This Week in Terrifying Robots
Whenever I ask people what they hope scientists are working on, they all scream âNaps!â
Specifically, many of them are begging for scientists to develop personal time-stasis machines that would easily fit under a desk or in the backseat of a car that one could crawl into during the workday, stop time all around them while they caught thirty or forty winks, and then emerge refreshed without anyone being the wiser except for asking a few pointed questions about hair mussiness.
Others ask for some sort of suit/helmet combo that would allow them to bend the space/time continuum and to reclaim the naps that they refused to take as small children.
That is what right-thinking people want scientists to be focusing on. Well, that and dashboard-mounted DestructoRays.
Instead, the scientific community has yet again been relentlessly zeroing in on the antithesis of naps.
Case in point: Kilobots. See? Scientists arenât even pretending theyâre not dangerous anymore.
The reason that the roboticists at Harvard University didnât go ahead and call them Kill-O-Bots is that the âkiloâ is meant to indicate that theyâre designed to team up by the thousands. Isnât that comforting?
Harvardâs Self-Organizing Systems Research Group developed quarter-sized robots with little pin legs that can respond en masse to commands.
Which means they can do precision choreography like theyâre the eensiest little celebrants of Kim Jong-Ilâs birthday, or perhaps hoping to blow the Internet away with their creepy little interpretation of âThriller.â
And, yes, Self-Organizing Systems Research Group, that sound you just heard was that of a single sequined gauntlet being thrown.
Though now that Iâve typed that, Iâm concerned that, like the original video, the kilobotsâ interpretation will also end with someone being trapped in a house and attacked on all sides.
Because in addition to responding as one to their creatorâs commands, the bots are designed to be cheap, so they can be cranked out by the thousands and, when the Robot Takeover comes, swarm all over you no matter where you are hiding.
Whap at them if you must, but it will only drag out the inevitable end.
In the meantime, Harvard roboticists, Iâm keeping an eye on you. If I see any news items about mysterious deaths that appear to be the result of disastrously overambitious acupuncture sessions, I am definitely calling someone.
Right after I change my name and skip the continent.
If youâd like to see where the kilobots will be carrying you, Gulliver-like, once you have been subdued, look no further than this chicken-processing robot featured on Dvice.
While it works with a slow, implacable pace in the clip, when it’s really cooking the robot can de-bone 1,500 chickens an hour. And it helpfully does the job with the carcasses in an upright position so you can get a real feel for how youâll look on the slightly larger model.
Even if youâre used to cutting up and cooking chickens, you may find the eerie clinical calm and efficient flesh-removal disturbing. Though it may be worth watching the clip to see the botâs inventor, speaking very seriously through a an interpreter about chicken breasts, make the international sign for âgazangas.â
And as unsettling as the de-boning robot is, trust me: You donât want to see the re-boning robot.
This Week in Terrifying Medicine
Fortunately, we may have one hope for fighting the robots off. No, not the indomitable human spirit. Indomitable old people.
Gizmodo reports that hospitals are giving stunning numbers of medically questionable double CT scans to Medicare patients, which means our nationâs old people are getting a lot of radiation thrown at them. True, that seems worrisome at first glance. The elderly person stereotype is one of fragility.
But Iâd like to know where the fragile old people are hiding; the old people in my life all got to be old precisely by virtue of being tough old birds with no intention of going down lightly.
The movies are wrong. Our future mutant saviors will not be the young. They will be our old people, who have a love of flesh-based civilization,Â have all of our important cultural lore locked in their brains, and have been soaking up radiation like cranberry sea breezes.
Besides, the old are our best early warning system. What other population can Hulk out with impunity?
They will use their trifocals to aim and intensify their heat vision; their pacemakers, pins, and fillings to charge up their plasma blasts; and their sheer stubborn cussedness to get us to do anything, absolutely anything, if only they will stop talking about what the Weather Channel has been saying about the humidity in Montana, where none of us are right now.
And then we will wave and shout our thanks as they grab their golf clubs and bocce balls and fly off, perhaps a little more slowly than the average superhero and slightly to the left, to kick some metal robot ass.
And we had better have some Sanka ready for them when they get back.
Our Elder Mutant Heroes will take the robots down, put them in headlocks, and force them to develop emotions just so they can feel guilty about not calling last weekend.
Once more, humanity will assume its rightful robot-dominant place in the world.
And we will revere our Elder Mutant Heroes forever more.
And, forever more, the Elder Mutant Heroes will make the rest of us come to the Palace of Silver Justice every other day to help reprogram, because they unplugged everything to clean the wainscoting and now they canât make the kilobots stop blinking 12:00.
Ali Davis is a writer and performer in Los Angeles. Her book is available in paperback or on Kindle. Itâs funny enough to very nearly take your mind off the fact that you are covered in tiny hostile robots.
Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin says his womanizing may have stemmed from seeing an older brother whom he idolized dressed as a woman and learning the brother was gay.
