I Robot U Robot

Last night I finally got out to see I, Robot -- I'd loved those Asimov stories when I was younger. From age 11 to about 14 or so, I only read science fiction -- which meant I read everything -- good, bad, indifferent. Much of it doesn't stick with me at all now, but I remember the robot stories -- partly because in addition to being about robots (always a plus) they involved ethical quandaries and logical puzzles. The movie of course emphasizes the thriller/detection parts -- the robo-psychologist character, who's really strong in the book, is unfortunately diminished (because how would you sell a movie about a smart woman psychologist instead of a male action hero?). But it was enjoyable enough in the watching.

I would expect that we'll see more movies about robots in the next few years as the technology begins to catch up to the SF (these stories are from the 50s). A couple of years ago, there was Spielberg's beautiful, if too long and too Oedipal, meditation on boundaries of the human. A bit ahead of the curve. The presentation of the robots in this film, however, is probably a bit closer to what will eventually happen -- robots used to assist humans with tasks, rather than emulating personalities. But then eventually the code evolves. Plus, humans impart personalities to their robots, as I mentioned before with the Roomba.

Why more movies about robots? Sure, there's the general anxiety about technology run amok, wired culture, the death of human values, etc. But robots are an excellent analogue for fascism or slavery or even the corporate enslavement of underdeveloped nations. This movie made a few gestures in that direction -- enough to make me want to reread the Asimov stories to see their political echoes. The film was also glaringly filled with product placements -- his futuristic Audi car, his "retro" converse sneakers, FedEx, and many others. The reason the dangerous robots can have power in the film's story is largely because of consumerism -- people encouraged to trade in their old models for new -- the film nicely encapsulates the double-edges of late capitalism -- consumerism for identity (his much-commented on sneakers) and consumerism as threatening identity (the consumers trading up & the army of robots marching in the streets). Humans make the robots but also are the robots.