April 18, 2019

Do Russian Robots Dream of Electric Ice?

Do Russian Robots Dream of Electric Ice?
Ice explosions. Ministry of Emergencies

Throwback Thursday

Commemorative stamp of Battle on the Ice
Commemorative stamp of Battle on the Ice. / Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Today, Russia commemorates Alexander Nevsky’s victory over the Teutonic Knights in the 1242 Battle on the Ice. Read Tamara Eidelman’s essay on how this battle was remembered under Stalin — Russian Life digital subscription required (subscribe here).

We Are All Robots on this Blessed Day

1. Dynamite me a river. Every spring, when the Amur River in Siberia unfreezes, there’s a risk that big chunks of ice flowing downstream will get stuck and cause floods. The Russian government has devised a clever solution: blow up the ice. Usually, ice explosions start around mid-April, but the Amur is thawing earlier and earlier due to global warming, so this year authorities started clearing the ice on April 3, and finished on April 12. To blow up the ice, workers plant explosives at regular intervals across the river, so the explosion resembles a grand fountain. You could say that winter’s going out with a bang (hope someone warned the fish).

Almost better than fireworks. / Video: Anna Liesowska

2. Beep boop, I’m a human. Last Saturday, a robot named Alyosha kicked off a soccer match in Moscow. The commentators oohed and aahed at his advanced “artificial intelligence.” Fear not, however, that robots will take over the world soon: as it happens, “Robot Alyosha” was merely a man in a costume, and the commentators were just joking. Actually, this isn’t the first time Robot Alyosha has made mischief in Russia. Last December, he fooled TV channel Rossia 24 at a youth robotics forum. Evidently he was looking to fool us again, but sadly for him, we humans, like artificial intelligence, learn from our mistakes.

3. We, Robots. Alyosha wasn’t the only robot who made a debut this past week. On Rossia 24 (yes, the same one duped by Robot Alyosha), a robot journalist named Alex delivered some news stories in, shall we say, a freakish manner. The Internet was not impressed. “They made a robot, it’s good, but why does he have a hangover?” wondered one Tweeter. Whatever your opinion on Robot Alex, he’s here to stay: his developers plan to train him to become a consultant. We just want to say that if this is the robot apocalypse, we’d honestly rather have Alyosha.

What’s with his mouth?! / Video: Россия 24

Blog Spotlight

Journey through the Arctic and experience the Northern Lights with Katrina Keegan, who visited Murmansk and wrote about it on April 9.

In Odder News

  • What’s daily life like in Pskov? One photographer documents it using only his smartphone.
  • Kazan residents learned an unusual lesson: Next time you think an earthquake’s happening, consider whether it might just be a really loud rap concert.
Belarusian rapper Max Korzh
Belarusian rapper Max Korzh made a thunderous debut in Kazan. / Instagram: maxkorzhmus
  • Speaking of rap: After soccer coach Leonid Slutsky went on a rant lambasting a rival coach, one Internet denizen set his remarks to a hip-hop beat. Lucky for us English speakers, Slutsky spoke in English, so the resulting humor is truly international.

“Here’s an itemized list of thirty years of disagreements.” / Video: Телекомпания ТБК


Quote of the Week


— One unimpressed Tweeter commenting on Robot Alyosha’s soccer debut

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The Battle on the Ice
  • March 01, 2006

The Battle on the Ice

Alexander Nevsky's victory over the Livonians on Lake Chudskoye (Peipus) has taken on the status of legend in Russian history. But Nevsky may not be the best of Russian heroes.

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