Tweenbots Show How Wonderful Humans Can Be


Unlike most atheists I know, I don't really consider myself a humanist, but maybe that's because I really don't know the full definition. Let's look it up.
Humanism affirms the dignity and worth of all people, based on the ability to determine right and wrong by appealing to universal human qualities, particularly rationality, without resorting to the supernatural or alleged divine authority from religious texts. Humanism can be considered as a process by which truth and morality is sought through human investigation; as such, views on morals can change when new knowledge and information is discovered. In focusing on the capacity for self-determination, humanism rejects transcendental justifications, such as a dependence on faith, the supernatural, or texts of allegedly divine origin. Humanists endorse universal morality based on the commonality of the human condition, suggesting that solutions to human social and cultural problems cannot be parochial.

While I agree in principle with that definition, I have become rather cynical and jaded. My experience of people is less noble and dignified. Most people seem self-serving, narcissistic and self-centered. I've found that many people refrain from immoral acts only out of fear of punishment or guilt. Also, I've found that people in general don't seek truth or look outside themselves much at all. They simply go about their lives to get by as comfortably as possible, mitigated by guilt and fear.

Of course there are lots of exceptions of extraordinary people. But in general my view of the human race is more like children in adult bodies, basically just going through life like a ball in a pinball machine, bouncing off of things and careening around randomly. I think it takes supreme effort to break free of this thoughtless kind of life, where you run on belief systems formed in early childhood. It takes critical and creative thinking to break free of the mold we are indoctrinated into as children.

But, sometimes I am surprised and delighted by humanity. It doesn't happen often, so when it does, I feel the desire to share my warm fuzzies with everyone. This is one of those moments. I was stumbling around the interwebs when I came upon Tweenbots. In this 3 and a half minute video, Tweenbot is traversing Washington Square Park. He does it in 42 minutes with 29 people helping him.

From the site:
In New York City, we are very occupied with getting from one place to another. I wondered: could a human-like object traverse sidewalks and streets along with us, and in so doing, create a narrative about our relationship to space and our willingness to interact with what we find in it? More importantly, how could our actions be seen within a larger context of human connection that emerges from the complexity of the city itself? To answer these questions, I built robots.
Tweenbots are human-dependent robots that navigate the city with the help of pedestrians they encounter. Rolling at a constant speed, in a straight line, Tweenbots have a destination displayed on a flag, and rely on people they meet to read this flag and to aim them in the right direction to reach their goal.
Given their extreme vulnerability, the vastness of city space, the dangers posed by traffic, suspicion of terrorism, and the possibility that no one would be interested in helping a lost little robot, I initially conceived the Tweenbots as disposable creatures which were more likely to struggle and die in the city than to reach their destination. Because I built them with minimal technology, I had no way of tracking the Tweenbot’s progress, and so I set out on the first test with a video camera hidden in my purse. I placed the Tweenbot down on the sidewalk, and walked far enough away that I would not be observed as the Tweenbot––a smiling 10-inch tall cardboard missionary––bumped along towards his inevitable fate.
... Never once was a Tweenbot lost or damaged. Often, people would ignore the instructions to aim the Tweenbot in the “right” direction, if that direction meant sending the robot into a perilous situation. One man turned the robot back in the direction from which it had just come, saying out loud to the Tweenbot, "You can’t go that way, it’s toward the road.”
...this ad-hoc crowdsourcing was driven primarily by human empathy for an anthropomorphized object. The journey the Tweenbots take each time they are released in the city becomes a story of people's willingness to engage with a creature that mirrors human characteristics of vulnerability, of being lost, and of having intention without the means of achieving its goal alone.

I feel like my little Grinch heart melted a bit, watching that video. Random strangers helping a smiling, vulnerable robot traverse a huge city just makes me feel good about people in a refreshing and unexpected way. I have always thought of New York City as the epitome of the cold and heartless city, full of self-absorbed people who couldn't give a damn about anyone but themselves. So this is just so touching to me. I'm dumbfounded that no one stole the little Tweenbots, or damaged them.

Then again a good critical thinker accepts conflicting information appropriately and changes their view of the world as needed, right? I was so moved that I am emailing the creator to tell her how her experiment affected me. I think it's nice to share stuff like that with people. I like telling people I appreciate what they do. So often people only say something when they want to complain, instead of say something nice.

So have a great day, friends, knowing there's hope for us yet. :)