Robots Between the Past and the Future

Сегодня на 12-ом Конгрессе антропологов и этнологов России, проводимом в Ижевске 3-6 июля, был прочитан мой доклад “Робот: фигура будущего или ностальгический объект?” Читала его Elena Sokolova. Спасибо ей за это, а организатору, Sergey Sokolovskiy, – за приглашение участвовать.

Today at the XII Congress of Anthropologists and Ethnologists of Russia in Izhevsk, conducted in the 3-6 of July, my presentation
was delivered. It is titled “Robot: a Figure of the Future or Nostalgic Object?” It was read by Elena Sokolova. I am grateful to her, and to the organizer Sergey Sokolovskiy for the invitation.

Robot: a Figure of the Future or Nostalgic Object?

I was kindly invited by Sergey Sokolovskiy to participate in the XII Congress of Anthropologists and Ethnologists of Russia which will take place in the city of Izhevsk, 3-6 July, 2017

Была любезно приглашена Сергеем Соколовским участвовать в 12-ом Конгрессе Антропологов и Этнологов России, который состоится в Ижевске 3-6 июля 2017 года. Он пригласил меня подать заявку на секцию, им организованную, которая называется “Технологии и телесность: новые концепции и методы исследования”.

Тема заявлена следующим образом:
“В докладах секции предполагается обсуждение таких междисциплинарных тем как телесность и техника в философско-аналитических и феноменологических подходах, влияние современных технологий на человеческую телесность (ко-эволюция техники и тела), инженерные усилия по созданию гибридных биосоциотехнических систем, киборгизация, развитие способностей и возможностей человека с помощью новых технологий (human enhancement), влияние на тело техносреды с ее протоколами и ограничениями (дисциплинирование тела и т.н. воплощение/embodiment), современные подходы в рамках STS к исследованию взаимодействия человеческих акторов и техники, новые технологии и сенсорная антропология, онлайн-телесность и др.”

Я только что дописала план своего выступления. Не знаю, получится ли у меня съездить в Ижевск нынче летом, но я хочу поддержать этот замечательный проект хотя бы текстом (я давно интересуюсь темой; на встрече Американской Антропологической Ассоциации в 2016 году мой доклад назывался “Археология робототехники: останки Советских роботов”). Я бы говорила приблизительно о следующем:

Робот: фигура будущего или ностальгический объект?

Археология роботического, если такая наука будет существовать, реконструет робота как объект, пронизывающий пространства и времена. Уже сегодня гуманоидные, человекоподобные роботы 60-х годов — ностальгические объекты. Роботы возникли “вчера”, у них есть история. Будут ли роботы с нами завтра? И если да, то в каких формах? Какие функции у них будут? Будут ли они человекоподобными? И что это значит: быть “подобными человеку”?

В работе “Манифест киборга: наука, технология и социалистический феминизм конца двадцатого века” (1984), философ технологии и антрополог Донна Харауэй предложила такое прочтение фигуры киборга, которое послужило развитию дискуссии вокруг вопросов: что такое человеческое и нечеловеческое, живое и мертвое, одушевленное и неодушевленное, и где между данными категориями пролегают неверные границы?

В эсхатологиях антропоцена, эти границы, пористые и проницаемые, мерцают и дышат. Границы нарушаются каждый день. Люди погружены в телефоны, которые создают аффект связанности всего мира и взаимовлияния вещей в нем — взаимовлияния, осуществляющегося при посредстве технологий. Одновременно, новые технологии отчуждают человека от ей подобных и от нее самой, от того, что может быть названо “реальным” опытом присутствия. Люди взаимодействуют с роботами — машинами, инструментами, технологиями — и в этих взаимодействиях, возможно, сами становятся киборгианскими сочленениями.

Роботы существовали с незапамятных времен — если не как сконструированные создания, то как создания воображенные. Они прошли через эпохи, меняя внешность, пол, функции: андрогинные, выраженно феминные, электронные гейши (иногда бестелесные, как Сири), и подчеркнуто маскулинные, подобно трансформерам с планеты Киботрон. Роботы населяют не только реальный мир, но и утопические видения, будь то захватывающие галлюцинации массовой культуры или пророческие мечты изобретателей. Как роботы меняют представления человечества о человеческом? Как человек изменяется в процессе конструирования роботов и со-трудничества с ними?

