I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

The End Time is Swiftly Approaching: Dancing Robots

by Brian Correia
July 14, 2016

Every since man was banging two bones together, he has been trying to perfect the art of the dance. All he has wanted to do is zoom-a-zoom-zoom-zoom in a boom-boom, if you will. It is the natural, beautiful response to that most inexplicably moving force we call music, but it can get ugly. Dancing may come naturally, but dancing well does not. Man embarasses himself with stilted strutting, fractured footwork, and whatever you want to call the Macarena. For every John Travolta, every Michael Jackson, and every Martha Graham, there are five David Brents. Every year, men and women alike haplessly spend millions of dollars on dance lessons on the road to what they hope is boogie wonderland. They instead find themselves trapped with two left feet in a disco nightmare, taunted by the boogie man himself.

While we have continued to flounder on the dancefloor (with what’s considered the last major innovation, the “dougie,” a mere retread of what came before it), humankind has made consistent headway in the technological world. Technology has absolutely revolutionized art and medicine; it has permanently changed the fabric of our lives. We read on electronic devices, we communicate on electronic devices, some electronic devices literally keep our hearts beating, and yes, thanks to Konami, we even dance on electronic devices. But the dance itself is still analog. It must be studied, learned, and practiced. As well it should be.

Of course, we couldn’t stop there. Humankind has proven time and time again that it does not know how to quit when it is ahead. We push onward, in the name of progress, but our inventions have a tendency to get the best of us and bring out the worst in us. Our tools become mindless diversions; at times, they take on minds of their own. We are mired in constant noise. Why talk to a librarian when you can Google a query and have a thousand libraries’ worth of information at your fingertips? Why go to a doctor when you can get perfectly legitimate medical advice from the fine experts at the forums of WebMD and Erowid? We are making ourselves obsolete. We puny humans move like bees from e-flower to e-flower, pollinating, insuring the growth and nourishment of a machine that will eventually be able to perpetuate itself independently and destroy us. What will stop this? Captcha codes?!

So, sure, at first, the idea of a dancing robot was harmless enough. The image of something so inhuman, so mechanical, participating in an activity as fluid and soulful as the dance used to be downright comical. In fact, we poked fun at this very concept by coming up with a dance called “The Robot,” a.k.a. “The Mannequin.” Unlike “The Chicken Dance,” which, barring the flapping of imaginary wings, consisted of moves that were decidedly unavian, The Robot mimicked the hypothetical actions of robotic beings appropriating human dances. Certainly, while there were still men and women who couldn’t dance to save their lives, no robot could dance. It was downright hilarious.

And so we laughed. For a long time, we laughed. Robots, our faithful servants, did not have the capacity to hear music, let alone comprehend it. The thought of them dancing was preposterous. Ah, but along came crafty Kraftwerk. There were reports, scattered though they were, of robots unprovokedly putting on Computer World as late as 2 o’clock in the morning. The validity of these claims is uncertain, and quickly they were swept under the rug. Most of us took them about as seriously as the ramblings of UFO spotters. For twenty years, the musical robot underground was a fairytale to all but the most devoted cultist.

That is, until Daft Punk showed up. Those funky Frenchmen proved us all wrong. The two horsemen of the robocalypse. Were they humans? Were they robots? It didn’t matter. Whatever they were, they blew the doors down. Binary and music collided. Around the world, robots were doing The Robot to "Around the World." By the time they discovered "Da Funk," forget about it. Electronic music had become the domain of electronic beings.

What could we do? We let them have it. Humans drew a line: digital music was for robots, and analog for humans. It was a drag, but it was the way it had to be. This worked out fine for a few years. We strummed, they thumped. But they’re efficient machines. The robots quickly mastered breakdancing, popping, and even locking. Soon, they were onto grinding. They made their way to moshing, salsa, and tap. The Rockaway. The Mashed Potato. The Electric Slide? Self-explanatory. By 2007, they had ballet. Proms, weddings, and even hoedowns across the country were getting barnstormed by robots dancing better than any man short of John Travolta had ever dreamed of. The ultimate, tragic irony is that the people who programmed these ‘bots were the ones who were least likely to know how to dance themselves. But no one is laughing anymore. We have created a monster.

Where will it end? How soon before robots start doing The Human? Before teams of robotic dancers begin “serving” innocent humans on our analog streets? Before they start winning reality shows? Before the Macarobo?! God help us. There is a solution. I propose a fourth Law of Robotics: A Robot must not dance. It is common sense. Without this law, our future is bleak. I will not, I cannot, doom my children to a world where the hokey pokey is performed without any actual limbs, even if it means banning everything but Enya, Sunn O))), and Phillip Glass. I will not rest until every robot is stripped of its urge to cut rugs, bust moves, or otherwise get its groove on. It’s the only way, my friends. I fear it is the only way.
Brian Correia is a budding computer scientist and aspiring writer from Boston, Massachusetts who couldn't decide which hip-hop lyric to put in his byline. The top three, in no particular order, were as follows: “cooler than a cucumber in a bowl of hot sauce,” “spiced out Calvin Coolidge loungin' with six duelers,” and “I got techniques drippin' out my buttcheeks.” He is on Twitter (@brianmcorreia) and Tumblr (brianmcorreia.tumblr.com) like the rest of the kids.