ROBOPOCALYPSE by Daniel H. Wilson

Book Quote:

“In a little boy’s innocent voice, the machine delivers a death sentence: ‘The air in this hermetically sealed laboratory is evacuating. A faulty sensor has detected the unlikely presence of weaponized anthrax and initiated an automated safety protocol. It is a tragic accident. There will be one casualty. He will soon be followed by the rest of humanity.’ ”

Book Review:

Review by Bill Brody  (JUN 26, 2011)

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson tells the apocalyptic story of a near future when one machine gains true intelligence and determines to honor life by wiping out human civilization. The machine intelligence takes over the robots that are central to civilization; the automatic cars, the robo-nannies and cleaning bots; all of them become the enemies of humanity. Most of the few people who survive are herded into concentration camps where some are surgically altered to become part machine. Needless to say the machine parts are all under control of the original rebellious machine. Robots start evolving, building new robots in response to human resistance.

The robots have greater intelligence, superior strength and speed than people. Humans have a killer instinct when it comes to survival, and a wild kind of creative imagination. Most of the surviving humans retreat from the machine-centered civilization that betrayed them, although one robotics worker creates an enclave of machines who fight on the side of humanity.

Many who are knowledgeable about machines and machine intelligence think it only a matter of time before there are machines that are intelligent. The test for intelligence is called the Turing Test after the brilliant English computer pioneer who said that a machine could be considered intelligent if it could pass for human in a blind conversation. The rebellious machine in this story clearly does pass the Turing test.

The theme of intelligent robots and intelligent machines has a long and distinguished history. H. G Wells had a robot-like machine in The War of the Worlds, published in 1898. Karel Capek coined the term robot in his play R.U.R. about rebellious robots. Isaac Asimov, a pioneer sci-fi writer, and a PhD scientist wrote convincingly about robots more than a half century ago. I, Robot is the classic in his series on the theme. He coined the “Laws of Robotics” that said in essence that robots would serve humans first, then their own interests, all under the prime directive not to harm a human. Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick was the basis for the movie Blade Runner.

The structure of the novel is a series of interlocking short narratives as recorded by the rebellious robots. Each narrative features heroes in humanity’s struggle to resist the robotic onslaught. Not all of the heroic characters are human, some are humanoid robots who have been awakened to sentience. The human heroes are varied, including soldiers, urban guerillas, a worker in a robotic factory in Japan, members of the Osage Nation, and a girl with machine eyes, among many others. All of these heroic characters are fiercely determined for humanity to survive, something that distinguishes them from the robotic enemy.

There are a lot of interesting questions raised here. Can machines someday become intelligent? If so, what form might that intelligence take and could that intelligence rebel against humanity? If there were to be a robotic rebellion is there any chance that humanity could survive? What about machine/human hybrids and chimeras? Could machines, even if intelligent, be creative, evolve, and have passion? There is compelling argument by Damasio and others that intelligence requires passion; that dispassionate intelligence is an oxymoron because there has to be a caring something that values one thing over another. The Nobel laureate, Gerard Edelman in Neural Darwinism expounded the view that machine intelligence can only derive from a machine evolving in interaction with its environment; a machine that can make mistakes and act to build a different machine in response.

Daniel Wilson holds a PhD in robotics from Carnegie Mellon and is exceptionally well informed on the subject of robotics. Every aspect of robotics depicted here exists today or is under development. The philosophical questions are addressed, but not in any pedantic fashion that would take away from the rollicking good story, and Wilson proves himself to be one hell of a good storyteller. Robopocalypse moves along compellingly. The plot is clear and the action intense, well suited to the action movie of the same title Steven Spielberg is making based on the book.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 103 readers
PUBLISHER: Doubleday (June 7, 2011)
REVIEWER: Bill Brody
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Daniel H. Wilson
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Genesis by Bernard Beckett

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick

And on DVD:

Terminator: The Sarah Chronicles




Movies from books:

  • Robopocalypse (2013)

June 26, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Speculative (Beyond Reality)

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