Cybernetic Society

I haven’t been saying much about the new Futurama episodes, largely because I can’t think of a lot to say. The recent ones have had their moments, but I feel they’ve been rather lackluster overall. “Saturday Morning Fun Pit” was funny, but that was out of continuity. The Scooby-Doo segment was the most direct parody of an actual cartoon. “Purpleberry Pond” was ostensibly a Strawberry Shortcake spoof, but really was more a mockery of commercial tie-in cartoons (which includes Strawberry Shortcake, of course, but the references weren’t as specific as they could have been). “G.I. Zapp” focused on Nixon’s attempts to bowdlerize the show, and I must say I laughed quite a bit.

I just watched “Assie Come Home,” which I feel was an improvement over the last few in-continuity episodes. “Calculon 2.0” didn’t really go anywhere, but the parts involving bringing Calculon back to life were great.

It adds a bit more information to what we know of robot death in the show, although I’m not sure what we have is totally consistent. The idea that robots can die and project themselves as ghosts was first used in “The Honking,” and “Ghost in the Machines” revealed that the ghosts were actually disembodied software running on the computing cloud.

The term “cloud computing” didn’t exist until 2006, while the former episode first aired in 2000, so this was a pretty clever incorporation of new technical terminology into the show. “Lethal Inspection” has Bender claim that his backup system makes a copy of his software every day and that it can downloaded into another body, although it turns out he actually lacks this system. If his disembodied software still has his personality and memories, however, as it does when he becomes a ghost, how is this any different? Still, there was some attempt at consistency, as the Robot Devil is able to load his software into a spare body, while Bender has to have his old one repaired to come back to life. His body is quite durable anyway, and not only did his head survive for over a millennium buried in Roswell, but he repeatedly hid in the cavern underneath the Planet Express building after stealing treasures from many different historical eras. This is possibly a reference to Marvin the Paranoid Android in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, who survives for over 500 billion years on a dead planet (Magrathea in the radio show and Frogstar World B in the books), and dies in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish at an age thirty-seven times older than the entire universe.

In “Lethal Inspection,” when Bender asks how much time he has left, the Professor replies, “Anywhere between a minute and a billion years.” Note that, while Bender thinks robots with backup systems are functionally immortal, this is really only true as long as someone thinks their software is worth preserving.

Bender also has his personality transferred to a floppy disk in “How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back.” He’s still functional without it, perhaps even more so in terms of performing his intended work, which makes me wonder why anyone would give a robot a personality at all. Maybe it’s a legal thing in the Futurama universe, as various episodes show that pretty much every machine in the thirty-first century has artificial intelligence, even when this serves to make them less efficient. Nibbler makes a casual reference in Bender’s Game to Robot Lincoln freeing the robot slaves at some point after 2972, and maybe their all being given distinct and often immoral personalities was part of the emancipation deal. On the other hand, there have been references to people buying robots in the show’s present as well. Robots can also vote (unless they’re convicted felons), and Earth has had at least one robot president. We’ve also seen robots who were nobles or royalty, including the Robo-Hungarian Emperor. Emperor Nikolai is stated to be over 700 years old at the time of “The Prisoner of Benda,” but do we know that he was Emperor for all that time?

Regardless, the implication is that some robots were free citizens able to amass vast personal fortunes even before Robot Lincoln. Actually, just to prove that I’m a total nerdlinger, I once had the idea that the Robo-Hungarian Empire was originally a theme park, but the animatronics became self-aware and formed their own nation. Why else would there be an empire of robots based on Eastern European stereotypes? Then again, you could ask that same question of a lot of robots on the show.

One reason for all the robots that don’t appear to serve any useful function is the revelation in “The Bots and the Bees” that they can reproduce in the human fashion.

Actually, the concept of robot pregnancy was raised in a deleted scene from way back in “The Series Has Landed,” in which the Crushinator reveals she’s carrying Bender’s child. Whether the scene was simply cut for time or because the writers considered a robot being pregnant to be too far-fetched at that point, I don’t know. The reason given in “The Bots and the Bees” for robot sexual reproduction is that not enough robots can be produced through traditional methods, but I would think cranking them out on an assembly line would be much faster. I have to wonder if Professor Farnsworth, who built the prototype for modern robots and once dated a robot, had something to do with this function. Bender appears to have been built in a factory, and considers a robot arm to be his mother, but that doesn’t explain how he can have a father (Bender claims he was killed by a can opener) and other relatives. There’s also a contradiction in that a flashback in “Bendless Love” shows Bender being constructed in his present form, while “Lethal Inspection” depicts him as a baby. I’m sure there are ways this can be explained (the Infosphere takes a stab at it), but it does appear to have been a retcon. I have no idea where the extra material required for robots to grow from child to adult forms comes from. I’m sure the real answer is that the writers just make it up as they go along, but they have to expect the obsessive fans to try to make some sense of it all, right? And I haven’t even gotten into Robot God and Jesus.

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