News & Politics

Russian Robot Turns Out to Be Fake, Just Like Everything Else

Here’s the rule: If something can be automated, it will be automated. If a machine can perform a task more cheaply and efficiently than a human worker, that’s what will happen. That’s why professions like town crier and rickshaw driver and blogger are no longer in demand. That’s why “Please place item in bagging area” is the new “You’ve got mail.” That’s why, in the unlikely event that anybody is reading this, you’re reading it from a screen instead of a flimsy, disposable piece of pulverized wood that a kid threw on your lawn instead of your porch like you keep telling him. That’s why you can click a button and get pretty much anything you want delivered directly to your door within days, possibly hours. That’s why you’re not starving to death. (Quite the opposite, sorry to tell you…)

That’s why I’m a big fan of machines like Flippy, the burger-flipping robot that’s currently being tested at Walmart. Finally, you can buy a meal at Walmart without worrying that it’s been touched by an employee of Walmart!

Not all robots are good, though. Not all robots are even robots. In 2018, even the machines are no longer safe from the threat of identity theft.

Lukas Mikelionis, Fox News:

Russian state television praised a “hi-tech robot” at a technology forum that was actually a man inside a robot suit.

Russia-24, a state-owned television channel, applauded a man in a suit believing he was a real robot, saying that “Robot Boris has already learned to dance and he’s not that bad…”

Photos that emerged later showed the neckline of a person in a suit, revealing that the “robot” turned out to be a $3,800 “Alyosha the Robot” costume made by a company called Show Robots…

Makes sense. If the Russkies can steal an election from a crabby old lady, why can’t they steal a job from a robot?*

This is making me even more paranoid than usual, though. Now I’m thinking back to all those other “robots” we’ve been seeing for the past few years. Now I’m wondering how many of them were just guys in robot suits.

I mean, look at this. Just a few years ago, Boston Dynamics gave us this clumsy, pathetic piece of crap:

That junkheap could barely walk in a straight line! And yet now the big brains at BD claim they’ve developed this robotic super-ninja:

Either a lot of really smart guys used trial and error and science and stuff to figure out how to build a more humanlike robot, or that’s just a dude in a robot suit.

Which one seems more likely? Hmmmmmmm???

Or how about this guy?

Sure, I guess it’s possible we have the technology to build a robot that can do all that. But isn’t it more likely to be a dude drenched in metallic paint and thwarted dreams?

If what you’ve just read seems oddly and eerily stilted, that’s because this post was composed not by a burned-out, unshowered typist with dad bod and male pattern baldness, but by a highly sophisticated computer algorithm.** That nervous, unsettled feeling you got while reading it is known as “the uncanny valley,” which is based on the idea that valleys are super creepy. The queasiness you’re feeling will pass after some saltines, ginger ale, and Vox Dot Com.

*Just kidding. I don’t think the Russians really stole the election. They just put up fake Facebook memes that made your grandma vote for Trump. That’s why Hillary lost. It’s not her fault. #PutinDidIt
**Anybody who claims to know how an algorithm works is either lying or boring.