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.