Yes Indeed, We Prefer the Robot
In “A Toy Princess,” a fairy tale from the 1877 collection On a Pincushion by English writer Mary de Morgan, an emotional and expressive princess named Ursula grows up in a kingdom of such incredible politeness that its subjects have demonized almost any form of empathy or feeling. This isolation leaves Ursula in poor health until the timely intervention of a fairy godmother who sends her to a loving home, creating a synthetic princess in Ursula’s place. The automaton possesses four phrases: “Just so,” “Yes indeed,” “Thank you,” and “If you please” (on the bright side, she wasn’t entirely monosyllabic). Years later when the kingdom is forced to choose between the two princesses as their future Queen, they select the robot.
The BBC adapted “A Toy Princess” for the small screen 89 years after its initial publication, de Morgan having succumbed to tuberculosis in 1907.
Danger Gives Way to Hugs
For writers Victorian to modern, the mechanization of labor—with its steampunk possibilities and clockwork automation – stands in cold and unfeeling contrast to the suppleness, grace and warmth of our animal/emotional existence. Following their lead from these writings, factories segregated robots from human employees due to the realistic fears of metal crushing flesh, among other potential mishaps. Two known cases of human-robot fatalities occurred in 1979 and 1981, both transportation industry-related. Three-and-a-half decades later, engineers have made significant strides, imbuing droid workers with response and personification modules. Expressive robots, like Baxter from Rethink Robotics, function side-by-side with their human counterparts. And if that fails, there’s always the Sense-Roid HugBot.
South Korea’s Incheon Metropolitan City will serve as the home for RobotLand, a pavilion and theme park celebrating all things robotic. Progress has been repeatedly delayed, though ground broke on the 8.1 million square-foot project in 2013. Some insiders have suggested RobotLand could open as early as 2016, though recent news is scarce. Attractions include: Robot Kingdom, an interactive exhibit space complete with game arena; Robot City, filled with roller coasters and a robot aquarium; and Kidbot Village, containing an education center in addition to more leisurely pursuits that children must be this human to ride.
This fairy-tale file brought to you by editorial assistant Richard Leis and poetry editor Jon Riccio.