SOAPBOX TNT // Do You Love Me?

 

TATI: Tony, have you seen this video that’s been trending on YouTube?

TONY: Oh my god! That’s amazing! Truly sophisticated engineering right there, don’t you think?

TATI: Yes, to be sure!

TONY: I recall reading an article many years ago about how making bipedal robots with a stable centre of gravity was an incredibly difficult engineering challenge that had not yet been overcome. I guess we now have robots that can stay on their feet without toppling over, huh?

TATI: I see you are rather excited with this, aren’t you?

TONY: Hell yeah! It seems we may be nudging closer to the day I can ride around in a robot that transforms into a tank. No more parking problems ever!

TATI: I have mixed feelings, to be honest. Yes, the robots in the video look cute and funny, but they’re a little scary too. And I don’t mean their appearance. I mean their behaviour. It feels like a mockery of humans a little bit. Presently, real human beings are scared, restricted and locked down… but these robots are making a happy ‘Do You Love Me?’ dance.

TONY: I remember you once telling me that robots do make you a little uneasy…

TATI: Here… Let me show you another video.

 

 

TATI: Do you see how it tries to get through the door and how that man tries to hinder it in different ways? That robot is smart and persistent enough to stick to its task, and goes ahead anyway. But if it’s also a real AI, how long will it take before it realises that the real barrier to completing its task is the man? And maybe push him away? Or worse?

TONY: It’s something I’ve considered too.

TATI: I was watching this and thinking… damn, it will attack the man now!

TONY: It’s strange but I was also thinking that! But here’s the thing… for the robot to realise that the real barrier is the man, it would first have to be self-aware, wouldn’t it? It would have to possess some form of consciousness. But as it’s just a manmade object then of course it doesn’t possess these qualities. But intelligence doesn’t equal sentience, does it? Those are two different things.

TATI: Yes, but it’s a coin with two sides. You see, they don’t have reason. They have a program. Even a maniac can be reasoned with. Not so with robots. Robots perform code. They just follow commands laid down in their programming that dictate their moves. One moment they’re dancing but add some changes to the code and they will do something different the next. And I don’t think it needs ‘self-awareness’ to distinguish a human being from a wall. We’re still just another object in the robot’s way.

TONY: It could be argued that this is also the best thing about artificial intelligence, that it isn’t truly self-aware, sentient. And while it will never deviate from its programming it will also… well, never deviate from its programming which means that it can only ever act predictably… which also means that we human beings will always be able to stay one step ahead. Well, as long as we continue to think outside of the box, I suppose. That’s the hope!

TATI: ‘This means that it can only ever act predictably…’ Sometimes even I can surprise myself with silly and irrational decisions. Can you speak so confidently for other people? Have you not seen what is happening in the Capitol now? Does it still make you proud to be a human? Do you still think you’re a ‘step ahead’?

TONY: One could argue that the president’s assault on democracy is entirely predictable given his past statements, and that some of his followers would take these statements to their logical extreme is also predictable. But I do take your point. Robots will never act with conscience because they are not self-aware. We, however, have no such excuse so the onus is always on us to act responsibly.

TATI: I put an equal sign between humans’ behavior and robots’ behavior. I can’t believe in robots’ decency because they’re made and programmed by people. Have you heard about the Three Laws of Robotics?

TONY: I have! My father introduced me to Isaac Asimov’s robot stories when I was a child. ‘A robot may not injure a human being’ and that kind of thing.

TATI: Do you think that the Three Laws of Robotics work in the real world?

TONY: Well, no, because I don’t think anybody’s using them in the real world at the moment. Robots aren’t quite that sophisticated yet, not ‘human’ enough where such laws would be necessary.

TATI: I believe it’s not far off…

TONY: I guess it’s wayward presidents I’m more worried about for the moment, but you make a good point. There was a video game called Horizon Zero Dawn that tackled these very themes. The story really blew my mind. I love robots but I do go a little quiet when I think about a world where robots not only take over everything but also consume anything that is organic—including human beings. A bit of a horrifying thought if you ask me.

