Wednesday, November 23

robot camel jockeys

Here's an article I wish I'd written: the story of robot camel jockeys in the Middle East, as replacements for enslaved children, in last month's Wired.

My friend Will Knight covered this for New Scientist in April and I thought it was a wacky little story, but didn't think more of it. But the Wired reporter fleshed out the fascinating backstory, and it has a bittersweet ending:
"These children [the former jockeys] were slaves," he says. "You can't argue that slavery is better than freedom." And he's right, of course: You can't. But you can argue that progress unaccompanied by a keen ear for context is just a game of Whack-a-Mole. You pound out one problem and another appears right next to it.
Many of the former jockeys are being sent back from whence they came, many to the Sudan, rife with conflict. Though it may not be clear which life was worse for those kids, at least the robots could keep more kids from being enslaved to the camel racing sport.

But the weirdes part is that the robot's plastic heads—somewhat lifelike and outfitted with sunglasses to make the camels comfortable with the pack strapped to their backs—have butted against Islam's strictures on representations of humans, so some officials have said off with their heads.


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