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  1. #1
    I like SF. SF is cool. Steven L Jordan's Avatar
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    Question Reflections on Robots

    As I start a new novel project that involves robots, I'm just curious about how the rest of you feel about the concept of the robot: Concept born of the Industrial Revolution; evolution ranging the gamut from simple mechanical toys, to sophisticated simulacrums, to human-looking substitutes; techno-social analogue to indentured servitude; psychological measure of consciousness and sentience; physiological symbol of mortality, evolution and of life itself.

    Any opinions as to the handling of robots in literature... what you'd like to have seen, or wish you hadn't... areas that you feel were largely missed... etc?

  2. #2
    If you are looking.for reference material, the Outer Limits series from the 1990s is excellent for robots, AI, and artificial life.

    I am looking for a book called, Do Robots Dream Electric Dreams, which the movie, Blade Runner is based.

    Also Steven Speilberg's AI is good too.

  3. #3
    I like SF. SF is cool. Steven L Jordan's Avatar
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    I'm specifically not looking for reference material, actually. I'm more curious about how SF fans and readers think of robots as they have developed over the decades, and where they see robots as part of the SF mythos today.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Modern Day Myth View Post
    I am looking for a book called, Do Robots Dream Electric Dreams, which the movie, Blade Runner is based.
    I think the book you want is Philip K Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

    The perception of what robots are like have changed quite significantly over the last 80 years... but let's be honest, Leonardo Da Vinci actually produced a mechanical 'toy' lion for the King of France where if you wrapped the rope round the controls in different ways it would steer different courses. (Gads, I sometimes think my brain's overfilled with useless facts.)

    I've tried writing science fiction from the viewpoint of the AI (O.K. some of us are eccentric as well) and got some very positive feedback from readers and critics (yes it was published in a magazine). But you have to be very careful to remember the limitations as well as what an AI can do that a human can't. So the simper you make the AI at the start of the story, the more likely you'll be able to carry the reader with you... and that's the only tip you'll be gettign from me for now...

  5. #5
    I like SF. SF is cool. Steven L Jordan's Avatar
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    Really, I'm not looking for "tips." I know what I'm going to write. I'm just wondering what readers these days think of robots... that's all.

    I've actually written a robot story myself, a few years back. My story was told from two viewpoints, one of the main narrator, and the other of the robot relating its story to the narrator. In that story, I was exploring the ideas of sentience and rights/freedoms for the robot, and the story worked rather well. (Could probably use some proofing today...)

    This new story will be very different, more of a study of identity and relationships.

  6. #6
    Your story makes me recall a book I read decades ago called, The Runaway Robot.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Rosie Oliver View Post
    I think the book you want is Philip K Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

    The perception of what robots are like have changed quite significantly over the last 80 years... but let's be honest, Leonardo Da Vinci actually produced a mechanical 'toy' lion for the King of France where if you wrapped the rope round the controls in different ways it would steer different courses. (Gads, I sometimes think my brain's overfilled with useless facts.)

    I've tried writing science fiction from the viewpoint of the AI (O.K. some of us are eccentric as well) and got some very positive feedback from readers and critics (yes it was published in a magazine). But you have to be very careful to remember the limitations as well as what an AI can do that a human can't. So the simper you make the AI at the start of the story, the more likely you'll be able to carry the reader with you... and that's the only tip you'll be gettign from me for now...
    Thank you for the correct title.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Steven L Jordan View Post
    Really, I'm not looking for "tips." I know what I'm going to write. I'm just wondering what readers these days think of robots... that's all.

    I've actually written a robot story myself, a few years back. My story was told from two viewpoints, one of the main narrator, and the other of the robot relating its story to the narrator. In that story, I was exploring the ideas of sentience and rights/freedoms for the robot, and the story worked rather well. (Could probably use some proofing today...)

    This new story will be very different, more of a study of identity and relationships.
    This is exactly want my C.A.T. series is about, but a different 'human' aspect is studied in each story. The first was about trust... I think humans are too complex to cover the full gamut of 'human' aspects in one novel, and therein can lie the fascination....

  9. #9
    I like SF. SF is cool. Steven L Jordan's Avatar
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    I may touch on the concepts of freedom-versus-property in my novel, but I don't intend for that to be a major theme in the story. I want the concept of identity to be key, both in the perceptions of the robot and of those around him. I'm also hoping to lower the physiological and psychological barrier between human and robot a bit more, though there will still be a barrier.

    A great deal of the concepts and impressions regarding robots have been directly impacted by their outward appearance, whether it be from steel and rivets or advanced biomaterial... IOW, how "human" the robot appears has often been more important than how human the robot acts. That "skin-deep" impression has dictated whether robots were seen as mere machines, or as another "race" of humans, and has dictated how they were subsequently treated.

