WASHINGTON, April 10, 2017 — Back in 2007, Jerry Monaco, then 14, was surprised when a Disney World employee dressed as Tigger sucker-punched him right in the kisser.
Then in 2011, a Philadelphia woman accused another park employee – this time dressed as Donald Duck – of groping her.
So, it was only a matter of time before the magic of technology came to the rescue of the Magic Kingdom.
Last Thursday, the Disney corporation filed a patent for what it calls a “soft-body robot.” A sketch accompanying the filing was of the marshmellowy and pleasantly plump Big Hero 6 character.
The proposed snowman-like robot has no sharp corners with which to harm an adolescent.
The Robotics and Automation Society website says these cushy automatons are “crucial” in dealing “with uncertain and dynamic task-environments, e.g. grasping and manipulation of unknown objects, locomotion in rough terrains, and physical contacts with living cells and human bodies.”
While many parents see Disney’s sole purpose as providing their small, innocent children hours of distracting, if delightful, animated entertainment, a leading university has partnered with Disney to make cyborgs a reality.
Disney Research, the entertainment giant’s technology wing, has a home at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), which prides itself with providing “one of the country’s top five graduate programs in computer science, and is particularly strong in robotics, computer vision, human-computer interaction, speech understanding, and machine learning.”
Katsu Yamane, a member of Disney Research and an adjunct CMU professor at its Robotics Institute, includes among his research interests the “interactive control of humanoid robots… and physically-based animation for human and animal characters.”
Yamane speculated in his 2004 book “Simulating and Generating Motions of Human Figures”:
“Humanoid robots… are expected to work in daily environments with naïve human co-workers. They have to generate their motions in real time in response to the changes of environments or high-level inputs from human co-workers… Computation of full dynamics of such complicated kinematic chains requires heavy computational load with currently available algorithms.”
Katsu Yamane and the folks at Disney Research must have worked out the kinks regarding the computational “dynamics” associated with “complicated kinematic chains” of human-like movement.
If so, it could mark the beginning of the end.
In his novel “I Robot,” Isaac Asimov wrote:
“All normal life… consciously or otherwise, resents domination. If the domination is by an inferior, or by a supposed inferior, the resentment becomes stronger. Physically, and, to an extent, mentally, a robot – any robot – is superior to human beings.”
That being the case, what’s to stop Disney’s robotic Big Hero 6 from developing a deep-seeded resentment, dominated as it will be by precocious and vexing moppets?
The machine might act out in the fashion of an annoyed and dehydrated human. Like one dressed in a stifling and heavy Tigger costume.