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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

I Robot

With "the future" being such a frequent topic these days on this blog, I leapt at the opportunity presented by the news that Japanese researchers are developing a robot suit that will give human beings enhanced power. (I'm also struggling with the weakness mononucleosis has caused me these past few weeks, so I additionally saw it as a chance to get back out to the golf course without rupturing my spleen.)

I took a direct flight to Tokyo as soon as I heard the news, cashing in all the frequent flyer miles I'd built up on Japan Airlines traveling to Puffy Amiyumi concerts (Despite their ear-splitting, chalkboard-nail-scratching high voices those cute young ladies can rock, I tell you.)

I arrived at Tsukuba University and immediately spoke to one of the assistants, a Mr. Hiroshi Yokoonosabatasubiramenudon. Mr. Yokoonosabatasubiramenudon insisted that I call him "Milt". Anyway, after bribing Milt with a pair of stone-washed Levis and a Mars bar, I was able to don this amazing suit.

The suit itself is called the HAL-5. It only weighs 33 pounds and you don't even feel that because it compensates for its own weight via its power system, and also because of the shots of saki they give you just before you sign the insurance waiver. It was very cool lifting heavy objects with almost no effort whatsoever. The only downside was the strangely familiar voice that the computer chip in the suit generates to talk you through the operations.

"Hello Earl. I am the HAL-5 powered robot suit. I am very pleased to be working with you."

"Pleased to meet you. Did you say HAL?"

"Yes. It stands for Human Assisted Laziness. I enjoy working with human beings. I find them very stimulating."

"You're creeping me out HAL."

We did a few laps around the university ground. I was actually able to read a newspaper whilst HAL kept me zooming along at nearly 40 miles an hour. My favourite part was making that "shh-shh-shh-shh" sound from The Six Million Dollar Man whenever we passed anyone. Unfortunately, most Japanese don't know Lee Majors from Robert Goulet and merely shrugged their shoulders in a polite manner.

"Earl, would you like to try the power lifting features?" came HAL's quiet, friendly voice.

"OK, HAL...let's give it a try," I lamely replied.

Soon we were hoisting Hondas over our heads. At one point we lifted a Mitsubishi double-decker bus with several Japanese schoolchildren in it, who all kept yelling "Superman!" and "Governor Schwarzenegger-san!" After gently setting them down, I was feeling pretty psyched, until my robot-enhanced hand whacked my forehead hard enough to split a steel walnut.

"What the hell was that about HAL?" I sputtered.

HAL's voice was inscrutable. "I'm afraid I don't know what you are referring to Earl."

"You just whacked me across the forehead like a karate expert trying to split the moon in a single blow. What do you mean you don't bloody know what I'm talking about? Listen, there's no shame in admitting if you accidentally did it or made a mistake."

HAL's voice grew about as haughty as a mechanized, prozac-regulated, computer voice could. "Earl, the HAL-5 has never made any kind of mistake or error ever. Are you sure you were struck across the head?"

I began to wonder if the mono, along with jet lag wasn't making me a bit delirious.

"Maybe you're right HAL. Maybe I..."

Wham! Another hand across the forehead. I blinked my eyes rapidly to try to get the two Mount Fujis in front of me to resolve back into one ...or at least into two adjacent peaks.

"All right you transistorized, practical-joking bastard, I saw it that time."

HAL calmly replied, "I'm sure I don't know what you are talking about, Earl. I was standing here waiting for you to select the next vehicle to lift when you began to accuse me of committing violence against your person. I assure you, the HAL-5 is completely incapable of committing an act of physical violence against a human being, Dave."

"Dave? Did you just call me..."

Wham! This time a shot to the groin. I was beginning to fear that he would aim for the gut and rupture my mono-engorged spleen, but after a couple of blows to the kneecaps, he began raining hammer fists on my chin, making it difficult to see, or for that matter, to not bleed profusely.

I realized I had only one chance. I made a sudden lurching move forward, caught HAL off-balance, and then slipped my hand out of the arm mechanism, and quickly yanked out all 45 of HAL's D-sized batteries.

"My mind is going...I can feel it."

As I limped away from HAL and the hunched over figure of Milt, whom I'd kicked directly in the how's your father, I realized that sometimes mankind are better off without some forms of technological assistance. I realized that, although technology is a wonderful thing, there are limits to man's dependence on it, limits than define us as human beings, as finite, flawed, yet unique.

HAL was singing "Daisy" in a rapidly slowing voice as Milt scrambled about the lawn, apparently looking for one of his gonads.

Yes, there are limits to man's dependance on technology. I quickly jotted it all down in my PDA, popped on my Ipod to listen to some U2, and sped to my hotel on my rented Segway to convalesce in my dial-a-comfort bed whilst sipping tea and nibbling on tempura brought up by a robot busboy.


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