A Brief History of Disney’s Anamatrons and Their Relation to Robotics

Most of you are probably unaware of what happened on June 16. Major news outlets won’t carry the story for fear of retribution, and all record has been erased by the same people that Disney employs to scour the internet looking for copyright infringement, but they are not the only ones scouring the internet. Those of us who are always looking for evidence of the truth found it on June 16.

Most of you are familiar with Facebook’s attempt, via third party software developers, to use robots to automate human interaction. We have known for some time that the U. S. military and private corporations like Google are developing robots with frightening capabilities. At best, these robots will be used to impose the will of governments and corporations. At worst, these robots will act on their own accord, which would likely be the end of our species. What is frightening is that there is a new player in the game, one with vast financial resources and the implicit trust of the public: Disney Corp.

For those of you who have been to “The Happiest Place on Earth” (my parents took me when I was 9, an act that now seems grossly irresponsible), you are familiar with the ride It’s a Small World and its legion of animatronic “dolls.” What you may not know is that this ride debuted at the 1964 New York World’s Fair under the name Children of the World. At the time, it was received as an innocuous, whimsical theme ride. Looking back, the evidence was there that it was anything but innocent.

Disney’s animatronic children weren’t the only non-human anthropomorphs in New York in 1964. That year also saw the creation of Nam June Paik’s K-456, which was developed to interact with humans.

Curiously, a site as widely sourced as Wikipedia has only one mention of Paik’s interest in robots and neglects to mention their human interactivity. Such an oversight seems grossly irresponsible unless it was intentional.

Critics would argue that Disney’s animatronic children and Paik’s K-456 being in New York at the same time was mere coincidence. The same critics probably believe to is frivolous for an organization such as Human Rights Watch to get involved in efforts to ban killer robots. What is even more telling was that this meeting in New York took place the same year that Ford Motor Company introduced “Freddie Ford,” a robot which, again, was designed to interact with humans. Clearly plans were being laid in 1964 that will have a lasting effect on the human species. What remains to be seen is whether we will wake up soon enough to make sure that our species is, itself, lasting.

The warning signs were there even then. November 14, 1964 saw the broadcast premiere on The Outer Limits of the episode “I, Robot“. The show aired on ABC, which of course is now owned by Disney Corp. Based on the short story by Eando Binder that was later adapted into a book of short stories, I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov, the episode follows a robot, Adam Link (a not-so-subtle suggestion that this robot represents the birth of a new species), as he is convicted of murdering his creator. The show takes pains, however, to convince the audience that Charles Link’s death an accident, ending with the robot breaking from his bonds to save a young boy from a truck.

Paik recreated this scene in 1971 when he arranged for K-456, then obsolete, to be “broadsided by a taxi-cab.” This combination of callousness and sympathy has created an environment that is ripe for disaster. We, the public, have been lulled into a false sense of security concerning these potentially dangerous machines while we have given them ample reason to view us with a mixture of suspicion and hatred.


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