Terminator Outrage: Fox TV Renews Old Prejudices Against Robots..?

January 17, 2008

terminator-i-ll-be-back-posters.jpgBy Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR (RIA)

With the reincarnation of Terminator as a 2008 Fox TV series, it crossed my mind that Robotic Industries Association might want to grab some publicity by attacking the series.

“We deplore the unrealistic depiction of robots as time traveling, violent machines that will doom humankind! Robots are nothing like the science fiction creatures on this show, and it does a disservice to the public by fomenting ill will against a class of machine that has improved quality of life for today’s society.” (Insert righteous indignation here.)

The Association would go on and on making the case for robots, and all the while its real intention would be to capitalize on the public interest and free publicity that comes from having a fit about a well-promoted but silly TV program.

CNN would pick up RIA’s press releases. Talk show hosts, desperate for guests during the writers’ strike, would invite RIA executives to appear and have an honest discussion of the nature of robots. The Association would gain unprecedented exposure which would allow it to serve the industry better and raise awareness about the Association and its members.


But really – can anyone take this show that seriously?

In my youth, I liked the Terminator movies which were among Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most famous box office smashes. These movies may have poisoned public opinion against robots in some ways, but that was more than 20 years ago. Since then, industrial robots have shown just how practical they are, and in the process have gotten a lot of good press. They’ve even starred in Super Bowl commercials.

Most robots are the kind found in factories and other industrial settings, and they have more than proven their value. Robots are used to handle everything from bricks to food to nuclear waste. They work on orthodontic braces, prostates and knee joints. Most times, they remove people from dirty, dangerous and dull jobs where risk is high for personal injury.

Today, most people recognize that without advanced automation, entire factories will relocate offshore. And even there, some products can’t compete without the quality only robots can guarantee with consistency and cost savings, so it is not uncommon to see robots in China, India, South Africa and other places with emerging economies.
Of course military and first responders use robots today in ways not possible back when Arnold was strutting around Hollywood sets as a cyborg. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have generated stories about unmanned vehicles, and robots have been used for search and recovery efforts at disaster sites that range from the Twin Towers to Pennsylvania coal mines.

How easy it would be to twist a few examples of wheeled or winged “robots” into an argument for what the Terminator movie franchise stands for – although in my opinion the real story of the Terminator trilogy is not about blaming robots for man’s ultimate demise. They are just action flicks that rely on an old crutch about man’s fear of technology. More importantly, they gave us the well-worn catch phrase: “I’ll be back.”

In the real world, robots are not time traveling cyborgs. They are useful machines on factory floors, or remote tools that help with maintenance at power plants, or even an aid to surgeons and medical technicians. They are special machines that help improve a product and how it is made, but not more special than people and never will be.

For instance, writers will never be replaced by robots. Nor will the establishment be overtaken by robots. Ironically, as 2008 begins, professional writers for the entertainment industry are in a struggle with the establishment as demonstrated by the strike begun in November 2007 by the Writers Guild of America. But, they did bring us this show and if you’re still interested, here’s a link to a critic’s view of it on Entertainment Weekly: “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”: Robot Reboot. Enjoy!