QZ qz thoughts
a blog from Eli the Bearded


I watched the Michael Crichton written/directed Runaway last week.

Runaway (1984) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088024/

The blurb I read about it promised spider robots. I was disappointed. There were things they called "spiders" in the film, but these were six legged things, about the size of a typical restaurant lobster, with hypodermic acid injectors instead of mandibles.

The story is about a near future when robot servants are commonplace and a police force that deals with rogue robots. Naturally, for a good story, there's someone who wants to rogue-ify robots and Tom Selleck is the cop who can stop that someone (who was played by Gene Simmons, of KISS).

The robots were somewhat reasonably designed. They are not Jetsons Rosy, but most were more like modern warehouse robots: blocky wheeled things with no face, but manipulator arms. Many of the robots do have implausibly good speech control, but not devious intelligence. They are pretty simple minded with less wit than Siri.

There are some interesting details. They use a "floater" to investigate an armed rogue-ified robot in a house. The "floater" is a small flying thing with a remote video feed, very much like consumer drones. But the engineering is all wrong: it's shaped a bit like a book with a single central prop, forgetting why helicopters have tails. The cop's son uses a thing that resembles a tablet computer to watch TV in bed. There are a number of things secured with biometric readings, particularly retinal scans. Robots can be disabled, easily, if you can get close enough to detach their battery cables. Reliability is a significant concern for the characters, and at one point Selleck refuses to let a medic robot perform because he doesn't think that model will be as careful as a human.

It's not a bad story and the vision of future tech holds up okay. Three of five missing computer chip templates.

Final thought: but the simplistic flaw of fear of heights is used in obvious ways.