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Parasha: I Robot: November 6th reading


Oops, I just realized that it was time for the first Parasha section, and I'd forgotten about it. So for now I'm just putting this place up for discussion, I'll have to edit in any summaries/comments I have later. Also feeling kinda "meh," so I'll probably be resting for a bit. But I at least wanted to get this up, for people to start discussing it.

Edit:

The introduction sets up Susan Calvin's importance in the story, and sets her up as emotionless, almost a robot herself, making a nice contrast to the robots who, as with much sci-fi of the time, are being portrayed as possibly another form of human themselves.

And of course "Robbie," a short story that introduces a Robot used as a nursemaid. It's a bit on the treacly side in some ways, but still nice. Although really, I have to wonder what Mrs. Weston's problem really is. Is it just what "the neighbors" say, or what? I mean she gives a lot of reasons, but it's hard to pick out what might actually be troubling her, and what is just an excuse.

This also pretty effectively sets us up to start considering the whole question of what makes a person a person. It's just a bit.. odder to read it now, since the events happening there would now be in our past, and of course things like thinking robots and commercial jet-cars aren't here yet. (It's also awkward in the introduction to see the reporter making notes manually via a machine, instead of just recording the interview.)

And in some ways, I think our society dilutes the impact a bit, since we've become too used to seeing robots as, well, things that don't actually think or have emotions, thus aren't real people in pretty much *any* sense. It might happen eventually, but I think the longer it goes on that we have machines without the thoughts, the harder it is for us to think of them as possibly something more.

Anyhow, if I have any further comments that I think of I'll add them in comments later. Sorry if this is a bit short or not very detailed, feeling better already but still not peachy keen, so I'm slacking a bit. :p

Comments

( 18 Notes — Write a Footnote )
silmaril
Nov. 6th, 2009 08:57 pm (UTC)
Yay, I was waiting for this!

I this Mrs. Weston's problems were severalfold. One is that she's got Frankenstein complex herself, though she blames the neighbors for it. One is that she is cast and characterized as the nagging housewife that is the bane of the poor innocent hardworking husband (the scene with the "hours after Sunday dinner being sacred" for George sets that up very clearly. One is...

Well, one is, Susan Calvin notwithstanding, Asimov was just not very careful about misogyny sometimes, and can we get that right out now and not have to discuss it every time it comes up? Because it will, again.

The other question, about what makes Robbie a person to Gloria, is much more interesting, I think. Robbie plays with her, is warm and comfortable, shows tenderness to her, makes it interesting for her by going so far as to sulk and make promises and doing the "fair! fair!" thing that's so important to kids and their games.... he is much more human than the dog that the mother tries to present as a replacement, but the twist is that he is programmed to behave like that, all of it.

As far as we know.

In the later stories---and I think those are the most interesting facets of Calvin/robopsychology stories---some of the robots' actions are going to be explicitly presented as emergent behaviours arising from the sheer complexity of the robots' programming, and then the "what makes a person?" question is really going to explode over our heads, I think.

Again, whee!
stormfeather
Nov. 6th, 2009 10:23 pm (UTC)
See, this is part of the thing for me - I've technically read the book before, but it's literally been years, and I remember only bits and pieces (even less than I did of the Zelazny), so in some senses it's almost as if I'm a first-time reader. So it's harder for me to mention things in context of future events.

I'm also wondering if I *should* start putting spoiler/non-spoiler separate posts again. My original thought was that since they're short stories, and self-contained, and all being discussed in a chunk it shouldn't be necessary. But I forgot how intertwined they were, with an overreaching story, so... hrm.

And yeah, Mrs. Weston does come across as the Nagging Hausfrau, but I wasn't sure (and I guess still am not) if it were a matter of just dipping into the stereotype well for ease of characterization, or a matter of misogyny. Either way, I would've preferred something more. :p

annewashere
Nov. 6th, 2009 11:28 pm (UTC)
On further misogynistic reflection, it isn't too bad, because Asimov isn't necessarily doing that thing where he's casting a woman as merely a cartoon of a mysterious annoying Everywoman, she's an actual person. An actual person that I don't relate to, sure, but that's true of a lot of real actual women in this day and age even.
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annewashere
Nov. 6th, 2009 09:06 pm (UTC)
I am reading this for the first time, and you said what I wanted to say about the awkward in-the-past bits and S said what I wanted to say in response to you about Mrs. Weston.

It was funny, my first thoughts on getting into the story proper were: seriously, we have thinking robots, but family dynamics are still in the 50s!? Old sci-fi is so cute, and I am also so grateful that social change has come along with the technological change.

Edited at 2009-11-06 09:07 pm (UTC)
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annewashere
Nov. 6th, 2009 11:25 pm (UTC)
And a great icon it is!
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silmaril
Nov. 9th, 2009 02:37 pm (UTC)
Re: My thoughts, let me show you them
Why would you design heavy industry robots that look human?

Asimov himself brought that up several times in the corpus, if memory serves, as making it easier for people to accept robots. Or at least, the intention being making it easier for people to accept robots, and the reaction being Uncanny Valley in a major way. When I first learned of the Uncanny Valley term, actually, I remember thinking what a pity Asimov did not have that term when he was writing the R. Daneel Olivaw stories.
dscotton
Nov. 7th, 2009 03:16 am (UTC)
The technological predictions are definitely the thing that grabbed my attention the most reading this. Most of the sci fi I've read has either been set in the far future or in the very near future, I don't think I've read many books that were set in my lifetime as seen from 60 years ago. The idea that we'd make robots who could comprehend human speech and even show emotions (or at least mimic them in appropriate situations) before we'd be able to reproduce speech was the one that amused me the most.

Focusing on the actual story (which I have never read before), when I was reading it I assumed that he actually did have emotions, maybe because I was entering with the mindset that this was a book about robots becoming sentient. But silmaril's post makes me question that assumption. It would definitely make more sense from a modern standpoint if he were just programmed to act like that.
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stormfeather
Nov. 7th, 2009 06:39 pm (UTC)
Yeah, this feels right to me. "Robots" have come to be more or less defined for the moment (although with smarter robots, it could still shift over time), but "intelligent machine" isn't really played out.
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( 18 Notes — Write a Footnote )