BOSTON PUBLIC RADIO
4:07 pm
Thu February 20, 2014

Alex Beam Talks Robot Rights, Water Politics, And Wellesley College's 'Sleepwalker'

Do robots have rights just like humans? Globe columnist Alex Beam looked into it.
Credit Dan Thornton / Flickr

Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam joined Jim Braude and Margery Eagan for BPR's Open Mic. Beam talked about his recent columns on robot rights and water conservation. He also weighed in on Wellesley College's controversial new public art.

To read more of Beam head to his website, AlexBeam.net.

Tell us about the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Robots.

Robots don't get enough attention. (...) I had to phone this guy to find out. This is one of these columns that's actually a funnier idea than to actually write about it.

MIT researcher Kate Darling claimed that she did experiments [about this] (...), so I said, Okay, like what.

There's this thing called "PLEO" and it's a furry toy robot dinosaur. It's a robot, obviously, and she encourages adults to interact with it. After 90 minutes she gives them a hammer and says, You must destroy this robot. And, to a person, people cringe, they don't want to destroy it because they bonded with the robot.

Because they've bonded with it.

If you've seen [Katherine Bigelow's] "Hurt Locker" -- they actually stopped using people to diffuse and dissemble explosive devices. (...) A Washington Post reporter witnessed (...) people managing the robots. Even soldiers in the field thought the robot was hurting [when] it lost a leg.

We've all seen the movie 'Her.' On the one hand robots don't have feelings, but you can see how they get attached, right?

This ties into the "Singularity" -- the man & the machine. Ray Kurzweil has postulated that machine intelligence and human intelligence will be as one soon. (...) It's an interesting idea I suppose. It's challenging because we do love inanimate objects. Like your favorite pillow, or my car.

What is a 'sex bot?'

Sex bots really exist, and 'fembots' really exist! They're unique to Japan, life-sized, audio animatronic robots. They have a texture like a skin. I'm not saying they're anatomically correct yet, but there's a big expectation. They're for hugging, they have nice hair.

Why is it any more preposterous than 'Her?'

We hide from ourselves that what we call the internet (...) is like 65% pornography. We hide from ourselves how much money is going into pornography.

Kate Darling and others have raised the idea of "robot prostitution."

You've been in LA recently, and you wrote about water conservation for the Globe.

First, after writing for the Boston Globe for 27 years they offered me my first photo credit! 

It was January 26th that [Gov. Jerry] Brown declared the state to be in a conservation emergency. (...) There just is no drought [impact] in any seriously-populated area (...) People aren't even dialing back lawn-watering!

Agriculture gets 80 percent of the water distributed around the state (...) San Francisco and LA managed their 20 percent allocation a lot better than agriculture managed their 80 percent.

LA saw this coming, and decided to do something to do it. Mainly, curiously, they've been catching rain, and storing it in aquifers. (...)

And you did some digging into water consumption.

Per capita consumption of water in Los Angeles 1978 was about 180 gallons a day, which is a lot. Now it's down to a 123. A resident of Cohasset, MA uses half that amount! It's because the MWRA just decided to charge a lot for water.

Where do you come down on the effort to get rid of the Tony Matelli 'Sleepwalker' statue -- the one of the man in the underpants -- on the campus of Wellesley College?

That's art, baby. That's great that a piece of public art is exacting these responses. We can have the cheap laugh at the undergrads of Wellesley college but that's not necessary. It was interesting that the sculptor did a sleepwalking woman [too].

But sleepwalking women don't conjure up images of predators.

Dangerous to assume.

By the way, Matelli's sleepwalking woman was wearing underpants and nothing else, nothing on top.

It's just great that people are talking about public art.

>> Listen to the whole interview:

Alex Beam on BPR, 2/20/14

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