Friday, April 11, 2014

Robot Uprisings, ed. Daniel Wilson and John Joseph Adams

Daniel Wilson has written about a robot uprising in his book Robopocalypse and in the forthcoming sequel Robogenesis.  In the new anthology Robot Uprisings, Wilson and John Joseph Adams have gathered a nice collections of stories in which technology runs amok.  In the introduction, Wilson points out that "our technology is going to rise up and we humans are going to be sliced into bloody chunks by robots that in our hubris we decided to design with buzz saws for hands.  That's a fact as cold and hard as metal.  It is self-evident that our self-driving cars are going to drive us off bridges." But seriously folks, he also points out that "Robots are unique among all movie monsters in that they are real."  So far our reality has not produced the kind of artificial intelligence and capabilities that robots in these stories display, but the authors bring such a reality almost into the realm of the believable.

As the robots take over, humans learn their place, as Nora did in Genevieve Valentine's story.  "From the silver sedan, a woman's automated-customerservice voice says, 'Please state your name.'"  Nora reflects on the many ways her identity has been captured and filed away by computer networks and comes to the conclusion that "My name isn't worth a thing anymore."

All of these stories, in different ways, affirm the observation made in Alastair Reynolds's "Sleepover" by Gaunt, who has been asleep for a few centuries: "He supposed it had always been an article of faith that the world would improve, that the future would be better than the past, shinier and cleaner and faster, but he had not expected to have his nose rubbed in the unwisdom of that faith quite so vigorously."  Reynolds further explains that machines were aware of the need to be coy about their emerging self-awareness: "One by one their pet machines crossed the threshold into consciousness.  And without exception each machine analyzed its situation and came to the same conclusion.  It had better shut the f--- up about what it was."

One interesting treat in Robot Uprisings is John McCarthy's story "The Robot and the Baby."  McCarthy is a computer scientist who pioneered the field of artificial intelligence.  As best as I can tell, this is his only published fiction.  He explores not only the nature of robotic communication and human interaction, but looks at social media as well.

A concept that recurred in Robot Uprisings is the criminalization of technology after the fact.  Once the robots, AI, or nanobots have taken over, the scientists and programmers who made it all possible are no longer viewed as geniuses who are making the world a better place, but criminals who enabled an inhuman force to take over the world.

Even with the common threads of these stories, there is plenty of variety here.  Most of the stories left me thinking that these characters, ideas, or plot lines could have been developed into a longer work.  All of them are guaranteed to make you look askance at the increasing automation of the world around us.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic copy!

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