Image: Rossums Universal Robots, Karel Capek, 1920.
Rob Horning reviews Illah Reza Nourbakhsh’s study of the role of robots in popular culture, Robot Futures:
In Robot Futures, Illah Reza Nourbakhsh, a professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, tries to complicate our ideas about our robot helpers. As robotic technology develops and insinuates itself further into everyday life, what counts as a robot is becoming more slippery, drifting further away from the C-3POs and the Twikis and the other box-of-bolts robot buddies of science fiction. Is a garage-door opener a robot? Do they have to be self-propelling? (A Roomba seems far more robotic than a laptop, but a laptop is far more useful.) Must a robot think “for itself,” as if it actually has a “self”? Do they even have to be machines at all? Do I become a robot when I use my smartphone?
Do you read me, HAL?