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Date: Sun, 6 Oct 2002 10:12:16 -0700
From: Michael Andre-Driussi 
Subject: (urth) robot slavery in NYRSF #170

Since I am relatively sure that Roy Lackey does not have a subscription to
"The New York Review of Science Fiction," I trust that his recent essay on
"Bio bias" was not influenced by Robert J. Sawyer's "AI and Sci-Fi: My, Oh,
My!" essay on the cover of the latest issue of NYRSF.  Another case of
synchronicity (if such is really possible within the genre community, where
everybody is talking about everything all the time!).

Sawyer's piece is about the treatment of AIs and robots in film and text,
beginning with the basic fact that "robot" comes from a Czech word for
forced labor.  There are a lot of neat litle details I did not know (the
big robot in "The Day the Earth Stood Still" was the master -- at least in
the story, if not in the movie), others I had not thought about in a long
time (the robots as slaves thread in "Star Wars").  Most surprising to me
(and most pertinant to what Roy is saying) were the sections on Asimov's
treatment of robots.

Asimov is the genre champion of "robot-rights."  Beginning in the 1940s he
very successfully envisioned robots being humanized by the famous Three
Laws; he wrote of robo-psychologists (humans trained to deal with robot
mental processes and disfunctions); he wrote of robots with child-like
minds and a detective robot who worked with a human partner; iirc he wrote
about a gradual elevation of robots from "clever tools" to sovereign beings
recognized by the law (in a kinda sorta civil rights way).

That is my impression, at least.

So imagine my surprise to learn that in 1986 came one of Asimov's last
robot stories, "Robot Dreams," in which a robot named Elvex is somehow
dreaming (this is unusual) of a Moses figure rising up for the robots, a
man who will speak on their behalf and say "Set my people free."  The famed
robopsychologist Dr. Susan Calvin questions Elvex on this.  Elvex admits
that it recognizes the man in the dream; that the man in the dream is
Elvex.  At which point Dr. Calvin fires her electron gun and erases Elvex.


So then, it seems to me that there are these fracture points within genre.
The gray area of human/robot relations examined by Roy might not be so
narrowly specific to Gene Wolfe's work, but rather, shared across a broad
spectrum of genre authors.  Questions of when a tool becomes an entity,

I do not mean to dillute Roy's observations in any way!  I only wanted to
present some genre context that had synchronistically washed up onto my

More notes on the chems of the Whorl: they may be in a reproductive
thralldom to the bios, in as much as they require high-tech parts which the
bios are no longer producing, which means that "chem reproduction" involves
a scavenger hunt for parts -- with other bios competing, since they can use
the parts as prosthetics!  The chems are wearing down in the face of this
biological onslaught.  The chems and their parts are all wearing down, with
no replacements except for hidden caches . . . hmm, well wait a second:
there are two forms of chem production.  There is bio-directed, like
Swallow's low-tech factory, and then there is chem-directed "reproduction."

But to back up a bit: it seems to me that the gray area is such that if one
wants to say the chems are "clever tools" then they cannot really be
slaves; that in order to be slaves they have to be human equivalent
(intellectually, reproductively, and volitionally, at least; perhaps
spiritually and other aspects as well).



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