Week_3 Robots from Childhood and Now by John Philip Bongco

Webster’s Dictionary defines robots as being “mechanical devices that sometimes resemble humans and are capable of performing a variety of often complex human tasks on command or by being programmed in advance”. I think my earliest memory of a robot is of the Nintendo Robotic Operating Buddy (or R.O.B.). R.O.B. served as a Nintendo gaming console accessory in the late 1980s (specifically in 1985). It came with two playable games and received gaming commands by detecting optical flashes produced by a television screen. Yes, R.O.B. may have seemed like a revolutionary gaming product at the time, but it certainly did not keep up with the way robots were and would be portrayed in films in the following years.

Contemporary movies generally depict robots as having abilities that do not seem possible: super strength, artificial (or real) intelligence, expressing emotion, taking over the earth, etc. In Bicentennial Man, Robin Williams’s character Andrew Martin goes on a quest to become human. He ends up getting the proper surgery to express emotion and have organs that are similar to humans. I guess it makes sense for researchers, engineers and scientists to be a little disappointed when we realize and acknowledge that our technology is not quite there yet. On the other hand, we have made some great advancement. In a sense, many machines can imitate human tasks that are a lot more efficient through the use of these highly-developed pieces of technology. In addition, we see them or these things in entertainment as already mentioned.

I just like the idea of taking a step back and appreciating the technology that we have—technology that should also be appreciated and analyzed as art. For example: animatronics (and robots in general) that we see in theme parks and the kinds of things Walt Disney enjoyed creating. Did you know that the Walt Disney employee Lee Adams was the first to make the audio-animatronics that we see at Disneyland? This includes the stuff that we love from childhood like: “It’s A Small World”, “Indiana Jones”, “Splash Mountain,” “Space Mountain”, etc. As a child, I was in awe of how real the rides look and even—at times—believed that I was in completely different world on some of the rides. Now, I appreciate the time Imagineers (the engineers that put Disney rides together and work in over 100 other engineer-based disciplines under Disney) took to give rides so much detail and such a realistic feel.  People should take into consideration the lighting, mechanics, sculpting, architecture, etc. that go into making these rides such a great experience for the millions that visit Disneyland each year. I will never forget how breath taking the beginning of the “Indiana Jones” ride at Disneyland is and the robots that were used to make it such a huge thrill.

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By: John Philip Bongco

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