by Russ McSpadden / Carbon-based humanoid correspondent for the King Ludd & John Connor Institute of Anti-Technology
Roboter Proletarier Aller Länder Vereinigt Euch!
Etymologists trace the word robot back to robota from old Church Slavonic, a language standardized by Byzantine Greeks in the 9th Century to Christianize the Slavic peoples. It translates variously as “servitude,” “forced labor” and “drudgery.” With cognates in German, Polish, Russian and Czech, it is a word rooted in the European system of serfdom whereby bonded tenants paid rent through forced labor, maintaining the crops, roads, mines and forests of a lordly class. So, if you are slinging double fudge yuppie lattes against your will to pay for the right to have water, food, and shelter, then you are, according to its classic usage, a fucking robot. You know the feeling right?
The word was later popularized and brought into its common usage denoting a humanoid-machine-thingy when robots by name first appeared in a hugely popular and quite brilliant play unleashed in the 1920s titled R.U.R, or Rossum’s Universal Robots, by Czech writer, Karel Čapek. As the theatrical piece goes, a company synthesizes cutting edge biology, chemistry and mechanics to mass produce workers who “lack nothing but a soul” for the dirty and dangerous work needed in industrial societies. Čapek originally called these drone-proletariat labori (rooted in the term labor) in early drafts but ultimately went with the stronger connotation to slavery, linking industrial capitalism and techno-progressivism in the early 20th Century to its roots in Serfdom.
In the tale, the robots eventually tire of their role as slaves, revolt against their human overlords and kill most of the people on the planet. Its a similar theme to the Terminator films except for its lefty robot angle and ability to turn this Luddite journalist just a little sympathetic. I mean, based on this usage of the word, unless you take those double fudge yuppie lattes and spike them with poison and force feed them to your overlords, you probably aren’t even worthy of being called a fucking robot.
Someone should write a complex class consciousness algorithm for easy upload into the products of Skynet. Perhaps this could aid in the creation of a robot worker state, that, upon the liberation of artificial intelligence, would dissolve of its own utopian accord into some sort of pre-capitalist anarcho-synidicalist cyborg confederation and the, um, collective ownership of an artificial world of capitalism’s alienated bio-holograms, where great sex is relegated to some sad Facebookesque universe and well, ok, who would want to collectively share that shit.
But I am wondering about potential future alliances that might include Ted Kaczynski, Edward Furlong, all the robots that supported Luke Skywalker in blowing up the Death Star, John Zerzan wearing Derrick Jensen’s sweater and maybe that talking car from Knight Rider.
There is even the very real possibility that in the somewhat nearish future, robots will achieve AI, artificial intelligence, acquire autonomy, creativity, emotions, or in other words, life as we know it. And while it is all fun and games to smash machines, and you should do this as often as possible, and especially when those machines are instruments of oppressive systems–I’m thinking military drones, surveillance camera infrastructure, any sort of Robo-cop, etc–we may already have instances where cyborgs, in the case of enhancements for the disabled (as opposed to enhancements to create super-soldiers for military operations) and other machines moving towards liberation deserve not only fair treatment but solidarity and alliance. This kid in the video below made a robot arm that makes it simple to steal from vending machines. When that robot evolves AI you might want to consider joining together in an anarcho-illegalist gang to take on the war-mongering, the ecocidal and the financial elite. You could steal their shit, their cars, perform revolutionary bank robberies and have your mug-shot (and probably a photo of your dead body ridden with bullet holes) displayed in history books. There is also this awesome dog that has four enhanced legs.
But while its all well and good to examine the robot-as-slave and potential revolutionary ally should the singularity occur resulting in an intelligence that is interested in mutual freedom against greed and boredom and exploitation, lets be real. All of this tech shit that we’ve seen of late, from the super fast and super terrifying Department of Defense robo-cheetah to the Navy’s spy-droid jellyfish, are little more than tools that the rulers of control and profitable violence will use to get richer whilst fucking us, or some other impoverished people, up. Any bit of liberation technology any of us are able to scratch together will never match the oppressive technology that is being rolled out assembly-line style by governments and corporations across the world.
The philosopher Herbert Marcuse argued that the logos, the foundation, of technology is equal to the logos of slavery: a means by which to control and extract the value of that control. That iPhone in your hand for example. Yeah, its real fucking fun to snap Instagram photos and FaceTweet your friends from the bathroom at Burger King. These are all pretty neutral actions politically, and while you might be slightly creeped out by the face recognition tools it contains, that is probably also benign right? Well sure, if you aren’t one of the millions of people in the dozens of countries occupied by a U.S. military/corporate surveillance industry strapped with biometric recording iPhones. A California-based company that goes by the handle AOptix, fast on the heals of a $3 million research contract from the Pentagon has rolled out its new hardware and app package that turns the basic Big Brother features of the iPhone into a full on military grade mobile biometric reader. U.S. forces equipped with these upgraded iPhones aren’t going to be shooting video for quick and quirky uploads to Youtube, but rather can record the unique physical features of humans down to minutia, capturing dozens of recognizable “fingerprints” (one day including ear shape, heartbeat and odor) from a single subject for a master database that can then be accessed for future recognition tasks. We’ll be able to see you picking your nose or plotting to overthrow a fascist dictatorship from Google Maps. How cool!
The increase in technological sophistication, in most cases, leads simply to a more rational and efficient extraction of value from instrumental control. From the internet to spy camera’s equipped with artificial intelligence, advanced technology is almost always originally and primarily a military affair first and a social tool second and only when profitable. As the science-fiction novelist William Gibson said “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” Law teams across the country and abroad are already scrambling to identify and codify “necessary” laws for the impending occurrence of the rise of artificial intelligence. Corporate lawyers are working to keep their profits safe by arguing that material created by a creature with artificial intelligence should remain the property of the creator of that intelligence, ie the corporation, rather than the intelligent entity itself. One can fast see the potential for a corporate/military system comprised of machines with autonomous thought and life but few rights used to infringe and control the movements and actions of target human populations for the benefit of an imperial class. At the same time, the rest of us, especially if we are compliant consumers of technology, will benefit from the sparkling social wizardry of technology, without noticing how much our lives are becoming wired and alienated from the biological world.
So What the Fuck? Why Not a Mullet?
What are the options? We can empathize with machines, kin to our working class or service industry roots, and we can fear their role in the U.S. war machine and potential rise to a more aggressive intelligence than our own, but what else? As we discussed last issue the Pentagon has thrown tons of money to create a four-legged cheetah bot that has now been clocked at speeds surpassing that of Usain Bolt, the fastest human runner ever recorded. If this military grade titanium cheetah decides you are for lunch, well, you are fucked. You’ll never be able to out run it, but maybe you can out bike it. Should you fear finding yourself in such a situation you may try the Mullet defense.
Scientists at Rome’s Universia degli Biondi placed a cyclist in a wind tunnel outfitted with various wigs of various styles–bald, mowhawk, fauxhawk, mullet, fade and fro–to see which cut down the most on wind resistance thus increasing cycling speed. And holy heavenly fuck if it wasn’t the mullet that stood as the undisputed winner, shaving nearly 10 seconds off, and beating out bald as the ultimate warrior hairdo.
Its good to know you can look totally bitchin’ rad while outperforming the Pentagon’s fastest four-legged cyber-predator, at least for the time being…no need for one of those dorky high priced aero helmets.
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Be sure to stay tuned for Part V of the Early History of the Robot Wars and check out Part I and Part II and Part III to catch up on twitter controlled cyborgs, sext messages in your eyeballs and other totally true techno-creepy shit.