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Technology’s Mimicry of the Organic?

2009 March 22
by Solomon Lutze

this is a topic worthy of more than a blog post, but all ideas start somewhere.

One of the things that really struck me about Metropolis was the way Robot-Maria moved. Her motions during the dancing scene were very robotic (as well as completely hilarious), but throughout the rest of it, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a snake or lizard. This scene is a pretty good example of what I’m thinking of:

Robot Maria on Youtube (forgive the alternate soundtrack)

The way her head jerks about and her eyes are in constant motion just made me think “reptile.” It was very interesting to me in part because it’s not what we usually think of as robotic. The robot that we see at first, sans Maria-skin, moves more like a robot “should:” upright, deliberate, efficiant. Robot-Maria, on the other hand, is asymmetrical, jerky, and so hunched over that if you tried to imitate her for a day you’d need a chiropractor after. Two thoughts immediately pop into my mind at this:

1. That this technology appears more organic than it does mechanical.

2. That this technology is, despite its appearance, astonishingly different from the orgamisim it was designed to emulate.

This venture into the uncanny valley is somewhat different from what we’re used to. Instead of having, for example, a robot that looks almost but not quite human, we have a robot that looks perfectly human, but behaves nothing like its inspiration. Though the workers in the deep below the metropolis may be fooled by this simulacrum, we the viewers – previously flooded with images of Maria’s calmness, symmetrical expressions, and fluidity of motion – are not convinced, and the robot’s shortcomings are obvious and horrifying.

My questions, then, are: When does technology attempt to mimic nature (naturally-occurring substances or organic life)? Is all technology an imitation of nature? When does technology fall short in its imitations, and when does it produce something more successful (and how would success be defined)? Is just being able to disguise technology as natural enough for some purposes (like in Metropolis)? Definitely enough questions for a paper . . .

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