Mechatronics Art: Speculative Object
Throughout my life, I’ve always been fond of robots. Similar to how most people are far more emotionally attached to dogs in a movie than people, I am the same with robots. Below are a few clips of robots who, despite their good intentions, are punished. WARNING: Content is violent and saddening.
The piece: Meet AVL-4274
A video of the monitor panning and looking at each plant:
A video of it being fully-functional (albeit not fully aesthetic with the LEDs).
This piece envisions a future in which the issues of mass incarceration, global warming, and the ethics of artificial intelligence are exacerbated to the extent where they intersect. AVL is a robot who was part of a farming robot colony, but malfunctioned and ended up destroying a few crops. However, AVL is extremely fond of plants - it’s all he cares about. Unfortunately, due to his glitches, he isn’t able to take care of them well. The engineers in the world have ceased to exist - they are just unempathetic technicians now who care only about efficiency. Outdated notions of corrections, which involve raw imprisonment, still exist in this world. Therefore, AVL was never fixed, he was simply locked up. Despite his good intentions, despite all the potential he has to sustain the dying world, he was just locked up, and forgotten. Now, AVL simply watches whatever plants he can from within his cage. He monitors them, but he’s chained up and can’t water them. He’s grateful for the kind souls who water the plants, whether that be the clouds above, or a passerby. He’s far more grateful if that passerby shows empathy.
This story isn’t far-fetched. Over two million human beings are incarcerated, with a recidivism rate of over 50% nationally. Our society is one that throws away that which doesn’t work even if fixing it takes less energy. This mentality applies directly to global warming, and how our throw-away society has polluted this Earth. It seems like something inextricable from our nature; perhaps robots are the only beings with absolutely pure intentions of maintenance and sustained care. However, the ethics of imprisonment are unjustified, and the ethics of intelligent robots are not established; it would make sense if the latter inherited the former philosophy: lock up robots instead of fixing them. Empathy is the key factor, the ultimate solution, to all these issues; it’s in short supply today, so perhaps AVL can demonstrate what it’s like to see through a perspective of pure, sustained, focused, good intention behind bars.
The head is an old black and white TV, which connects to a camera mounted on the top of the cage. The camera direction is controlled by a servo motor. There’s a soil moisture sensor in each plant. The camera pans from plant to plant, “scanning” each one (reading the moisture levels) and outputting its status (red = dry, yellow = good, green = currently being watered). The moment a plant is being watered, the camera will look at it and express joy (through LEDs or otherwise in a future implementation). The code omits delays, and replaces the functionality of delays with moisture level readings (in a parallel manner which doesn’t require interrupts).