The Magnet 0012 — Creation of the Humanoids

Also, how to whittle a spoon, making and killing artificial people, a challenge to unstick two cups stuck together, and more.

The Clickers plot rebellion in The Creation of the Humanoids (1962)

The Creation of the Humanoids (1962) is an ultra low budget science fiction movie with wooden acting, flat dialog, and static sets. One late night in the 1980s, I channel flipped to it right as it was airing. I was intrigued by the credits for “Special Eye Effects,” by Dr. Louis M. Zabner, and “Electronic Harmonics by I.F.M.,” so I decided to watch it. I was expecting a so-bad-it’s-good movie in the vein of Plan 9 from Outer Space, but was pleasantly surprised to discover an interesting exploration of the effects of automation on human dignity and what it means to be a person in an age of intelligent machines.

Wikipedia has a good synopsis, but here’s my super-short take: the movie begins some years after 92% of the human population died in nuclear armageddon. The surviving humans are mostly sterile, the population continues to drop, and so they create robots to perform essential tasks. The robots are rated from R1 (1% human-like machines, such as a pencil sharpener) to R70 (70% human-like blue-gray skinned hairless humans with silver eyes who have almost-human personalities like Mike Pence). All this is revealed during the first few minutes of the film (narrated over stock footage of mushroom clouds). When the narration ends, we learn that a reactionary anti-android group called The Order of Flesh and Blood (which is against all robots with a rating above R20) is gaining increasing control over the police and government. This group, which calls the robots “clickers,” uses domestic terrorism tactics like bombing a newsroom that published a pro-android editorial.

The Order discovers that a group of advanced robots has been making R96 robots that are, from outward appearances, indistinguishable from humans (the only thing they can’t do is procreate like humans). In the meantime, one of the Order’s high-ranking members, a man named Craigis, is warned by a fellow Order leader that Craigis’ own sister has been discovered to be practicing a form of unlawful miscegenation with an R70 android. Craigis is told to put a stop to the human-robot love affair before the news leaks and makes the Order of the Flesh and Blood look like hypocrites. But the revelation about Craigis’ sister is less surprising than a discovery he makes near the end of the film. The very end offers one final surprise, which is kind of tacked on, but still fun.

I recently rewatched it (on YouTube) to see if my impressions changed. I appreciated it even more the second time around. For one thing, I’m impressed by how excellent the limited sets are, given the low budget. I learned that the cinematographer was a two-time academy award winner named Hal Mohr. He made excellent use of lighting, angles, drapery, and futuristic furniture to add depth to a movie that consists almost entirely of people and androids discussing philosophical ideas. I also loved the theremin and ethereal vocals score (aka the “Electronic Harmonics by I.F.M.”) No one seems to know what I.F.M. stands for, but it’s likely the music was scored by Edward J. Kay, who also co-produced the movie.

The androids’ makeup was created by none other than the great Jack Pierce, who created many of the famous Universal Studios monsters like Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein and the Mummy. The androids’ silver contact lenses (the “Special Eye Effects” touted during the opening credits) were the perfect way to convey the idea of “machinery” inside the humanoids. As for the story and the ideas presented in it, they were at least as thought-provoking as the ones brought up in the 2014 movie about androids and artificial intelligence, Ex Machina.

I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of Creation of the Humanoids, and I recommend it as a movie that can be appreciated on different levels. Andy Warhol is purported to have claimed that The Creation of the Humanoids was “the best movie he has ever seen,” which I have no doubt he said because Warhol was famously prone to hyperbole, as evidenced by this interview where he says a pro-wrestling match was the “best I’ve ever seen in my whole life.”


How to whittle a spoon

I’ve been whittling spoons for more than 10 years. It’s rewarding to see a tree branch, which would otherwise end up in a yard waste bin, become something my family uses on a daily basis. I give away most of the spoons I whittle and the recipients often tell me they think of me while using them. It’s great to know they appreciate such a simple gift, worth zero dollars, that was so much fun to make.

You don’t need to make a big investment to start whittling spoons. The photo above shows the tools I use. All of them are easily found online or at a good craft store. From left to right:

  • 3M Flexible Sanding Sheets. Like sandpaper but the grit is on a flexible sheet of rubbery film. Not only do they last a lot longer than sandpaper, they easily conform to the hollow of the spoon. I have the sheets in various grit grades.

  • Carving thumb guard. Made of leather, it protects the thumb of your carving hand when you carve in the direction of your hand.

  • Leather strop. Keeps your blades sharp.

  • Spoon gouge. This is the only way I know of to carve the hollow part of the spoon. Here’s a video that shows how to use one.

  • Carving knife. Any good quality pocket knife will do.

  • Stanley Hand Tools Surform Shaver. This is great for roughing out the shape of spoon before you start carving. I’ve had the same one for at least a decade and it’s still sharp!

I’ll soon make a video of how I whittle spoons for a future issue.


Make a new person

Every time you click the “make a new person” button on Darius Kazemi’s website, you get to see a machine-learning-created fake person, along with three things about them. It’s a weird feeling to look at one of these fake people, read about them, and then kill them by clicking the button again. Check out Darius’ other computer-based art on his site, Tiny Subversions.


Challenge — can you get these cups unstuck?

A few days ago my daughter put a small cup in a large cup and they somehow got locked together. I can’t pull them apart (watch video). Do you have any ideas on how to take them apart without breaking them? The first person to suggest a successful solution gets a free one-year subscription to The Magnet, which they can use for themselves or as a gift subscription.


Little Transport Truck

I took this photo of a tiny Yamato Transport truck in Tokyo 2017. I don’t care much about cars, and consider myself to be car blind in the same way some people are face blind. I often try to get into the wrong car in a parking lot. But if I had a truck like this, I’d have no problem recognizing it. The color combination is beautiful and the logo of a mother cat carrying her kitten is one of the best logos of all time (Yamato Transport is known casually at kuroneko, or black cat). Would a vehicle like this be street legal in the United States?

Thanks for reading! The Magnet is written by Mark Frauenfelder and edited by Carla Sinclair.