Pop Culture Syllabus: Robots

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A course in pop culture isn’t complete without a well-considered curriculum. Here are the sights, sounds and texts you need to become a master of the arts at mental_floss university. This month: Robots. 


A vast new exhibition in Chicago showcases the many ways that robots have become part of our everyday lives, from the therapeutic cuteness of PARO (an adorable baby seal used to comfort the elderly) to surveillance drones and Google’s self-driving car. Hands-on displays let visitors interact (and play blackjack) with other advanced automatons, some of which have never been seen by the public. The only question left: When the museum closes for the night, do the robots stay up plotting our doom?

VISIT: Robot Revolution, Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, through January 3, 2016


When Sony introduced Aibo, a robotic dog, in 1999, it hoped consumers could love a pet that didn’t require the cleanup of a flesh-and-blood animal. After years of subpar sales, the company abandoned Aibo (Japanese for “companion”), to the heartbreak of some 150,000 owners. New Aibos stopped trotting off the production line in 2006, but it wasn’t until March 2014 that the company stopped repairing those it had already sold. The New York Times’s touching documentary about the dog’s final days includes a Buddhist funeral for bots, one globe-trotting robo-pup, and a sweet synchronized dance routine.

WATCH: The Family Dog 


This underdog story follows a team of high school students to a very different kind of big game: the FIRST Robotics Competition. Begun in 1992 by inventor Dean Kamen, FIRST challenges kids to build game-playing robots that compete in a series of tournaments—balancing on beams, throwing balls in goals—culminating in a championship in front of thousands of screaming fans. Our heroes are the team from Dos Pueblos High School. Will they take the top prize?

READ: The New Cool: A Visionary Teacher, His FIRST Robotics Team, and the Ultimate Battle of Smarts by Neal Bascomb (Crown)