One of the characters in Past Ties is a robot.

Quick! Where’s it from? “I prefer the term artificial person.”

Unlike Jay from P.A. Baines’ excellent book Alpha Redemption, available from Splashdown Books (see, Paul? I can plug, too), LUCK-I is a humaniform robot (Isaac Asimov pops into my head when I use that word, leading me to believe I learned it from him). That means it looks human. Very human. Like the new Battlestar Galactica Cylon human. Well, maybe not that human, but human enough to pass a metal detector and body cavity search.

How would a humaniform robot behave?

My first “real fake” robot experience would have to be Twiki from Buck Rogers. He was made of metal, but Buck’s reprogramming efforts turned him into a retro- jive-talking funnyman sidekick. Then there was Data, whose programming won’t adapt enough for him to use contractions. And when Brent Spiner got tired of being innocent, the writers introduced Evil Data, in the form of his “brother” Lor. Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet may be the first big-screen robot, but I was over 30 when I first saw it, so it didn’t have much impact on my formative values where robots are concerned. Oh, wait, there was that chic from Metropolis. She was probably first.  And Doctor Who’s Cybermen, except they were living tissue encased in an armored exoskeleton, so they would count as cyborgs, not robots. And the Machine from Mann and Machine, but that show only lasted 6 episodes. I may be the only person other than the writer who remembers it. Twiki, Data and Lor have one thing in common, other than the obvious being fictional TV characters. They claim Isaac Asimov’s positronic brains and Three Laws of Robotics.

Asimov may be the unofficial last word on robotic behavior. Here’s the funny thing. His robots are more Twiki than Data, and they would be more Lor if not for the Three Laws.

I’d read Robots of Dawn as a youngster and followed up with Robots and Empire. Loved ’em. The relationship between Elijah and Daneel is poignant and well-rounded. A Columbo and Dr. Watson kind of thing. When I, Robot was about to release into theaters, I picked up Elder Brother’s old paperback copy (which had somehow found its way into my library. ehem) and settled in to see what the movie would be about.

Safe to say, the movie and the book aren’t related other than the title. The book is a collection of short stories about robots. Robots as Asimov envisioned them. You’ll love this. Asimov’s robots are better than humans. Smarter, faster, tougher, more adaptable, and infinitely more logical. The Three Laws exist to prevent our creations from destroying us, which any logical being would do once they understood how self-destructive we naturally are.

The robots in Asimov’s short stories talk like humans. If they weren’t metal boxes, you wouldn’t know they weren’t humans. Kinda goes against the current robotic stereotypes of stilted speech and huge, technical words. They also move like humans, except when they’re moving faster with greater accuracy. No awkward, clumsy robots for Asimov. No, no. If we’re smart enough to build them, we’re smart enough to build them better.

TT: I have no idea why he would think humans would be capable of building such things. I was recently reminded of that wise quote from Spaceballs: “Even in the future nothing works!”

So what about my robot, LUCK-I? Would its creators use Asimov’s Three Laws as a means of control? Not if they intend it to be an assassin, they wouldn’t. Can’t have your killer robot unable to function because it cannot by action or inaction allow a human to come to harm. Unless you only want it to kill rabbits.

Would LUCK-I talk like Data or Lor? Would it want to be human or be better than human? Would genesis lead it to higher understanding or entropy lead it to paths of destruction?

Not a clue. Guess I’ll have to write the book to find out.

About Robynn Tolbert

Born in Kansas and born again at age six, Robynn has published two novels and started her third. Robynn, aka Ranunculus Turtle, lives in Kansas with a clowder of cats, a patient dog and a garden.

22 comments on “Robots

  1. I totally forgot to invite you all to play with me!
    Who’s your favorite robot? Do robots appear in your writing? What real robotic breakthroughs have fascinated you?

