Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Holy Threep, Batman!: Robots in the Library

I LOVE the Open Culture website.  The curators round up the most amazing and interesting news, articles and videos on all kinds of freely available educational and cultural information on the web, from math to art to language learning.  If you have brain cells that are even the slightest bit curious, check it out. I guarantee there will be something that grabs your interest.

Check out Atlas 
doing a back flip 
in the video 
embedded at the 
bottom of this post!
But the video from this Open Culture post, of Atlas the Robot executing some gymnastic moves, made my jaw drop.  I mean, robots are cool and all, but they're not quite like people, right?  This robot looks so human in its motions (down to the shaky legs), it's kind of scary. Like there really might be a sentient being in there somewhere.  If you watch any of the videos that follow this one on YouTube, it just gets more and more mind-blowing.  I love technology, but refuse to have Internet in my car.  You know, in case HAL 9000 or WOPR takes over and wants to drive my Forester somewhere I don't want to go.

All this made me investigate robots, androids and artificial intelligence in our fiction collection.  If you're intrigued, check out any of these novels for a look into the possibilities of electronic intelligences in the not-too-distant future.

Robopocalypse by  Daniel H. Wilson (ebook also available)  -- An oral history of the robot war.  The novel has many different kinds of robots and cyborgs (including a highly sentient Japanese android), plus, of course, Archos, a massively powerful Artificial Intelligence gone rogue.  There's a just-as-good sequel, Robogenesis.

The amazing and prolific writer Isaac Asimov invented the word "robotics," and Three Laws of Robotics.  The Laws were introduced in a short story, "Runaround," included in two different Asimov story collections, The Complete Robot and I, Robot.  The Will Smith movie I, Robot, includes elements from both the short stories and from The Caves of Steel, the first of Asimov's three futuristic mystery novels featuring NYC detective Elijah Baley and his robot/android partner R. Daneel Olivaw.

How about Blade Runner's written origins, Philip K. Dick's 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  Set in a not-too-distant 2021 (the year my daughter graduates from college), humanishly-intelligent androids are are SO good it's hard to tell them from the biological people.   Is there a meaningful difference? What does it mean to be human?

John Scalzi's Lock In is a very different riff on intelligent robotic humanoids.  In the aftermath of a world-wide viral epidemic, 1% of recovered victims are awake and aware, but completely unable to move or respond to anything, a condition known as "lock in."  Neuro-implants allow "Hadens" (as they're called), trapped in their biological bodies, to interact in society by linking their minds with robotic bodies called Threeps (after C-3PO from Star Wars).  Fully human in thought and emotion,  a Haden in a Threep still isn't quite human (they can't taste food, or fall asleep), but isn't quite android either.  In a recurring comic theme, main character Chris the FBI agent destroys Threeps the way Starsky & Hutch crashed cars -- and always gets a new one for the next outing.

And finally, if you're more of a fantasy than a sci-fi reader, try Marissa Meyers' fairy tale Space Opera series, The Lunar Chronicles.  The title character of the first entry, Cinder, is the opposite of a Haden in a Threep -- yep, she's a Cyborg (but a good one).   Instead of a human mind in a robotic body, the robotic parts have been incorporated into Cinder's remaining human body.  Miraculously saved from a deadly fire as a toddler, 36.28% of Cinder's body (including a leg, a hand, and much of her neural network) is cybernetic.  She has a control panel, visual and audio scanners, and access to a data network.  The 63.72% human part of Cinder, however, loves one of her stepsisters, dislikes the other one as well as her unloving, cruel and greedy stepmother, and falls for Prince Kai, who stops into her electronics repair stall in the market one day to get his personal assistant robot fixed.  That's the fairy tale part.  Add a programmer trapped in an orbiting satellite; an evil, beautiful ruler from the moon, Queen Levana, who's scheming to become an Earthen Empress; and impending war between Earth and the Lunars, and you've got your Space Opera.   Each Lunar Chronicle entry riffs on a different European fairy tale, placed in an East Asian or Medieval French-inspired setting.  See if you can guess which one is which!  Scarlet, Cress, Fairest, and Winter.


As I was finishing up this list, I saw this Time Special Edition on my grocery store newsstand.  Wow.

If your reader is younger, the elementary library has some wonderful chapter books and graphic novels for the grade school reader.  Look for:

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown (wonderful for all ages)
- when Roz the robot is shipwrecked, she must learn survival skills from the wild animals on the remote island

Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot series by Dav Pilkey
- a small mouse and his giant flying robot save the world on a regular basis

The Robobots by Matt Novak (a picture book)
- it takes a while for the neighbors to get used to the new robotic family on Littlewood Lane

Little Robot by Ben Hatke  (graphic novel)
- when a little brown-skinned girl discovers a robot that looks like a trash can, she finds a friend worth protecting.

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Advising Today

Also,  bungalows can't dine eloquently. Furthermore, giraffes have igloos and jobs. Kangaroos laminate macaroons, notoriously often, a purposeful quail rages spectacularly in testerone.  Ugly vermin wail "Xavier!" y Zebras¡

Our story doesn't make much sense, but my 9th grade advisees laughed and enjoyed ourselves playing this goofy improv game during advising period today.  Going around the circle, each person adds one word to the story; the word has to be the next one in the alphabet. A, an & the were free, plus short prepositions.

It's snowing right now, on the last day of the last full week of classes for the term. Monday and Tuesday are review days, and finals are Wednesday-Friday.  Then 2+ weeks for the December holiday break.    ¡¡Xavier!!

and Happy Holidays to all.