Robocop is one of the more iconic figures of the film and TV arena, when it
deals with augmented reality, robotics and embodiment. Detroit police officer
Alex Murphy, killed in the line of duty at the wrong time and place, becomes
the ideal candidate for an experiemtal program to create cyborg police officers
to step the force's losses to increasingly violent crime. A unit more machine
than man, which uses organic tissue for the things the machinery cannot yet
duplicate - like the human mind. The franchise has spawned three movies, at
least four made-for-TV films, and a TV series along with various novels and
graphic novels, along with many videogames over the decades. The quality of
the various offerings varies greatly, with some being little more than eye-candy
fluff with plots best quietly forgotten.
Regardless, each fresh take on the concept has included many concepts that
map over very well to the real-world equivalents, and offer new perspectives
on old problems, or ways of highlighting problems yet to come. Revolving around
the key twin concepts of robotic embodiment and augmented reality, various parts
of the franchise have become iconic in their own way, for showcasing in an easily
accessible visual format, what technologies that are just emerging now, will
likely look like when they are matured.
As with all such efforts, there is much they get right, much they get in a
plausible shape, and much that is flat-out wrong. However, picking between the
inconsistencies and the hollywood pseudoscience, there is more than enough material
here, to give a feast for the intelligent mind, as well as for the sharp eye.
None of the concepts in Robocop are unique to it, but the series was both one
ofthe first to broach some of these concepts, and one of the first to do it
well. As an additional bonus, many of the plots are quite good, as well.
Robocop One (1987)
The first Robocop film, the one that started it all. This film is the one
where Alex Murphy is transformed into Robocop, and we see the violent method
of law-enforcement made possible when your body is capable of repelling bullet
fire, or fire of any kind. We also see some of the psychological issues involved
in stripping a person away from one embodied state, and into another. Compounded
by incomplete memories, and a break from the old life, by a choice not of
their own. The conflict between programmed law, and heartfelt duty that becomes
a running theme of the Robocop series, and also speaks so strongly of the
difficulties inherent in any cyborg system, when part is programmed, and part
and the Fear over Programmed Robotics
When Neural Interfaces Include Commands
Augmented Reality: Robocop Style
The Human in the Machine
Robocop Two (1990)
The second Robocop film advances the timeline considerably, from the first.
Robocop raised the bar against the criminal element in old Detroit, and as
with any war, the other side raised the bar right back. A drug war is spiraling
out of control and the police are on strike over the escalating casualties
they are receiving. On top of that, the attempts to create more Robocops have
been both expensive and disasterous, with every new model committing suicide
or going insane, almost immediately after coming online. A psychological evaluation
suggests unexpected reasons for why Alex Murphy survived the process, and
looks at how embodiment affects the psyche. There is a suggestion then that
subjects other than police officers might make the easiest transition; someone
who doesn't see their body as the reflection of themselves. The someone they
pick? A drug lord. Everything goes downhill from there.
The psychology of your current embodiment, and what happens when it is stripped.
The added dangers of insanity when embodied in a posthuman state
Brain in a Jar as an ideal method for re-embodiment.
Technological, external control systems for Free-Willed individuals
Robocop Three (1993)
The third Robocop film is a little different from its two predecessors, and
makes several strange leaps in the story in order to set the situation up.
It feels a little forced from the get-go, and has the loosest connection with
reality, of the franchise so far. OCP, the company behind Robocop, and one
of the largest in the world, has been purchased by a Japanese multinational,
and for reasons never made clear, the old leadership is almost completely
gone. Mercenaries roam the streets, herding the citizens of old Detroit into
concentration camps, and the city is effectively under civil war.
Into this mess wades Robocop and the Detroit police department, trying to
maintain order when the law has gone utterly insane. Struggling to find the
line between law and morality, the cyborg's efforts are confounded by a grenade
to the chest which nearly kills him, and a squad of Japanese ninja androids
intent on finding him and slicing him into pieces.