In the latest issue of Out magazine, Irvin said he was 12 when he discovered his older brother Vaughn’s secret life. He said his father told him: “Yes, that’s your brother. And you love your brother.”
The former Dallas Cowboys star now appears on the NFL Network and on his own radio show in Miami. He has supported same-sex marriage on his radio show and has said he’s waiting for an active player in the NFL, MLB, NBA or NHL to declare publicly that he is gay.
“Until we do that, we’re going to be stuck in the Dark Ages about a lot of things,” Irvin told the magazine. “When a guy steps up and says, ‘This is who I am,’ I guarantee you I’ll give him 100 percent support.”
Irvin said carrying the burden of Vaughn’s secret gives him a hint of how tough it must be for a homosexual athlete to hide his orientation in a locker room.
“If I’m not gay and I am afraid to mention it, I can only imagine what an athlete must be going through if he is gay,” Irvin said. “I would like to see players come forward and be happy with who they are. Hopefully, as we move forward, we’ll get to a place where there’s no way it’s even considered; it just is what it is and everybody can do what they do. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Irvin said he believes the fast life he’s led was to accentuate his heterosexuality. He said he wanted everyone in the locker room to see him have the most women and the nicest car “so that everybody says, ‘Michael’s the man.’”
“Maybe some of the issues I’ve had with so many women – just bringing women around so everybody can see – maybe that’s residual of the fear I had that, if my brother is wearing ladies’ clothes, am I going to be doing that? Is it genetic?” Irvin said. “I’m certainly not making excuses for my bad decisions. But I had to dive inside of me to find out why I was making these decisions, and that came up.”
Irvin said Vaughn’s cross-dressing was never discussed among the family, which included 17 children. Throughout his career, he said, he feared that Vaughn’s sexual orientation would become publicized and shame the family. It wasn’t disclosed until the Out article.
Irvin said he remained close to his brother, a bank manager, until his death in 2006. He was 49 when he died of stomach cancer.
“He was the smartest, most charismatic man I’d ever seen in my life,” Irvin said.
Do you hear the divas calling? I do.
One of the gayest and most fabulous nights of the year is right around the corner! Thatâs right â the Tony Awards are this Sunday at 8pm on CBS
Now, Iâll be honest, I donât keep up with Broadway as much as I should , but this year the nominees are musicals Iâve actually seen or have been dying to see, so Iâll certainly be watching.
I just need to find a household or appropriate bar with cableâ¦anybody? Bueller?
Take a look below for the nominees and leave your predictions in the comments section. My best prediction? The Book of Mormon from South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker are probably going to sweep the awards with 14 noms, which includes best musical, best book of a musical, best original score, two leading actor spots and two featured actor nominations, among others.
Not too shabby.
Check out NewNowNext for Brad Proctorâs pre-Tony coverage and his Tony-winners forecast.
My only question is: Whereâs Spiderman?
The Book of Mormon
Catch Me If You Can
The Scottsboro Boys
The Motherf**ker With The Hat
BEST LEADING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
Norbert Leo Butz in Catch Me If You Can
Josh Gad in The Book of Mormon
Joshua Henry in The Scottsboro Boys
Andrew Rannells in The Book of Mormon
Tony Sheldon in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
BEST LEADING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Sutton Foster in Anything Goes
Beth Leavel in Baby, Itâs You!
Patina Miller in Sister Act
Donna Murphy in The People in the Picture
BEST LEADING ACTOR IN A PLAY
Brian Bedford in The Importance of Being Earnest
Bobby Cannavale in The Motherf**ker With the Hat
Joe Mantello in The Normal Heart
Al Pacino in The Merchant of Venice
Mark Rylance in Jerusalem
BEST LEADING ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Nina Arianda in Born Yesterday
Frances McDormand in Good People
Lily Rabe in The Merchant of Venice
Vanessa Redgrave in Driving Miss Daisy
Hannah Yelland in Brief Encounter
Singer Elton John is urging Florida Gov. Rick Scott to protect a program that helps low-income HIV/AIDS patients get medication needed to control the virus.
John, founder of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, wrote to Scott on Tuesday after hearing the Department of Health was considering changes in income eligibility.
A department spokeswoman says there are no immediate plans to change the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, though it held hearings to discuss the possibility of lowering income requirements to participate.
In their letter, John and foundation Chairman David Furnish say lowering income eligibility could mean 1,600 people will no longer get help obtaining antiretroviral medication.
Having survived the first and worst years of the AIDS epidemic, when he was losing three friends to the disease in a day and undergoing every primitive, toxic treatment that then existed, Peter Greene is grateful to be alive.
But a quarter-century after his own diagnosis, the former Mr. Gay Colorado, now 56, wrestles with vision impairment, bone density loss and other debilitating health problems he once assumed he wouldn’t grow old enough to see.
“I survived all the big things, but now there is a new host of things. Liver problems. Kidney disease. It’s like you are a 50-year-old in an 80-year-old body,” Greene, a San Francisco travel agent, said. “I’m just afraid that this is not, regardless of what my non-HIV positive friends say, the typical aging process.”
