Friday, September 27, 2019

Number 2394: Captain Video vs A.I.

Growing up in the fifties, besides comic books I read a lot of science fiction. Some of that science fiction (as well as comic books) used robots. Sometimes the robots were smarter than the people in the story. Sometimes they wanted to take over from humans. I was able to assure myself that it was all just fiction. Nowadays I worry about the near-future when robot cars share the road. The funny thing about fiction is that sometimes it turns into fact.

Captain Video and his ranger meet up with some smart robots who have killed their creator, and are in the process of taking over. Since comic books are produced by humans and not robots the prejudice is for the flesh and blood guys and not the artificial guys.

The television program, Captain Video, was on the air for a few years from the now long defunct Du Mont Network. Du Mont also manufactured televisions, as you can see here with this luxurious 1951 model.

Because of their money problems the television productions were low budget, including Captain Video, where it would be obvious when they were cutting corners with the futuristic stuff, like space helmets. The satire from Mad #15, “Captain TVideo,” drawn by Jack Davis, points out some of the cheap props. Did they actually use shirt cardboard cut to look like a space helmet? I don’t know, but it’s a funny idea.

At least the story I am showing today is free from budget constraints. No budget for props in a comic book. Whatever a writer can think up and an artist can draw costs the same as any other comic book. “Island of Conquerors” is the last Captain Video story from Fawcett, after six issues in 1951. It is from issue #6 (1951), no writer credited, but drawn by George Evans and Martin Thall.


Daniel [] said...

Rather famously, the word ‘robot’ comes from a word basically meaning slave. I've long been uncomfortable with the popular desire, often explicitly expressed, for robots with a high and general intelligence to be used as servants, as opposed to desires for devices of more specific purpose, such as the automatic elevator (or such as the self-driving automobile). If we can make devices that are as smart as are people, then we ought to treat those devices as people, and we ought never to make people slaves as some condition of birth.

In any case, we're further away from the technological possibility of such servants than many people imagine. What I in particular note is the poor state of the theory of decision-making under uncertainty.

I've yet to see an episode of Captain Video, though I've been at least mildly curious about the show since encountering that Mad Comics satire in a Ballantine Books reprinting in 1970.

All-in-all, I think that the story here were alright, but I don't imagine that the author or artists had much pleasure in generating it.

Wally Ballou said...

In this 1954 episode at about 3 minutes, they appear to be using white football helmets with welding goggles on the foreheads. Most of the scenes in every episode I have seen have just been people talking. Occasionally, they will insert footage from an old movie.

Pappy said...

Hey, Wally, thanks for the critique. I have a problem watching ancient television. Let's just say I have limited time and my curiosity does not really extend to TV, but I appreciate your note because I, too, am interested in Captain Video. But, like your note, I have never heard anything positive about the TV series.

Pappy said...

Daniel, perhaps it is my youthful reading of Asimov and other authors who portray robots as thinking, but smarter than humans. There is also something of the shock of the new in me...especially when considering vehicles hurtling down the freeway with no drivers. I think to see such a sight next to one, even in a 20-mph zone, would be to cause a startled human driver to suddenly lose attention to what he should be doing while driving. Having said that, my son, who lives near Pittsburgh, said not long ago some companies were using the city to test driverless cars. As the linked article says, humans were in the cars. I can stand that, unless I were to pull up to a vehicle that was driving on a city street, with the human in the car taking a nap.

Daniel [] said...

Many years ago, I heard a philosopher draw an analogy between what researchers in artificial intelligence were doing and an attempt to reach the Moon by climbing a tree. Certainly, as on got farther up the tree, one might get closer to the Moon; and yet the approach would be fundamentally unsound. In the years since, those researchers admitted that what they were doing at that time were ill conceived, but they often seem to me merely to be climbing other trees.