    Though the treatment of robots has generally been directly impacted by their human-like appearance, an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation introduced us to robot construction drones that, once their sentience was discovered, earned the right to be considered independent beings, not mere drones to be ordered about (they were released from their "bondage"). They quickly demonstrated that they could be as brave and selfless as any human, duly impressing and humbling the humans around them.

    Contrast this with Star Trek's Data, a character whom few people considered "property" even from his introduction; the android was always treated as another member of the crew, albeit a bit socially-challenged, but still essentially human. He was even attended to as often by the ship's physician as the ship's engineer.

    But if Data had been made of angular pieces of metal and plastic knobs, I doubt we would have seen the kind of interactions we routinely saw between Data and the crew... nor would we have seen the angst displayed by Data in wanting to be more human.
    Last edited by Steven L Jordan; September 21st, 2012 at 09:32 AM.

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    I cannot think of any obvious (to me) aspects of robots that have yet to be written about, or have only been done badly. They have been staple and stand-in for so long already. Especially if you consider all AI in a motile body a robot.

    As a contrast to Data in Star Trek there is Kryten in Red Dwarf (admittedly a comedy). A not quite so humanoid robot, programmed to obey, who does make the step to independent entity. And still with the easy, normal interactions.

  11. #11
    I like SF. SF is cool. Steven L Jordan's Avatar
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    Comedy robots are an altogether different creature... specifically, the Clown: Very seldom played for anything except raw comedy relief; designed to either mimic human foibles strictly for laughs, play the foole or the straight-man to the human, or demonstrate Rube Goldberg-ian substitutes for human body parts and functions. You laugh at them, but you rarely laugh with them. And you never feel any more sympathetic towards them than you would someone else's pet.

    About the only exception to this rule I can think of was in Bicentennial Man (the movie, with Robin Williams as the robot). And at first, Williams plays Andrew as the clown, bringing the same response to comedy robots; but as the robot struggles to become more human and to be considered as such, he (appropriately) evolves into a dramatic character, the "different human."

  12. #12
    My view is that in order for a robot to have a dramatic part in a story it must have an intelligence and emotions similar to a human. Now, with the complexity of a human brain, any device able to think equally would be indistinguishable from a human personality and thus, would be a being on its own. This means that the robot part of it is relatively unimportant as the intelligent part of it would be interchangable with a human... or a human personality download... or an artificial personality etc.

    The novel that led me to this line of thought is Wrights "The Golden Age" where independant personalities moved freely between constructs, organic bodies, though spaces or energy matrixes.

    So... simply... if you have a robot creative enough to write about... your just writing about another person.

  13. #13
    I like SF. SF is cool. Steven L Jordan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by marshal atkins View Post
    So... simply... if you have a robot creative enough to write about... your just writing about another person.
    I'd agree that if you have robots that are physically and mentally indistinguishable from humans, you can treat them as a new "race" of humans. This is a fairly more recent trend, brought to us by the idea of outer skins that would effectively hide a robot's mechanical nature and allow it to fully blend in with other humans. The Galactica reboot did a good job of exploring that.

    But if they are physically or mentally very different, robots become something other than another person... a sort of alien, perhaps--which, in literature, have been treated as another person, once removed from humanity--or as an anthropomorphic toaster... which has been the inherent conflict concerning robots since they were originally conceived, and what makes them so much more potentially interesting than writing about a person.

  14. #14
    to clarify my point... if you can make an intelligent robot then you will be evolved enough that the form will not matter as people will probably have the ability to shift into any form to fit the need. A robot body will be nothing special.

    And... as far as alien or different... if humanity can create an intelligent machine they would be able to augment and mold their own personality so strange ways of thinking will be the norm.. .thus making a robot housed personality nothing special.

  15. #15
    Semi-on topic.

    I recall a short story from an anthology called 'Space Stations' or something similar. A space station inhabited by families suffers an accident. A 10 year old girl is stuck in a module that's leaking air. The computer that runs the door requires a release of some capabilite, either processing power or electricity or something, in order to seal off the area. People in control room don't know there's a girl still alive in the module and keep sending instructions to the door to seal itself to prevent loss of atmosphere. The door computer keeps refusing the order and demanding some other option. Out of curiousity, one of the techs authorizes the door to do what it wants. Girl is saved by the door, but in the process the door computer starved itself of power, thus losing it's program. The techs, amazed to find the girl alive, pry open the door computer to try to find out why it acted so far outside it's programing. All they could recover was the last line 'little girls are not redunant'.

    I found it powerfully moving. And it was about a door. Not necessarily a anthropomorphic robot, so I would disagree that 'skin deep' is the requirement.

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