The Boyfriend of the Week

June 21, 1999

This week's Boyfriend isn't an actor OR a musician. Well, not really anyway. I mean, he was in a film, but it was a documentary. Does that count? Anyway, it was a documentary that came out a year or two ago about four very weird people called Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control. Rodney Brooks was the completely adorable and fascinating Robot Specialist (the three others: a wild animal trainer, a topiary gardener (from my home town!), and a mole rat specialist who came in a close second and may be featured as a Boyfriend some time in the future).

The film's terrific, but it was Brooks (that's DOCTOR Brooks to you, bub) who really caught my attention the first time I saw it. I was completely fascinated by what he had to say and all the ideas he put into my head about both the use of robots and the way robots can give us insight into human intelligence. The second time I saw it, I was much more fascinated by Rodney's superbly cute face. Not even just his big dopey grin and great eyes (very sweet), but also his wildly ridiculous facial expressions (especially the "Robots are SO COOL!" happy face he does). Everytime he'd grin, I'd shreik out "Arg! He is so cute!"

Looks aside, it's also pretty darn sexy that Brooks is a genius. At least, he is by my standards. I went to his web site at MIT ( http://www.ai.mit.edu/people/brooks/brooks.html), where he is the director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and did a little reading to find out what he's up to. Now THIS is a man I could easily spend 6 hours listening to over a long dinner date. Although, undoubtedly, I'd make a gi-huge-ic fool out of myself by saying something like, "Yeah? So, did you see that movie starring Magnum, PI where all the robots go berserk and start killing people? Whaddayou think about THAT?" But being an idiot is part of my charm, right? Alas, I digress. . .

Anyway, it turns out he's working on all kinds of totally cool stuff. For example, he's been building swarming robot colonies modelled after ants that can be used for various purposes, like clearing away unexploded land mines or cleaning your television screen (in the film, he proposes having a little bottle of teeny tiny robots that you dump onto your tv screen. They power up when the tv is on and then when you turn it off, they swarm all over the screen and pick up the dust. This, he says, will be a cost-effective way to keep your television clean. Hoo! I love that -- "cost-effective" indeed!)

The title of the film also relates to this bug-swarm concept. According to the movie, Brooks wrote a paper called "Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control: A Robot Invasion of the Solar System" in which he proposes using scores of tiny robots (instead of a handful of larger ones) to explore planets like Mars. Using cheap robots makes it easier on the wallet to try risky things and it means you could cover more ground more efficiently. What a great idea! Why didn't I think of that? (Answer: because I am not a robot specialist.)

Cute AND smart. It just doesn't get much better than that.

So, rent the movie, already. You'll not only be impressed with how incredibly literary it is (a term my mom and I use to describe anything that's put together well), but you'll also be impressed with just how cute a bunch of geeks can really be. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wish YOU had a robot specialist for a boyfriend. Too bad, though, I got dibs!

MacGyver Factor Score: 95.6%. I took points off because I'm pretty sure Brooks works too much. I've never met a scientist who didn't, have you? And sure, he's working on really cool stuff, but I'd still like to see him sometime, you know what I mean? Anyway, Rodney, I know you have email -- drop me a line! I'd definitely settle for an e-smooch if I can't get the real thing!


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