Is there such a thing as too much progress? Sometimes we are more preoccupied with the question of “if” we can do something, we don’t think about if we “should”. Such is the case in Emotional Robots: A Question of Existence, when the very robots that replace us may find themselves replaced. Follow along in co-author and illustrator Alex Zohar’s Big Idea as we think about what it really means to progress.
When we started this project in 2017, we had all been working in the startup and tech world for close to a decade. Advancements in technology were moving so fast – just think back to ten years ago, before the iPhone and mobile web fully took off and how different things were. Trying to keep up with the rapid pace of technology as consumers, and the unrelenting drive for growth we experienced as employees of startups, had us questioning what progress really even means.
In the news, big stories about the illusory promises of technology came to light in the form of Theranos and Juicero – among many other examples. Through a combination of our individual experiences working in the tech world and being millennials, we decided to create a lighthearted graphic novel that could poke fun at our increasingly absurd modern world, while also examining our obsession with progress. At the same time, we wanted to approach it with both empathy and consideration for human nature. Some of the most enjoyable parts of this project traced back to the initial ideation stages: stacking seemingly idiotic technological possibilities upon one another – possibilities that in some cases ended up being more fact than fiction.
This led us to our Big Idea: When a society of robots replace their human creators, what happens to them when they themselves become replaced by better robots of their own creation? And how do they cope with this new reality? In all of this, we wanted to explore what it means to be human and what we’re losing in this ceaseless drive to stay updated. Naturally, all of these questions began to get filtered through the joke of robots who develop emotions.
Overall, our book’s intent to make people laugh – sharing in the humor of our existence and modern condition. On a deeper level, perhaps it can help us take a step back and widen the lens of our current place in time.
There is a secondary Big Idea in the work, which is the cyclical nature of history. As the historian Will Durant once aptly said, “There is no humorist like history.” These clever little robots couldn’t agree more. Throughout history, technological revolutions have often been marked by turbulent times. Being believers in the value of levity in the light of turmoil, we wanted to explore this idea through the three generations of robots and how they evolve throughout the story.
Will we ever learn from our past mistakes? Or, are we (and our sentient creations) destined to repeat ourselves and follow the same fallible human nature that is so timeless throughout history? Ultimately, we wanted to use this universe of lovable robots as a platform to thoughtfully and presciently discuss the issues we face today with some wit and dark humor.
Visit the co-author and illustrator’s website.