Monday, April 24, 2017

Paper #4/Final Exam: Brave New Worlds

“I notice that capable men are still at a premium in our society; we still need the man who is intelligent enough to think of the proper questions to ask. Perhaps if we could find enough of such, these dislocations you worry about…wouldn’t occur” (“The Evitable Conflict,” 265).

INTRO: We already live in an age of science fiction: an age where we can watch a live video feed from Mars, as well as track asteroids as they sail past Earth. We also live in a world of global warming, virtual reality, artificial technology, and self-driving cars. What’s next? Or perhaps the better question to ask is: how is the future being shaped in the news today? What happened in yesterday’s news feed which will affect how you raise your kids tomorrow?

REPONSE: I want you to find an article on-line, or from a journal, or in a magazine (Best American Magazine Writing 2015, for those who took Comp 1 with me, perhaps) which discusses some important contemporary issue. It can be about anything, as long as it’s current and of national importance. Print this article out and include it with your paper (and be sure to read it carefully!). Then I want you to write a short science fiction story (maybe 3-4 pages double spaced) that takes this article into the “future.” Take the same issues, problems, and concerns and place them in a new setting—a future Earth, or another planet, or among aliens, or robots, or on a starship. If science fiction is a metaphor for our own world, help us see the problems and debates of this issue in a different time and place. Remember, it’s often hard to see why we should care about something in our own time: but if you can fool us into seeing it in a different context, we might finally understand why our 21st century problems matter.

FOR EXAMPLE: The Star Trek episode we watched in class, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” (1969), was released during the Civil Rights Movement, at a time when you couldn’t really discuss race or equal rights on a television show...but you could talk about aliens with the same issues. At the end of this episode, with their planet in flames and their hatred intact, Lt. Uhuru asks, “do you suppose that’s all they ever had, sir?” And Captain Kirk responds, “No...but that’s all they have left.” A fitting epilogue for a country that was tearing itself apart over age-old prejudices when they might have united in brotherhood.

DUE: Thursday, May 4th by 5pm in my box or office

Saturday, April 8, 2017

For Tuesday: Asimov, I Robot: “Escape!” and “Evidence”

The robot eye of H.A.L. from 2001: A Space Odyssey
Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: In trying to ascertain whether or not Byerley is a robot or not, Dr. Susan Calvin remarks, “To put it simply—if Byerley follows all the Rules of Robots, he may be a robot, and may simply be a very good man” (221). How might this statement allow Asimov to use Byerley as a metaphor for how a “cleaner, better breed” should act like in society? Where do we see Byerley functioning like this in the story?

Q2: Dr. Susan Calvin remarks in “Escape!” that a robot’s brain “is built by humans and is therefore built according to human values” (177). Why is this a significant statement, and how does it help explain why the Brain acts as he does? Why would Calvin argue that the Brain acted the way a human would act, rather than the way a robot would?

Q3: Byerley refuses to submit to X-ray tests and other investigations which he considers a violation of his personal rights, even if they would immediately expose the lies about his robotic identity. As he tells Quinn, “You have little concern with the rights of the individual citizen. I have great concern. I will not submit to X-ray analysis, because I wish to maintain my Rights on principle” (230). Why might this also be a political statement on Asimov’s part, one that raises concerns about due process in the 1950’s—as well as in our own age?

Q4: In both stories, it initially seems like the robots are breaking the First and the Second Laws of Robotics. However, it later turns out that to truly obey these laws requires a fair amount of deception, secrecy, and creativity. Do you think this is justified? Are these merely the “white lies” necessary to save humanity? Or are these robots taking too many liberties in deciding what is good for us—and what isn’t?

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival Assignment (optional)

Remember, no class on Thursday: instead, you can go to the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival. Here's a link to the schedule for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday:

You can go to 1 or 2 sessions for extra credit. But for each one you go to, make sure to answer the following 4 questions (just like our blog responses, except you have to do all 4!) in a short paragraph--a few sentences each. As long as you give a thoughtful, honest response, I can excuse 2 absences or 2 missed blog responses--or 4/4 if you do a good job on two. But remember, this is extra credit, so if you just give me hasty, one-sentence responses or try to BS about sessions you didn't attend, I can't give you credit. 


Q1: Which of the authors interested you the most and why? Why did you respond their poems and/or story and why might you read more from this author?

Q2: Which piece (if any) did you find difficult to follow or understand and why? Is is simply not your kind of material, or was it too vulgar, or depressing, or confusing? 

If you liked all the pieces you heard by each writer, answer this instead: how did each author's reading work together as a whole? Why did these 3 (or 4) writers work well together? Was there any common themes or ideas that seemed to link them together?

Q3: Discuss briefly how the authors presented their material: their reading style, introductions, gestures, and other details that helped you appreciate the stories/poems. In other words, how did the authors help you understand their work through their performance?

Q4: How did the audience react to these authors/works? Did certain works get more response than others--and if so, why? Did people laugh? Were they completely silent. Did people seem to 'get' these writers, or did some leave them scratching their heads? How could you tell? 

Hope to see you at the Festival! 

Friday, March 31, 2017

For Tuesday: Asimov, I, Robot: "Liar" and "Lost Little Robot" + Paper #3 assignment

Two more stories for Tuesday--"Liar" and "Lost Little Robot"--and no questions this time, since I want you to do another in-class writing to get you ready for Paper #3 (pasted below). We only have a few more readings and questions due, so don't fall behind! 

