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Author Topic: EP607: Red in Tooth and Cog  (Read 2187 times)
eytanz
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« on: December 29, 2017, 09:45:14 AM »

Escape Pod 607: Red in Tooth and Cog

AUTHOR : Cat Rambo
NARRATOR : Tina Connolly
HOST: Divya Breed

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A phone can be so much. Your memory, your edge against boredom, your source of inspiration. There’s always an app for whatever you need. Renee valued her phone accordingly, even celebrating it by giving way to the trend for fancy phone-cases. Its edges were bezeled with bling she’d won on a cruise the year before, and she’d had some tiny opals, legacy of her godmother, set into the center.

It was an expensive, new-model phone in a pretty case, and that was probably why it was stolen.
Renee was in the park near work. A sunny day, on the edge of cold, the wind carrying spring with it like an accessory it was testing for effect.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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Kerra
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« Reply #1 on: December 29, 2017, 10:09:17 AM »

Gosh it would be grand if this was a short film and Stephane Halleux made the machines.

Sent from my Pixel XL using Tapatalk

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CryptoMe
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« Reply #2 on: January 03, 2018, 10:09:58 AM »

This was a really interesting premise and went in some completely unexpected directions. I loved how the park ranger robot started off blaze towards the feral Ai's but in the end helped to save them, and I wonder if he was sympathetic to the feral AI's all along. I really enjoyed the MC's discovery of this ecosystem and watching as she came to care for them.
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Ichneumon
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« Reply #3 on: January 09, 2018, 02:00:32 PM »

I really enjoyed this as a story, but if it happened in real life I would be strongly against feral robots.
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Katzentatzen
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« Reply #4 on: January 09, 2018, 08:14:23 PM »

This one gave me a lot of feelings. I like the idea of robots going feral and losing their purpose, enacting half-remembered rituals and decorating themselves like a magpie nest. Even if it is brutal and inhuman, I think it’s worth saving.
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"To understand a cat you must realize that he has his own gifts, his own viewpoint, even his own morality."
--LILIAN JACKSON BRAUN
Ichneumon
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« Reply #5 on: January 10, 2018, 04:09:45 PM »

Yeah, the robots' self agency and evolution was super interesting, but it doesn't belong in a nature park! Nature belongs in a nature park! Wouldn't the rooftops, alleyways and utility tunnels of the city be better habitat for feral robots anyways?
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acpracht
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« Reply #6 on: January 11, 2018, 04:49:19 PM »

Yeah, the robots' self agency and evolution was super interesting, but it doesn't belong in a nature park! Nature belongs in a nature park! Wouldn't the rooftops, alleyways and utility tunnels of the city be better habitat for feral robots anyways?

Does nature belong in a "corporate park"? Just wondering if it goes the other way for you...

And why don't robots belong in nature?

Apart from materials and origin, what differentiates these creatures from organic ones in such a way that they must be banned from a "natural" park?

-Adam
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Ichneumon
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« Reply #7 on: January 12, 2018, 09:10:17 AM »

I'm not totally clear on what a corporate park is, but I'm guessing if it has trees in it they were put there by people purposely. The robots are not part of the natural system, they are litter. They will not decompose, they will leak oil and battery acid, they will take shelters from the natural animals. If the people of the city decide they do not want a nature park to preserve nature, that's their choice. The park robot mentioned the feral robots get into the wild too, which is a bigger problem.
I mean, I love house cats and hate the thought of them suffering, but they kill millions of wild birds. And we humans are responsible for that damage to the ecosystem. If people will not be responsible to provide good homes for feral cats, what is the alternative solution?
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acpracht
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« Reply #8 on: January 15, 2018, 09:02:21 PM »

I'm not totally clear on what a corporate park is, but I'm guessing if it has trees in it they were put there by people purposely. The robots are not part of the natural system, they are litter. They will not decompose, they will leak oil and battery acid, they will take shelters from the natural animals. If the people of the city decide they do not want a nature park to preserve nature, that's their choice. The park robot mentioned the feral robots get into the wild too, which is a bigger problem.
I mean, I love house cats and hate the thought of them suffering, but they kill millions of wild birds. And we humans are responsible for that damage to the ecosystem. If people will not be responsible to provide good homes for feral cats, what is the alternative solution?

Sometimes called a business park... basically a corporate or business area into which natural elements have been brought in/installed. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_park

I would suspect that this is the case in the story, given its close proximity to a corporate area. If this is the case, nature has been brought into a technological area and not vice versa (Although I suppose they call it a "reserve" so I could be wrong).

I guess where I'm getting hung up is that:

1) Your arguments against the feral robots are not consistently applied against carbon-based life forms
2) If you take your arguments to their extreme conclusion, you can end up with some unpleasant results.

On #1... Every aspect you mention against the robots can be said against nature itself.
-Won't decompose: A reef is literally layer upon layer of durable animal skeletons. Limestone is the castoff shells and hard bodies of animals and marble is a metamorphic rock that comes from limestone. (Granted, metal and plastic will take far longer to decompose, but they will...)
-They will leak oil: So does a squid.
-They will leak acid: the oogpister beetle and wood ant actually shoot acid.
-They will take shelters from the natural animals: The natural animals take shelter from natural animals. (Examples: Burrowing owl, chinstrap penguins, dewdrop spiders, cuckoo bees... the last of which seems particularly nasty.)

So why so upset at mechanical beings that would likely be hard pressed to cause more damage to animals than they can cause to each other...

Given that the robots need much more specialized and manufactured equipment to adapt, not to mention that a single well-placed EMP can clear a large area of such robots if discovered, it seems like these cog animals are not particularly well-adapted to their environment if left to their own devices.

