Transformers and Me–More Than Meets the Eye
I’ve got a lot of robots and Transformers in my office. The quick explanation is “they’re cool.”
The more involved version follows.
I have a small collection of 1950s-60s space/atomic era rockets in part because I love the naive notion that “science will save and lift us” and the object lessons this notion offers.
I added robots—some original and replicas—to my “save and lift” collection. FWIW, I share the starry-eyed optimism in all pursuits. And I have enough experience to know that there’s another pole to that perspective.
C.S. Lewis’s book The Abolition of Man (1943) opens with a chapter titled “Men without Chests.” Great title and somewhat self-explanatory. The chapter describes how we are creating men of great intellectual accomplishment (think Google’s algorithm as a contemporary amplification) but devaluing where the heart operates. Considering this author’s 65 year lifespan from 1898-1063, fascination with Greek Mythology along with a fall from, and return to religion mid-life, you can imagine his perspective on scientific method, the emerging field of psychology and philosophy. This rare response to critics on the chapter shares volumes on the subject:
“The frightful thing…is that they are telling me mathematics is real; therefore, my brain is real. Food is real; therefore, my stomach is real. But the absolute moral order is not real. It is purely within me.” Says Lewis, “If I take these men in their arguments, they will produce a generation of men with brains, men with stomachs, men with no heart, men without chests.”
So, robots are “men without chests,” created in our most analytical, algorithmically-informed image. There’s a wealth of sci-fi literature and film that explore what happens when we assume benign morality to these beings.
And we shouldn’t assume that science or the internet or the algorithm will save us on autopilot either. We need to bring our heart and emotional selves to it. We need to guide and implement with the highest ethical rigor. We need to be transparent, truthful and morally grounded. There are already too many examples of the new artificial intelligence and selves we’ve created being applied for ill-intentions.
I guess in a way I’m agreeing with and appreciating more the genius of Google’s guiding “do no evil” ethos and surround myself with reminders from eras past and present of our need for the heart.
About the Transformers: my son and I love them. At face value, they’re cars, trucks, tanks, helicopters and jets that transform into robots. Get tired of running them on wheels and within a few moves you’ve got a cannon blasting Autobot or Decepticon. That beats the singular-purpose Matchbox cars that I grew up on.
Under the surface, Transformers represent the classic struggle between good and evil. Optimus Prime is the right-minded protector of the All-Spark–The One Source for Transformers–and his evil twin, Megatron, lusts for exclusive control of that power to rule the universe.If you think about the All-Spark as Earth’s oil, you’ll see how Megatron’s stop-at-nothing behavior emulate those that are closer to home than Cybertron. Megatron gets stronger by devouring the spark of others and is nearly unstoppable. His army of Decepticons can scan and replicate any earth vehicle so the can blend in among us as can the good Autobots. While the Autobots avoid harming humans at all costs, the Decepticons have only their spark-lust and universal domination as moral compass.
In the 2007 Transformer movie we learn that they’ve learned our language and ways through the “world wide web.” The lead human character, Sam Witwicky, is located through his digital identity(ies) and an ebay auction. So, they’re hiding among us and use our technology against us. Again, very relevant to the world we live in.
Finally, if we look at Transformers from the perspective their core target, young-teen boys (and the rest of us who haven’t evolved emotionally far from that age) you get the metaphor of a changing body. One becoming more powerful and better able to “fit in.” What teen wouldn’t like to transform quickly into a newer version with the same core attributes? It’s also the idea that if you can imagine it, you can become it. So there are some bigger ideas and dynamics at work under the surface.
As they say: “Transformers, more than meets the eye.”
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