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...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? 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

For Thursday: Dickinson, “Three Bodies at Mitanni” (pp.234-253)




Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: What is this mission of this crew and why is it so problematic? How have they tried to ensure that their decisions are made in an ethically sound manner? Do you think these safeguards are enough, or is there very mission flawed and unethical?

Q2: What is a “Duong-Watts malignant?” Why does Mitanni society fit this definition? Do the people of Mitanni agree with this—are they consciously “malignant”? Or is malignancy in the eye of the beholder?

Q3: How has the crew changed on their four-hundred year mission? Though they are judging worlds for possible malignancy, are they somewhat malignant themselves? Or does this story suggest that even in isolation, humans will always remain fundamentally human—which is why their mission is safe?


Q4: Like the story, Daydreamer by Proxy, Mitanni society has discovered the secret to gaining the maximum potential from each citizen. Yet they are not slaves, since as Anyahera explains, “The slave still expends caloric and behavioral resources on being conscious; the slave seeks to maximize its own pleasure, not its social utility. A clever state will go one step further and eliminate the cause of these inefficiencies at the root. They will sever thought from awareness” (243). According to this, why is consciousness (or individual human thought) an impediment to the success of a society? Why might it get in the way of the ‘greater good’?