 

Robot and Ruin at UT

It is confirmed that I am reading a lecture at the University of Texas at Austin in the Fall semester of 2016, in the course Introduction to Cultural Anthropology (Professor James Slotta), on the 17th of October, 2-3 PM, ART 1.102.

The lecture is titled Robot and Ruin: Nostalgic / Ethnographic Object.

The reading to the lecture is an amazing essay A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century, written by Donna Haraway in 1985, accessible on the Internet as a PDF for those who are interested.

Please get ready.

Robotic Producers

In the Soviet modernity, not only mechanisms should have been exploited beyond their limits, not only workers were expected and were trying to surpass themselves in effectiveness of their labor, but living beings, cared and mediated by humans, were also enhancing beyond belief the hidden capacities of their bodies.

The instruments of the rising biopower were eugenics, active human-led environmental change, and husbandry loaded with the ideological demand of demonstrating the superiority of the Socialist governmentality.

When Foucault described what he called “anatomo-politics of the human bodies,” which presupposed “the body as a machine,” processed through different stages of disciplining and optimization (Foucault, 1978, 139), he did not mention that the bodies going through all the stages of the cycle which had to make them more efficient and more docile, were not only human. The non-human body was also a cog of the state gear wheel.

Marshalled by the regimes of biopower, pigs were becoming reproduction machines, cows—biorobots, chickens—egg conveyers, rats—laboratory instruments, sheep—fur-generating automatons, and dogs—alive mechanisms of cosmic exploration. Cows, pigs, sheep, chicken, geese, and all the breathing beings had to be useful, give what was demanded of them, and reproduce themselves; they were counted, weighed, measured, compared, exhibited; their products calculated, scaled, pasteurized, and distributed; their offsprings enumerated, examined, and their further trajectories decided.

The ubiquity and wide implementation of the process was like a mass madness, a lunacy of daydreaming caught in a swarm of hectic, frenetic activity giving no rest nor respite to humans and nonhumans alike. Seven-year-plans of developing of the Soviet economics were finished in five years, and five-year-plans in three years. The central and regional newspapers were dappled with “949 liters of milk for each cow in four months received milkmaid Nosova”; “milkmaid Melentyeva is taking an obligation to milk 2900 liters per cow” in a year; animals almost took Socialistic obligations as well: at least a sheep of the Ust Uda region in one kolkhoz was planned to produce 2,6 kg of fur a year; one hundred ewes were expected to bring one hundred five lambs a year; one sow bred 12 piglets; plants did not hang behind either: one hectare was supposed to produce 12,5 centners of crops, and so on (examples are from “Angarskaya Pravda” #42 (2093), 1960).

All across the Soviet Union individual milkmaids, steelmakers, coalminers, conveyer operators, and well as collective farms and enterprises, were taking on “raised obligations” (povishennie obyazatelstva) to produce, manufacture, assemble, make, complete, and accomplish. Every new achievement, were it a number of tons of steel or eggs per chicken, was soon surpassed, record broken, and it seemed that there will be no ending to enlarged capacities of the body, plant, machine, and metal.

Milkmaids were not just milking and taking care of cows, but “created milk rivers,” transforming the trope of fairy tales into the Soviet reality. Delicate corn was all of a sudden growing in Siberian taiga, Northern tundra, and Central Asia semisavanna for that sole reason that such was the wise decision of the Party. Michurin’s amazing apples not only were about to bloom in the regions which were historically too cold or too dry for them previously, but it was only a matter of time, and of several decades at that, until said apples would adorn the Mars’s rusty surface with the carpets of their shed petals and then fruits.

In such context, it was only too reasonable that prairies were transubstantiated into arable land and rivers had to be turned around and rush towards their streambeds, irrigating deserts. In 1947, the project of the near-Pole Salekhard-Igarka railway, which had to be built in permafrost, began emerging as a parallel to Baikal-Amur Mainline; the construction of Salekhard-Igarka was necessary not only in order to develop communications in the scarcely populated region, but also to shield the country from the enemies’ backstabbing blow which they could deliver any moment from the unprotected lands of the Arctic. People who were working on the railroad, imprisoned and converted into forced labor, were thrown into naked, barren landscapes, and expected to protect themselves by extracting out of thin air the shelters and sustenance, much as they were expected at other sites of the “constructions of the century.”

