Roaches and Metropolis

On Thursday, KUOW aired an NPR story about robotic roaches. Scientists built a fake roaches and introduced them to actual roach communities, to see if they could alter the roaches natural behavior.

"I think it's a really fascinating idea to integrate robots within animal groups. In actual fact, I really feel that this is the future of doing this kind of research," said Iain Couzin, a researcher at Princeton University who studies how large-scale biological patterns can emerge from individuals' actions.

They were able to influence the behavior of the entire roach community by altering the behaviour of the robots.

The story reminded me of the 1927 Fritz Lang movie, Metropolis.

In this film, commonly described as the first robot science fiction movie, society is divided between the working class and the upper class. The workers operate the machines below ground that drive the entire society. They pray with a priestess.

A mad scientist who has a vendetta against the person who owns the machines, extracts his revenge. He creates an android that looks exactly like the priestess. He kidnaps the priestess and replaces her with his own creation.

Instead of promoting peace and love, the android advocates the violent overthrow of the society, and calls on the working class to rise up, throw off their chains, and smash the equipment.

The workers, like the roaches in the study, do just that, even though it destroys their society. Their homes are flooded; their children are nearly killed.

The film is a fascinating story about coopting the influencers of public opinion for nefarious purposes.

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