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The Humanoids by Jack Williamson
There are few science fiction themes more well-known than that of Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, a seemingly foolproof method for controlling AI robots of the future. Asimov, some may think, provided a way to ensure the robotic future would be peaceful. By starting off with laws that prevent harm, whether intentional or not, to humans, Asimov guaranteed that peaceful coexistence would continue in perpetuity.
Williamson, however, took such seemingly harmless rules into logical conclusions. These conclusions, unfortunately for humanity, are chilling. What if robots took it seriously when they were programmed to, say, prevent harm from coming to humans? What if they determined it were prevention of harm to stop us from doing dangerous things like skydiving or driving? What about smoking? What if, even worse, unhappiness were determined to be harmful? In The Humanoids, these scenarios and more play out. Humans are put into drugged stupors by the robot overlords who, of course, are doing it all for our own good.
Williamson deftly presents the logical conclusions of robotics gone wrong to the extent that it should lead readers to wonder about the possibility of actually using AIs. How do we develop such intelligence and give it inputs that will not drive it into madness?
There are, of course, humans working to stop the robot overlords. Other humans acquiesce to the robots, giving in to simply letting them do what they want to protect humans. For this, some get special privileges. The humans who are resisting include a bit of Williamson exploring the scientific possibility of teleportation.
I’m not going to spoil how all of this ends, but I will say I was satisfied with the conclusion of the book.
The Humanoids is a surprisingly chilling take on good intentions gone wrong. Although it is simplistic at times in its characterization, the ideas in it are enough to keep readers interested throughout. I found it a refreshing read.
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