Even when AIDS still was almost always fatal, researchers predicted that people infected with HIV would be more prone to the cancers, neurological disorders and heart conditions that typically afflict the elderly. Thirty years after the first diagnoses, doctors are seeing these and other unanticipated signs of premature or “accelerated” aging in some long-term survivors.
Government-funded scientists are working to tease apart whether the memory loss, arthritis, renal failure and high blood pressure showing up in patients in their 40s and 50s are consequences of HIV, the drugs used to treat it or a cruel combination of both. With people over 50 expected to make up a majority of U.S. residents infected with the virus by 2015, there’s some urgency to unraveling the “complex treatment challenges” HIV poses to older Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health.
“In those with long-term HIV infection, the persistent activation of immune cells by the virus likely increases the susceptibility of these individuals to inflammation-induced diseases and diminishes their capacity to fight certain diseases,” the federal health agency’s chiefs of infectious diseases, aging and AIDS research wrote, summing up the current state of knowledge on last September’s National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day. “Coupled with the aging process, the extended exposure of these adults to both HIV and antiretroviral drugs appears to increase their risk of illness and death from cardiovascular, bone, kidney, liver and lung disease, as well as many cancers not associated directly with HIV infection.”
In San Francisco, where already more than half of the 9,734 AIDS cases are in people 50 and over, University of California, San Francisco AIDS specialists are collaborating with geriatricians, pharmacists and nutritionists to develop treatment guidelines designed to help veterans of the disease cope with getting frail a decade or two ahead of schedule and to remain independent for as long as possible.
“Wouldn’t it be helpful to be able to say, are you at high risk, low risk or moderate risk for progressing to dependency in the next five, the next 10 years, being less mobile, less able to be functional in the workplace. Are you going to be safe in your home, are you going to remember to take all those medications? How are they going to interact?” explained Dr. Malcolm John, who directs UCSF’s HIV clinic. “All those questions need to be brought into the HIV field at a younger age.”
Research so far suggests that HIV is not directly causing conditions that mimic old age, but hastens patients toward ailments to which they may have been genetically or environmentally predisposed. Plus, their immune systems are being weakened over time even when they are being successfully treated for AIDS, John said.
“That’s probably true for a lot of these things. We aren’t saying HIV’s starting the problem, but it’s added fuel on top,” he said.
Stokes, a patient of John’s who goes by only his last name, is a prime example. At 53, HIV-positive since 1985 and in substance abuse recovery for the last 11 years, he says he is happier than he ever has been. Yet the number of ailments for which he is being treated would be more commonly found in someone 30 years his senior: a condition called Ramsay Hunt syndrome that causes facial paralysis, a rare cartilage disorder for which he has undergone four ear surgeries, bone death in the hip and shoulder, deterioration of his heart muscle, osteoporosis and memory loss.
A specialist recently diagnosed a Kaposi’s sarcoma spot on Stokes’ ankle. Although the cancer is not life-threatening, the sight of young men disfigured by KS lesions was a harbinger of the early AIDS crisis, and its presence on his own body is unsettling.
At his therapy group for men with HIV, aging “comes up frequently,” he said. “I say, `Just think what we have come through to have a life today.’” At the same time, he acknowledges sometimes feeling self-conscious about his physical appearance and worries if “people are not attracted to me and unwilling to go the length of what it means to be with me, no matter how brilliant my mind or my zest for life.”
Loneliness, financial worries and concerns about who will care for them and where can weigh on long-term AIDS survivors in the same way as all adults living in a society that values youth, Charles Emlet, a social work professor at the University of Washington, Tacoma, said.
As they get older and sicker, many feel “doubly stigmatized,” he said. Some people who have lived with the virus for a long time have been getting by on private disability benefits that will run out when they turn 65, forcing them to move to less expensive locations or to consider turning to estranged family members. Like soldiers from a distant war, many lost partners and their closest friends to AIDS.
Such emotional side effects, combined with the physical toll of managing chronic health problems, put older AIDS patients at risk for depression. At the same time, Emlet has uncovered evidence that a majority of long-term survivors also share another trait that typically comes with advanced age: that is, the ability to draw strength from their difficult experiences.
“The older adults I’ve interviewed, many of them talk about how much it means to them to give back, to do something positive with the years they never expected to have,” he said.
Peter Greene can relate to that. At times, like the days he is so exhausted he can’t get out of bed or the pain from his multiple maladies is too intense, he asks himself “the Carrie Bradshaw question–are we really lucky to still be alive?”
As frightening and uncertain as this phase of AIDS is, he thinks he knows the answer.
“I’ve tried to make the time I have count, and really, now that I have the body of an 80-year-old, I probably have the wisdom of an 80-year-old as well, which counts for a lot,” Greene said. “Everything becomes clear at the end of your life and in some ways, thinking you’ve been dying all these years, you get moments of clarity that I don’t think everyone gets.”