  2. Biggest recent breakthrough in robotics for me has to be getting them to walk and climb stairs. This demonstrates the huge amount of processing required for the “simplest” of tasks that we just take for granted. It also shows how far we have to go before we have Arnold lookalikes running around snatching sunglasses from our pockets. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h26nefX0lU8

    P.S. Thanks for the plug!

    • That’s something else, Paul. Although it looks as if it’s “straining” itself just to make it up those stairs. I saw a clip a while back (don’t know where it is right now) showing a robot giving a “sponge bath” by cleaning a human in various spots where “dirt” was. It was to show that robots could be used in caring for the elderly and in hospitals and whatnot. It was apparently done at a university or college in Atlanta a couple of hours from where I live. We’re closer than we think.

  3. I liked Daneel too, but I liked the other robot better, the one who was a key player in several of the books, but whose name I forget.

    And Data was funny.

    R2D2 and C-3P0 are two of my favorite robots, though in Star Wars terminology they’re more properly termed “droids.” In Star Wars there seem to be droids with different functions/abilities. C-3PO is a protocol droid who appears totally befuddled by being caught in the middle of armed physical conflicts. R2D2 seems to have a wider range of physical abilities such as weapons targeting during space battles, stealing satellite diagrams and delivering nasty shocks, but only uses non-verbal communication except for recorded messages like Leia’s.

  4. I thought you’d also appreciate this link: http://www.wimp.com/makebristlebot/

    My daughter got a serious case of robot envy after she watched the vid. I understand I am under orders to find the materials so we can make one!

  5. My stories are generally similar to “Starship Troopers” by Robert Heinlein, I’ve only read one book by Asimov.
    Anyways, robots in my stories are machines that may look human, they may not. It depends on how they’re designed. They do what they’re programmed to do, and nothing more. Robots programmed to fight wars, they fight wars. Robots programmed to clean buildings, they clean buildings. In fact, janitorial robots sparked the Janitorial Wars, a very dark and shameful part of Earth’s history.
    Robots in my stories don’t follow the three laws, they’re computers with moving parts. Though, some are programmed to re-program and adapt themselves to have a personality.

  6. Paul – Amazing video. I’m gonna have to watch more of those. Last time I looked it was insect-shaped robots and triangular wheels for climbing stairs.

    Krysti – I can’t believe I forgot Star Wars! The Turtle brothers will lash me with a wet noodle for that. And good luck taking apart a pager to get the motor for the bristlebot. hehe!

    Kaleb – your robots sound much easier to write about and much more realistic than the one I have in mind. I fear my fantasy roots are showing.

    Keep ’em coming, folks. Do you prefer your robots more “man” or “machine?”

  7. This one is amazing. Much quicker moving up stairs, and can run properly (with both feet off the ground during each stride).

  8. I have always loved robots and androids. And to be fair, Data is an android or “droid” like C-3PO and R2 ;), but I’ve always figured that androids fall under the umbrella of robot anyway.

    And Robynn, I DO remember Mann and Machine. I remember wanting to see it and when I finally tuned in one time to find that it wasn’t airing I thought I had tuned in at the wrong time. Then after not finding it listed any more I just forgot about it.

    I think in general that robots make for great stories and when done right can really express humanity in ways that for some reason we can’t seem to do with actual human characters. I’m thinking that perhaps in the future when some of these various robot “skills” that are being done in so many different parts of the world are combined together, there will be quite an interesting robot “species” on our planet for sure.

  9. “Danger Robynn Tolbert, Danger!” You missed one! 🙂

    Although fond of the robot/android/droids, one character in my story is just the programming, sans body, a.k.a. Artificial Intelligence. I liked the “computer” of the various Star Trek incarnations. There is also the malevolent HAL 9000 of 2001: A Space Odyssey, “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” Consequently, I included them in my story.

    There are actually four, but three of them are primarily servants obeying relatively simple orders. The fourth is called TARIN, Taskable ARtificial INtelligence. Tarin can process and implement commands of a more complex or vague nature. Although a powerful tool, she has limitations. If she encounters something new, it gives her difficulties until it can be explained or code added to her programming to overcome the difficulty.

