October 7, 2012

What We Found in the News: Honey Bee Brains in Robot?

Plans are already in motion!
Somewhere last year I bought Asimov's The Complete Robot; a collection of his short robot stories. I took it with me on vacation this year and was completely hooked. I've never been much of a sci-fi fan, but lately the genre has been calling me more and more.

I had just finished reading '...that Thou art Mindful of Him' in which George 10, a sentient robot, tries to wrap his positronic brain around the conundrum of how to make humans like robots. For those of you not familiar with the works of Asimov: in most of his stories robots are not allowed on Earth, but just work on industrial sites on the Moon or other planets. Something Asimov calls the Frankenstein-effect. This story is about negating that effect (i.e. making people accept robots as a valuable assett in their daily lives (for the sake of big bucks, I might add)).

Now, here a spoiler!

The answer George 10 comes up with is to make the robots less human-looking so people will not feel so threatened. Of course, people would also will be threatened by a talking robot dog, George 10 goes on to dumb the intelligence of the robots down. The idea being that once people have accepted dumb, animalistic robots, they will later on also accept human-shaped, smart robots. Well, as it turns out the animal robots will so dumb they cannot comprehend the Three Laws of Robotics anymore (where it states that a robot cannot harm a human being) with obvious disastrous results.
 Now, I come to my point. The first dumb robots they're going to make are small birds and insects like bees.

Please keep in mind, this story was written in 1974.

Last week, I read this article: http://zeenews.india.com/news/eco-news/honey-bee-brains-can-help-make-robots-smarter_803471.html

I'll give you a moment to read it....

Freaky? I think so.

Since long I've been fascinated with the concept of art imitating life imitating art, etcetera. There are numerous examples, from philosophical tractates inspiring revolutionaries to early 1950's sci-fi stories inspiring later generations of scientists. But this was a little too literal for me. Although in this case there is no direct link to the research and the Asimov story, Asimov has been credited as being the inspiration for numerous scientific discoveries. Not in the least the story that the US company Unimation Inc. who supply assembly robots to automobile factories around the globe. The founder of the company admitted that he was so inspired during his time as a student at Columbia University by Asimov's stories that he founded the robot company.

And why not? Asimov was a great writer with also a great insight into the human psyche. I read the book back to back in one week and I totally get why this guy is credited as one of the best sci-fi writers ever. Young scientists will definitely be inspired by this.

But this confirms that, to some extend, the future will be shaped by the visions of speculative writers and well-shaped stories. This inspires me no end to keep writing, but it also has a dark side.

Numerous stories tell us of a dark and dystopian future. And some of those are just far-fetched, but some of them could serve as warnings. Maybe in 300 years we will regard one story or another as being especially visionary. Or maybe we will shape the world wittingly or unwittingly towards one of these stories.

The only problem is we will not know if this is true until years (centuries) later. So it's all pretty much a non-issue.

All I want to say to all young writers is, KEEP WRITING! Your visions could be more than gold!

Oh, and read some Asimov...

Wanna know more about this issue: iO9!

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