TATI: And do you still feel safe and easy when you watch dancing robots?

TONY:

 

by TETIANA ALEKSINA & TONY SINGLE
© All rights reserved 2021

100 WORD SKITTLE // Bookmark Me

Folks think it’s weird when a bookmark costs more than the book itself, but how can I deny myself this little whim? The more expensive the demarcation, the better I like it. Anyway, words are cheap.

It’s the only reason I carry a book in my bag. Whenever I open it and look at my hidden treasure, my heart sings. But not in words. No. It’s an inner reverberation that conveys more meaning than the text I’ve already forgotten.

An added benefit is the gazillion groupies that clamour for my attention. Girls tend to crush on bookish boys, you know!

 

by TETIANA ALEKSINA & TONY SINGLE
© All rights reserved 2020

Looking Back, Hoping Forward

TONY: Hoo boy… 2020 was an absolute train wreck, wasn’t it?

TATI: Do you think so?

TONY: Totally! You don’t agree?

TATI: Nope. (Give me Fresh Salmon please…)

TONY: Really, Tati?! So, you loved 2020? (Erm… here ya go.)

TATI: It is not the year that makes us, but we that make the year. Do you agree, Button?

BUTTON: Bring on 2021, I say!

TONY: Hm. I never thought about it that way. Makes sense, I suppose…

TATI: Let’s not think about what 2020 took away from us. Let’s recall what we added to 2020.

TONY: Making lemonade from lemons, huh? Yeah, let’s do that. You start!

TATI: I am pretty proud of relaunching Trottersville. (Okay, Pale Coral now…)

TONY: Yeah, that was pretty cool. (Pale Coral comin’ right at ya… I guess?) And we made a new postcard series with the characters from that strip too. I love those postcards! Do you, Button?

BUTTON: Hells no! Nothin’ but silly talking pigs. (And their pinkest piggy arses!) You should make a comic about me instead.

TONY: And we joined Tapas and WebToon, two cool comics websites that are now home to Trottersville. It’s great to have somewhere to put this strip after reworking many of the old scripts, then redrawing and recolouring them.

TATI: I participated in a translator’s contest. I also began translating our comics into Russian and Ukrainian. And we contacted some comics publishers and got some rather warm feedback. It’s cool, don’t you think, Button?

BUTTON: What?! Why bother with silly translations when you could be ghost writing the memoirs of my extraordinary life?

TONY: All of this kinda makes 2021 seem more hopeful, right?

TATI: Don’t you feel so? And we’re in the middle of preparing some new books and launching a cool new video channel too! (Tony, that’s Shadow Rose! Can’t you tell the difference?)

TONY: How the hell are we managing to do all this?! We must hate sleep or something… (Sorry. Is this it?)

BUTTON: Sigh. Why does no one listen to me?

TATI: I don’t know… but, Tony, do you still think 2020 was a train wreck and gave you nothing but a deficit of hand sanitiser and toilet paper? (And I asked for Fandango, not Flamingo! Even Button knows the difference!)

TONY: God. Those empty store shelves still haunt my dreams… Still, I have to agree. It hasn’t been all bad, has it? What do you think, Button?

BUTTON: That’s nothing! I’ll show you what a real wreck is!

TATI: I agree that it hasn’t been all bad. And I believe our dearest Readers will have at least one nice thing to remember from 2020. (Crazy Strawberry now please…)

TONY: We can hope! (Jeez. Aren’t they all just the same stupid pink?! Just point at the correct freaking one already!) And anyway, we should at least wish all of our Readers a Happy New Year. May 2021 be a year of renewal and reconstruction!

TATI: As for us, we promise to continue making cool stuff—despite pandemics and closed borders—and (hopefully) bring you some joy with our creative effor…

TATI & TONY: BUTTON!

 

by TETIANA ALEKSINA & TONY SINGLE
© All rights reserved 2021