“Breathers” became robotic producers of goods and themselves; when the body is a machine, its frailty is but an annoying obstacle, and the stock of such bodies is practically inexhaustible, but recreatable, refillable, and restorable. Those had to be bodies brimming with enthusiasm, euphoric exaltation of living and participation in a great project of building the Sovietopia: the model of the future for the whole world.

Archeology of the Robotic

The archeology of robots unfolds robotic creatures as an object traversing spaces and time; humanoid robots are nostalgic objects. Employing Donna Haraway’s (1991) notion of cyborg, I ask where is the division between human and non-human, alive and dead, animate and inanimate, is situated now, in the anthropocene eschatologies? Where do we transgress these digressions, with our fascination with phones, which create the affect of interconnectedness with the world but simultaneously alienate us from what might be called “real” experiences of presence? How do we interact with robots?

The phones and other devices, starting with electronic pet prosthesically standing for the figure of lack and allowing to become a caregiver of nonbiological entity, like Tamagotchi (Allison, 2006, 2013), account for our fascination with self-representation online, including the practices of selfie-taking and checking-in-ing in the places visited and consumed. By constructing identity through the means of sharing and reblogging and thus co-authoring of the content, we are thoroughly less (or more) or rather otherly human than we were but twenty years ago.

However, robots already existed at the time, if not constructed, than envisioned. They went through the epochs changing appearances, gender, and sexuality: androgynous, manifestly feminine, like early “maids,” and exageratedly masculine, like transformers from the planet Cybotron. Racially, contemporary robots are overwhelmingly “white,” which corresponds with the politics of racializations and power dynamics.

Cyborgs emerge as a response to disability in cases of the transplantation of artificial heart or employing prostheses. Robots still belong to the future, yet they visibly mark our presence. The transformative power of the machines, toys, gadgets, tools, has been long employed by humans in order to enhance the capacities of the body and increase production of goods. Humanoid robots were envisioned as forms intendedly anthropomorphic, and pet robots are often caninomorhic (see BigDog).

The feeling of mysterious horror, which robots excessively resembling humans, trigger, is known as uncanny valley; a poetic and space-related metaphor. This is the affective state where curiosity, fear, dread, and denial are mixed together.

Robots challenge our understanding of moral and become the subjects in courts, changing practices of law and producing precedents (Calo, 2016). Robotic disembodied voices, like Siri, are interrogated by users to fulfill erotic fantasies, and become the absolute geisha in the frustrated dreamworlds of unattainable desires.

Robots explore the surfaces of planets and depths of the oceans, are used in military actions, droids become the ideal apparatus of surveillance embodying state sovereignty, driverless cars and planes provoke fear, spell checkers influence writing, ubiquitous video cameras entice paranoia, agglomeration of devices serve as the machinery of collective memory and archives. This is the nascent world we are inhabiting, technology creating infrastructure and shaping interactions merging public and private into what I would call pubvate. As is often the case, while science, computational and engineering technologies build towards creation of the anthropomorphic robot, the quick, liquid imagination of mass culture generated tremendous amounts of multifarious robotic creatures.

Robots are hypothesized to replace the whole clusters of human laborers which were previously considered within the realm of human creative genius, such as doctors (Cohn, 2013) and translators, and even writers, lately, with a program having written a novel metapragmatically called “The Day A Computer Writes A Novel.” As during the industrialization the machines had replaced the weavers, dispossessing human workers, the new wave of technologization might dispossess the new clusters of workers. Additionally, biomimicking robots start replacing animal agents in scientific research, including medicinal. What does the world of the future look like, with the the increasing presence of robots and humans’ drift towards becoming more cyborgian, and how this vision of the future influences and shapes our presence?

References

Haraway, Donna. A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late 20th Century. Springer Netherlands, 2006.

Allison, Anne. Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination. University of California Press, 2006

Allison, Anne. Precarious Japan. Durham and London, Duke University Press, 2013

Calo, Ryan. Robots in American Law. Talk at the University of Texas in Austin, 3/22/2016

Cohn, Jonathan. “The Robot Will See You Now.” The Atlantic, March 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/03/the-robot-will-see-you-now/309216/ [retrieved 4/2/2016]