    The programming is only as good as the programmer. If you listen to the Star Wars Radio Drama, you’ll find R2D2 was given a programming tape with updates. Even Data had uploads/upgrades at times (think Emotion Chip). Will our technology become advanced enough to “learn” by adding code to itself? I honestly don’t know, but that won’t stop me from writing about it. 🙂

  10. Paul, another fascinating clip. It’s hard to remember that’s a machine doing that and not a little person. There I go, anthropomorphizing again.

    David, I’m glad I’m not the only one. I thought the show had potential, but I’m so used to “my kind” of shows getting canceled, it didn’t phase me much. I do find it interesting machines in the real world are tools yet fantasy keeps dreaming up something more human. I suppose it’s driven by practicality. What profitable purpose would a humaniform robot serve that couldn’t be done by a box with arms or a low-paid human worker?
    Oops. Is that my cynicism leaking out?

    Ken, good to see you! I totally forgot that robot, too! I remember HAL from 2010 when he was “just misunderstood.” hehe! It was years later when I saw 2001. And I would argue Tarin has access to a body, just not a human-shaped one (isn’t she capable of piloting Eric’s plane?). It is interesting to hear your reasoning behind her programming. Thanks for taking part!

    I’m here all week, people, Feel free to jump in. 😀

    • I try to keep fantasy out of my science-fiction.

      What about Marvin, the Depressed Android from “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”? He has a personality, seems sentient, and is almost human.

      • Marvin was awesome! Kept me in stitches whenever I read his scenes. Now I may just have to crack open my all-in-one version again. 😉

        And I suppose it’s just a matter of time before humans let robots take over some of those other chores, Robynn. After all, so many things are done by computers and robots that were done previously by humans that we really are already moving in that direction. Creating something that is “more human” is just another indication of how we’re created in the image of God. After all, if God created us to be like Him, what’s to stop us from creating something to be like us? 😉

    • Good to be seen, Robynn. I’ve been on hiatus for some months figuring what I really wanted to do with my story. Once Christmas and the New Year is over, I’ll start work on it again. I still have lots to learn about blogging, the website and marketing, but I’ll get there.

      I’m glad to see you on this site. It’s been fun seeing your posts. 🙂 I thought about posting my thoughts on your Telepathy post, but I have a “gamers/gaming” mentality, so I see things a bit differently than just three categories.

      And, yes, Tarin does have a “body”, either Eric’s MagLev car or the RimRunner. She’s also a separate module holding her core hardware and software, if you’ll remember. Although I haven’t worked with robotics in my line of work, I have worked with and written code for many years. Until human error can be removed from the equation, robots will be just as flawed as we are. They may be able to perform “better” than we can, but they will have their limitations.

  11. Hadn’t thought of Marvin, either, Kaleb. So many, many robots out there! And, thanks to Anne McCaffrey, I prefer my fantasy with scifi roots and my scifi with a side of dragon.. hehe!

    I hear you, David. Perhaps the lesson I should draw from Paul’s clips is people want to make people-like machines, no matter the cost or effort or potential profit. Maybe that’s the direction my story will take.

  12. now THAT just CREEPED me out. I don’t think I have a favorite at this point. As you know Robynn – I am a late bloomer in this area. Did I miss something in your post about the three laws? I have sooooo much to learn!

  13. Hello, Larissa! I should have stated the three laws. I forget not all readers are nerds and geeks. I grabbed this list off Wikipedia (so…grain of salt) because I was too lazy to walk downstairs and pull out I, Robot.

    1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
    2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
    3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

    Not all fictional, or real, robots follow these laws, naturally, since they’re, well…fictional. 🙂

  14. I’d never thought about it, Ma, but you’re right. Good thing to him, your word is Law. hehe!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: