being neither, according to Wikipedia, “the first modern building in Los Angeles, nor the tallest”. Though the building is reasonably large and it looks kind of important, it doesn’t really have much going for it other than that it’s “sort of big”.

So what have they filmed there?

Oh, just the massive shoot-out in Face/Off where Nic Cage slow-mo dives through the air firing two golden pistols while Somewhere Over the Rainbowplays in the background. In regard to that particular scene, it was filmed in the loft apartments of the Pacific Electric Building, while its lower levels have been used as a stand-in for police headquarters in Seven and the place where Forrest Gump decided to ring in the New Year with Lt. Dan before he gets his space legs.

8. The Ebell of Los Angeles


The Ebell is a famed women’s club with a theatre that has played host to lectures by some of the world’s biggest stars and experts. It’s also noted as being the last place Amelia Earhart ever made a public appearance before she mysteriously disappeared forever. While this is all very interesting, none of it screams “flexible filming space”.

So what have they filmed there?

A more fitting question to this part would be: what haven’t they filmed at the Ebell? According to the club’s own website its large theater rooms have served as a filming location for films as diverse as The Artist, Fight Club, Air Force One and The Addams Family, with it being used to film the scene where Gomez and Morticia buy back their property from an auction. The Ebell has also served as a backdrop for shows like Prison Break, My Name is Earl andWhose Wedding Is It Anyway?

For anyone wanting an easy way to see if a film or TV show has filmed a scene at Ebell, our advice is to look for either the iconic pillars, which were, for example, used in Gilmore Girls, or its famous stage, which has appeared in multiple films, most notably The Artist (which used CGI to make it look ever bigger, for reason). Failing that, if a film features a wedding scene, it’s probably going to have been filmed at the Ebell because when it isn’t hosting lectures, it’s also a popular wedding venue, because who doesn’t want to get married in the same place they filmed The Addams Family?

7. Bronson Canyon


Bronson Canyon is a barren set of rocks and caves, handily located in Griffith Park in Los Angeles, that were formed as part of a mining operation back in the early 20th century. The caves are a popular tourist trap, mainly due to how easy they are to reach on foot, regardless of how sweaty you might get while walking.

So what have they filmed there?

Thanks to the unique combination of looking “sort of barren” but also being “really easy to get to” the caves have been featured in a baffling array of films from modern blockbusters like Return of the Killer Shrews and Mega Python vs. Gatoroid, to early serials like Flash Gordon, Zorro Rides Again andAttack of the Crab Monsters.

The cave entrance itself also holds the distinction of being the hidden entrance of the freaking Batcave in the 1960s Batman series as well as being used in other, non-Batman related media.

6. Golden Ears Provincial Park


The weirdest thing about Golden Ears Provincial Park is that it actually has an interesting and easily identifiable landmark in the form of two mountainous peaks which locals have historically likened to a gigantic set of golden ears, hence the name “Golden Ears Provincial Park”. However, none of the films set here ever actually bother to make use of this curious landmark and instead simply film in the woods surrounding the peaks filled with decidedly uninteresting trees you could find in any other park in Canada.

So what have they filmed there?

Perhaps the most notable movied filmed in the park, or at least the one that spent the most time here is Rambo: First Blood with the park being the place where Rambo kicks the ample asses of all those overweight police officers.

Curiously, the park is also where they filmed the scene in X-Men: The Last Stand in which Wolverine punch-stabs like 30 dudes, meaning the park has been the backdrop for not one, but two scenes in which a guy with kick-ass hair stabs people while running through the woods. Other movies filmed in the park include Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and that one scene in Twilight where Edward and Bella run through the woods at Mach 3.

5. The Brandeis-Bardin Institute


According to their own website, the Brandeis-Bardin Institute is a place “Committed to the artistic, cultural, intellectual, and environmental pursuits of the Jewish people” and the campus mainly serves as a hub for young Jewish people from around the world to learn and explore their heritage.

So what have they filmed there?

Well, see if you can guess from that picture up above of the BCI’s library. For anyone who didn’t watch television in the ’90s, that’s the Command Center for the goddamn Power Rangers before being lazily photoshopped onto the top of a remote mountain.

While looking at that image we’d like you to keep in mind that the BCI is a famous, easily accessible building in California. So just for a second imagine how many kids in California ended up thinking that only Jewish kids could become Power Rangers after they drove past this place in the ’90s and recognized it from the show.

Moving on, along with being the place Zordon and Alpha-5 liked to chill in between missions, the BCI library has also appeared in Star Trek twice as both Lore Borg’s compound and Camp Khitomer. Fans of Tenacious D may also recognize the BCI as the Rock and Roll History Museum from the Pick of Destiny just in case you didn’t think this library could have a more badass filmography.

4. Battersea Power Station


Located in London, this grimy, disused power station hasn’t produced a single watt of power since the ’80s yet has somehow become one of London’s best known landmarks, seemingly because they can’t stop filming movies there.

So what have they filmed there?

Starting way back in the ’30s, the power station is featured prominently in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1936 film Sabotage with the film’s eponymous act ofsabotage actually taking place at the station and the station itself appearing briefly in a shot behind a man in a very fetching hat.

More recently than that the station has appear in several classic episodes ofDr. Who, including The War Machines and The Dalek Invasion of Earth in which it’s iconic smoke stacks are shown to have been severely damaged by the Daleks. Despite unmistakably being a power station, Battersea Power Station has also doubled as everything from a burnt out warehouse in The Dark Knight to an Eastern European military base in a MacGyver made for TV movie.

Moving away from film and TV, the power station has also appeared in multiple music videos and on several album covers, most famously, Pink Floyd’s Animals.

3. Torrance High School


Being a California high school located within a stone’s throw of Hollywood probably explains why whenever a film needs to film something inside of a school, they go here and set up a camera while throwing piles of money at gawking students to stop them flipping out their genitals as soon as they start rolling. The school is also known for once hosting a soccer match between America and Canada in 1991, which is something, we guess.

So what have they filmed here?

Unsurprisingly the school is the primary filming location of several teen dramas set at or around schools, like Beverly Hills 90210 and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, with Torrance serving as a stand-in for the fictional Sunnydale High School Buffy and her friends attend.

Torrance High School is also where filmmakers decided to film both She’s All That and rather hilariously, Not Another Teen Movie, which was a direct parody of She’s All That’s plot, which shows that the guys who filmed Not Another Teen Movie were either really on the ball, or really lazy.

Oh and before anyone runs to IMDB to check, yes, Paul Walker was in She’s All That.

2. Randy’s Donuts


Randy’s Donuts is, rather shockingly a store that sells donuts founded in the 50’s by a guy called, erm, Russell. The buildings main and only notable feature is a gigantic 30 foot wide donut perched on top of it.

So what have they filmed there?

To put it bluntly, Randy’s basically has a monopoly over giant donut architecture and anytime a film, TV show or music video inexplicably needs a scene centred around a colossal circular pastry, Randy’s is there. It was famously used in Mars Attacks under the unconvincing moniker of “Donut World”, and it’s where Iron Man recovered from an epic hangover inside of the donut itself in Iron Man 2.

And as proof the donut doesn’t even need a building to support it, the huge, fake pastry makes a cameo appearance in the Red Hot Chili Peppers video,Californication, under the name Andy.

The donut has also been parodied by The Simpsons, featuring prominently in the episode Marge vs. the Monorail, where it saves Homer and dozens of others from certain death just by being there.

1. Vasquez Rocks


Vasquez Rocks is a natural rock formation formed by a process our geography teachers assured us is known as “erosion”. The rocks are historically significant in America because the area the rocks are found in used to be populated by Tataviam American Indians, and because the infamous bandito Tiburcio Vásquez once hid here, hence the name, Vasquez Rocks.

So what have they filmed there?

Oh, just about everything. While the rocks are perhaps best known as the place Captain Kirk slapped the crap out of a Gorn in Star Trek.

They’ve appeared in countless pieces of media ranging from the live-actionFlintstones film to The Muppet MovieIn regard to Star Trek, the rocks have appeared in so many episodes of the original series and subsequent films, that the producers used CGI to make the formation a permanent fixture of the Vulcan planet in the 2009 reboot of the franchise.

Because of course they did. These rocks are practically a part of Star Trekcanon at this point.­­­­

Movie Locales

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– WIF at the Movies