Paper #3: The Robots Are Coming

“Because, if you stop to think about it, the three Rules of Robotics are the essential guiding principles of a good many of the world’s ethical systems...if Byerley follows all the Rules of Robotics, he may be a robot, and may simply be a very good man” (“Evidence”).

The robots are coming! Well, in many ways they’re already here—especially in fiction. Suppose the stories of I, Robot are true in the hypothetical future, and like John Connor in The Terminator, you’ve come back in time to warn the Earth. However, there are many different ways to read these stories, some pessimistic, some optimistic. If you had the opportunity to share this ‘future’ with humanity, and invite other science fiction prophets to the table, which argument would you choose?
Ø  #1: Robots are a “cleaner, better breed” of human beings because they are us. We have essentially created a race of ‘older brothers/sisters’ to guide us safely into the future so we don’t extinguish ourselves in the process.
Ø  #2: Robots are too much like humans to be trusted: they will constantly seek to dominate humans by fudging the Three Laws until human beings are no more than docile pets, and robots the truth heirs of the planet Earth.

SOURCES (at least 5 sources total):
  • PRIMARY SOURCES: You must use at least TWO stories from I, Robot in your conversation (quotes that are discussed in your paper). Additionally, you may use any of the short stories from Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016.
  • SUPPORT: At least TWO recent sources (articles, books, or a reliable website with an author or from a major organization) that AGREE with you. You must quote from these and use them to support your ideas.
  • NAYSAYER: At least ONE recent source (articles, books, or a reliable website with an author or from a major organization) that DISAGREES or shows another side of your argument. You can use Asimov or one of the stories as a naysayer, but you have to use a different story than the two you used above.
Remember that this isn’t just a silly science fiction story; robots are getting more advanced and arguably more aware every day. Many leading scientists, such as Steven Hawking, are genuinely concerned about the power we’ve assigned robots and AI in our daily lives, and some fear we’ve already gone too far to turn back. How has the discussion advanced since Asimov wrote these stories in the 40’s and 50’s? Additionally, why are Asimov’s ideas still relevant today? How does the metaphor of “robot life” help us see the possibilities and dangers of our own advancement? Try to figure out which side he’s on, too...

LENGTH: At least 4-5 pages double spaced
CITATION: Introduce all quotations and cite at the end; include a Works Cited page for every source you use in your paper.
DUE DATE: Thursday, April 13th by 5pm

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

For Thursday: Asimov, I, Robot: “Reason” and “Catch That Rabbit”

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: In “Reason,” the robot, QT (“Cutie”), develops an elaborate religion based on “the Master,” allowing him to assume full control of the station. According to Donovan and Powell, how does this religion (which seems to contract the First and Second Laws) actually follow the Laws of Robotics? In a way, why did Cutie have to develop this religion in order to do his job properly?

Q2: Forced to argue with Cutie, Powell exclaims, “Who the heck wants to argue with a robot? It’’s...” and Donovan adds, “Mortifying!” (71). In general, how do the men treat and view their robotic counterparts? Why does Asimov emphasize this relationship throughout the stories?

Q3: In each story, we see robots exhibiting behavior which is more and more “human,” even though we’re told that robots can only follow a strict program. In “Catch That Rabbit,” what very human problem causes DV-5 (“Dave”) to malfunction and disobey the Second Order?

Q4: When presented with irrefutable facts about robots and space, Cutie responds: “You, being intelligent, but unreasoning, need an explanation of existence supplied to you, and this the Master did. That he supplied you with these laughable ideas of far-off words and people is, no doubt, for the best. Your minds are probably too coarsely grained for absolute Truth” (75). Though this is a robot talking, why might this be a metaphor for human behavior in our own world? What might this story be really suggesting about how humans think and behave? 

Friday, March 24, 2017

For Tuesday: Asimov, Introduction + First 2 Stories: "Robbie" and "Runaronud"

For Tuesday, be sure to read the Introduction plus first two stories of I, Robot. We'll have an in-class response when you arrive. As you read, consider Susan Calvin's comment in the Introduction that "[Robots] are a cleaner better breed than we are." Since she's clearly being serious, what does she mean by this? What seems to make robots "cleaner" or "more advanced" than their human counterparts in ways besides technology? And why might they be a lot like the parrots in "The Great Silence," our masters rather than our servants or pets?

See you next week! 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

For Thursday: Chiang, “The Great Silence” (pp.273-276)

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Why do you think the parrot narrator repeats the last words of Alex at the end of the story: “You be good. I love you”? While we imagine these were just common words that Alex told to his masters, why does the narrator claim that this is the parrots’ message to humanity? Is there another way to understand them?

Q2: One of the great lines in the story states, “the hush of the night sky is the silence of a graveyard” (273). What does the narrator mean by this, and how does it relate to the title of the story—“the great silence”? What made everything so silent?

Q3: According to this story, how does being a “vocal learner” change how you experience and see the world? If you didn’t speak or use verbal language, what aspects of the world would be less important to you? In other words, what concepts/values would they lack that we (and parrots) take for granted?

Q4: The Arecibo Observatory is a real place (see picture above) built in 1974 in Puerto Rico to, among other things, search for alien life. As the parrot explains, “astronomers used Arecibo to broadcast a message into outer space intended to demonstrate human intelligence. That was humanity’s contact call” (274). How does this relate to the communication of parrots and why might the parrot narrator find this somewhat ironic?