The permeable boundary between humanoid robots and humans has especially captivated Kathleen Richardson, a graduate student in anthropology at Cambridge University in England. “I wanted to study what it means to be human, and robots are a great way to do that,” she said, explaining the 18 months she spent in Brooks’s Humanoid Robotics lab in 2003 and 2004, doing fieldwork for her doctorate. “Robots are kind of ambiguous, aren’t they? They’re kind of like us but not like us, and we’re always a bit uncertain about why.”
To her surprise, Richardson found herself just as fascinated by the roboticists at M.I.T. as she was by the robots. She observed a kinship between human and humanoid, an odd synchronization of abilities and disabilities. She tried not to make too much of it. “I kept thinking it was merely anecdotal,” she said, but the connection kept recurring. Just as a portrait might inadvertently give away the painter’s own weaknesses or preoccupations, humanoid robots seemed to reflect something unintended about their designers. A shy designer might make a robot that’s particularly bashful; a designer with physical ailments might focus on the function — touch, vision, speech, ambulation — that gives the robot builder the greatest trouble.
“A lot of the inspiration for the robots seems to come from some kind of deficiency in being human,” Richardson, back in England and finishing her dissertation, told me by telephone. “If we just looked at a machine and said we want the machine to help us understand about being human, I think this shows that the model of being human we carry with us is embedded in aspects of our own deficiencies and limitations.” It’s almost as if the scientists are building their robots as a way of completing themselves.
The Real Transformers
Robin Maranz Henig
New York Times Magazine, July 29 2007
It’s been a tough few days for TBB. After a sweet 18th birthday party for beautiful daughter, where it felt like family, things turned, well, like family.
Over coffee with a gal from church, TBB assumed the gal knew she was trans. She didn’t, probably because trans doesn’t exist in her inner world, especially not at church, so the frog DNA had filled in with assumptions of normativity.
Pop, bang, trans 101 and fear. The worst part was that there was no other woman there to tell the gal what our position was on people like this, and as a person who wants to stay part of the posse, well, she was lost.
It was then that TBB felt the call to stealth, being small and silent, so as not to challenges those who assume normativity, who get squicked by big & queer. She knows that she has to tell the truth; she spoke to one other person with her same surname, who had heard her boy name and asked if she was related to him, and she told the truth, because obfuscation has limits, but here, well, right back to fear across the table, and she felt the call.
She felt so bad about it she called the ex and said she needed to talk. The ex had planned a movie date with their son & another boy who had been to the party, and his mom, but didn’t want to invite TBB, and didn’t call back after. “So many years I have been there for her,” TBB said, “and she can’t be there for me.”
“Yes,” I suggested. “They know how you take care of them, entering their world, but they can’t imagine that they can take care of you, because entering your world is too hard for them. After all, your ex just wants to stay in good with the posse.”
Next, TBB’s mom started pushing to TBB to find out how much the ex spent on a trip to Italy, how much was paid out of child support, all that.
TBB didn’t like her mother trying to get between her and the ex. Mom may believe that TBB needs to get over it, but like most of us, TBB needs someone to love, and her partner, the mother of her children, well, she has loved that woman for a long time.
“You know why my ex has the upper hand now?” TBB asked. “Because when the fight came between us, my family wouldn’t stand up for me. You ask me to go to dinner with your beau and his kids, but you are terrified I might actually say yes and screw up the lies you have been telling around Del Boca Vista. And where is my brother in all of this? He has offered jobs to others; has he even called me to say he knows I am having a tough time?”
Mom didn’t like the challenge, the clear call that the family didn’t have the courage to stand up for their own child.
All, this, well, it wears TBB down, just like it is supposed to. That’s how stigma works, keeping people marginalized & separated, fighting those close to them rather than being supported in success.
“My friend Rose says that I won’t get a corporate job because of the Thirdhand Fear you talk about, that floating fear that others will have a problem. Gosh, my mother’s friend has had a trans pal for three years, and it’s just now she is suggesting I meet them, surprised that they are not as fearful as she expects everyone to be.
“Rose suggests I start my own business, but I don’t have a partner to do the organizational side like she did. And besides that, I’m not sure that I want to be that visible.”
Yeah. That call to being big bold and bright, out and visible, well that’s hard, especially when faced against a family whose fear means that they can’t be courageous enough to be there for you, can’t get over their fears enough to engage you, can’t get over their damn selves and their desire to be part of the posse enough to enter your world.
It’s far from easy to follow.
“Sweetheart,” I asked TBB, “do you ever think with my big brain and big heart that I can go stealth, just blend in and hide?”
“I’ve been getting that a lot,” TBB answered. “Oooh, you are so smart, so intuitive, so aware, all that. It feels like people are separating themselves from me.”
“Exactly. You are, well, big, bitch.”
“Ha! The Big Bitch! Me!”
How do we be big in the world, start a practice, either a pure self play, like publishing or speaking or coaching, or a secondary play where we use our power to attract and sell books or food or something else? How does working to be the center of attention intersect with the call we have always heard from family & loved ones to stay small and not be visible? How does putting ourself out there intersect with the scars left on our heart from a history as a “too person?”
TBB will think about that.