Although the film's plot is probably better off forgotten, some of the parallels
between a human mind in a robotic body versus an AI mind in a robotic body
are worth mentioning. The film also brings up the possibility of interchanable
hardware for Robocop and how that changes his embodiment equation still further.
AI versus AGI: The Limitations of even brilliant AI in a Robotic Body
Changing Embodiment With Hot-Swappable Limbs
The Challenges of Situational, Embodied AI
Robocop: The Series (1994)
Robocop: The Series, was an interesting departure for Robocop, that explored
a whole host of avenues the film never touched. It was a daytime TV series,
and as such, the extreme violence that characterised the Robocop franchise
up until this point, was of course not possible. You could not have the cyborg
police officer wading through guts and gristle whilst firing wildly with a
machinegun on national TV in the early evening: It simply was not done.
As a result, this series explored the other aspects of a cyborg officer's
embodiment: his superior strength and accessory packs. His mind, and connection
to a sentient Internet-Of-Things. Every sensor in the city became a potential
ally to his cause, and the more the perps relied on technology, the more he
could bend that technology to his will.
The series ran for one season, 25 episodes.
Uploading a mind into a Machine Consciousness
The Internet in One's Head
Many different takes on the psychological issues associated with embodiment,
or mind augmentation
Many different takes on how greed or poorly thought out central control can
damn even the best of innovations
Many, many different looks at a variety of augmented reality technologies,
and their effects on society.
RoboCop: Prime Directives (2000)
Prime Directives takes place ten years after the events of the first film,
and casts a darker light on Robocop's cyborg nature. Yes, at the time he
was augmented into an awesome combination of man and machine, but technology
has moved on. The very technology used to integrate his human brain with computer
chips, is now obsolete. Since modern interfaces don't work the same way, no
modern hardware can be used for replacement parts. He is old, he is tired,
and he is falling apart. Near-suicidal, he struggles to get through each day,
and digs around in the black markets for old computer chips to replace failing
circuitry, as nothing available through normal channels is compatible with
the systems he most needs to replace.
The first two fims focus on another cop, Alex Murphy's old partner John Cable,
who is killed by Robocop when Robocop's tech systems are reprogrammed to force
him against his will, to murder the man. This was done because OCP is near
bankruptcy and needs to resurrect some of its old programs to survive. Cable
was a near 100% psychological match for the old Robocop program, and as a
Detroit police officer, was signed up to participate years prior. However,
Cable stubbornly refused to die in the line of duty, and kept on surviving.
Once he was killed, he was rushed straight into the Robocop program and successfully
turned into one. The existence of two Robocops was proof that OCP could finally
start making cyborg cops to order, and much-needed funding started coming
Unfortunately the mind-wipe performed on the first Robocop was not as complete
as was hoped (much like the original mind-wipes) and he begins to remember.
Backtracking his own actions, he becomes a threat to OCP as he begins to uncover
the truth, and the second, Cable Robocop is sent to terminate him. It comes
down to our Robocop to get the new one to listen to him, and join him against
The second half revolves around an AGI called SAINT that OCP plans to unveil
upon the world: A city-controlling super-intelligence that turns all the electronic
devices in a city into, essentially a single being. A sentient, self-aware
Internet of Things. Nothing can possibly go wrong there, right? On top of
that, a renegade faction, aopposed to SAINT, are developing a bio-tech virus,
designed to infect technology, and crossing from technology to organic flesh
via the neural interface, infect and destroy people's minds as well. It is
a far out there concept, but not impossible, screaming of the dangers inherent
in a fully interconnected world - with the potential to destroy all connected
life of Earth.
Viral Activity crossing the Neural Interface (Human Hacking)
A Technological Plague
Hacking an Augmented Human: A Puppet inside your own body
The Internet of Things
Erasing a Compex, Multiple Substrate system
The politics of augmentation
The downsides to Augmentation in an age of Rapid Advancement