A final point on #1 - why upset with the feral robots and no apparent malice for the maintenance robot? It's arguably the most "unnatural" aspect in the park and, in fact, is really the only reason the feral robots survive.

On #2, let's consider what else is could be considered "unnatural" in "wild" environments:
-Hiking paths
-Scientists (and their scientific equipment such as (RFID chips and bands used to track animal populations).
-National Parks (indeed, acres and acres of land would long ago have become industrialized if not for human intervention is leaving them set aside... and are now at risk under the current U.S. administration).

Which all raises some interesting questions. How do we even define nature? Are people a part of nature or not?

Can a system of "managed nature" be considered nature? (i.e. the animal or plant only still exists because of human intervention when it would have long ago disappeared as a result of other natural forces long ago?)

An interesting paper here about how that's a fuzzy line and thoughts and attitudes on it are quite contradictory: http://apjh.humanecologyreview.org/pastissues/her151/viningetal.pdf

All of this said, I do think you are making an important point as a part of all this - the feral robots are poorly adapted to this "natural" environment and are only surviving through the artificial contribution of technological material, either intentional or no.

Ultimately, they are poorly suited to this psuedo-natural environment, and I do think they will find their "natural" habitat within a more manufactured realm.

I think what I just wanted to push back on was this sense that this isn't life or, at least, not life worth of its life.

If that's not what you were suggesting, apologies, but I find myself defending and valuing this life and its right to exist - wherever it's able to - as much as organic life.

And I'm completely open to hearing arguments to the contrary.

-Adam
Producer
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Ichneumon
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« Reply #9 on: January 16, 2018, 12:29:44 PM »

My core point is that biological ecosystems are extremely valuable and complicated and fragile. Yes, nature is violent, vicious, and competitive: red in tooth and claw. But all of the pieces have co-evolved to exist together, in stability. Wolves eat deer, but the deer wouldn't necessarily be better off without the wolves. If we change the environment from what the creatures in it evolved in, the pieces may not fit together any longer and cause extinctions, out-breaks, etc. Those robots have been part of the system for a year? A decade?

1. Biological lifeforms are inherently different from the robots. I'm not saying that nature doesn't have harmful aspects, I'm saying that the ecosystem is adapted to deal with those aspects unlike the harm caused by man-made litter and pollution.
-The calcium carbonate in corals and lime stone has been cycling through different forms for all of earth's existence. It could have some harmful effects, but all life on earth has had to evolve in presence of rocks, and they are doing fine in that regard. Plastics have not been around long, and are responsible for the deaths of thousands of mammals, reptiles, birds, etc.
-The "oil" or ink a squid releases is not toxic, made from the same stuff that adds pigment to our skin.
-Formic acid used defensively by ants is not much stronger than vinegar. Yes, there are natural acids, like in your stomach, but as long as it stays where it was evolved to be, you are fine. But you are right, battery acid isn't that big of problem compared to the toxic heavy metals from batteries.
-I study parasitoid wasps and can tell you a hundred other ways natural animals are "mean" to each other. I don't have a problem with those interactions. The robots taking the shelters of natural animals are functioning as invasive species which have much greater negative impacts than native species.
-I'm not "upset" with the maintenance robot because I recognize that he was put there by humans and is doing a job. The same reason I'm not "upset" at trashcans or hospitals or buses. I know that we live in a human dominated world and while I wish we could live more mindfully, I don't think there shouldn't be cities or parks.

2. Your three examples of unnatural things all help wild places and wild life continue to exist. People will not protect what they don't care about, and making them care is one reason why hiking trails, national parks, and scientists are important. If nature trails or scientists start causing extinctions I may have a problem with them. I feel like you are seeing things as only black or white. I don't want to things to "extreme conclusions," I want discuss them in a balanced and realistic way.

The feral robots do seem interesting and valuable and I don't want them killed. But they should not exist at the expense of biological life. As I said in my first post, I loved the robots in the story. My problem with them is that biological species are already dying off and greatly struggling due to anthropogenic changes; any additional challenge may be the end of another species. If the robots only lived in this one little park they wouldn't make much of a difference to the natural world overall, but I doubt that's the case.
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Jethro's belt
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« Reply #10 on: January 19, 2018, 10:58:42 AM »

2 Random thoughts:
Feral robots affecting decoration at adulthood was the most anthropomorphic part of the story.
I couldn't help but think of the park robot as a wiser Ranger Smith who had given up chasing Yogi.       
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savanni
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« Reply #11 on: January 19, 2018, 11:22:26 AM »

This story makes me want to start working on synthetic life.

Terrible dangerous idea, I know, but it was all so sweet!
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Fenrix
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« Reply #12 on: May 06, 2018, 09:57:59 AM »

Some good discussion on what is "nature" here. I gotta say that urban parks are not "natural" especially the most iconic ones like NYC's Central Park.

Essentially all [1] urban parks are sculpted and pruned. The land is graded and shaped to accommodate the construction of paths and activity spaces. The plants are carefully selected, planted, and maintained -- end of life is especially governed for heritage trees. There are corridors of underground utilities to provide power, water, and sewer which have to be carefully managed in relation to things like trees and their root balls. Also underground you've got pipes that carry stormwater runoff to keep it away from people spaces, sometimes even to underground detention tanks. Water features are generally decorative (such as fountains) but they often serve as stormwater management features (such as water quality or storm flood surge protection).

And this doesn't even touch the unnatural status of the fauna. I love the ideas about feral robots that this story raises.

[1] If an urban park is wild, odds are good that it's stream buffer area that is flood zone and has been acquired for stormwater management or remediation purposes. Often this acquisition is after a flooding incident where properties are acquired through an emergency management action.
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raroyce
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« Reply #13 on: May 17, 2018, 10:30:50 PM »

This is one of my all-time favorites. Deserves a Hugo.
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