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Entries in isaac asimov (5)

Sunday
May022010

Jean-Marc Côté's Visions of the Year 2000 (1899)

Back in 2007, when the Paleo-Future blog was just two photos of Jane Jetson and a link to my Friendster profile, I posted some images from the National Library of France that depicted life in the year 2000.

I've since learned that these prints are from 1899, rather than 1910 as reported by the BnF. I've also learned that they were illustrated by Jean-Marc Côté, a French commercial artist who was commissioned by either a toy or cigarette manufacturer, to produce them. Interestingly enough the company that commissioned the cards went out of business before they could be distributed, leaving behind just one complete set of 50 cards. And where did I learn all of this wonderful information? From reading a book! Which I hear is FUNdamental!

Isaac Asimov's Futuredays is a card-by-card analysis of these retro-futuristic artifacts and does a wonderful job of putting them into historical context for modern readers. I highly recommend it, even though the book contradicts itself by sometimes stating that the cards were commissioned by a cigarette manufacturer and sometimes claiming it was a toy company. Enjoy!

Previously on Paleo-Future:

 

Sunday
Jul202008

If I Had a Robot (1984)


My girlfriend Malorie sometimes tells the story of a robotics video she watched in 8th grade Science class. One particular robot in this video had a broken wheel and found itself unable to turn. (Or, more appropriately, the robotics team that was steering the hunk of metal found themselves unable to turn the robot.) Malorie started sobbing softly.

Try as it might the robot could not make its desired turn. Its little broken wheel jerked and jumped, but to no avail. Malorie then started crying uncontrollably, quietly pleading, "Why won't someone help that robot! All he wants to do is pick up the ball and put it in the middle so that he can get some points!"

This may be an extreme example, but it illustrates our ability to anthropomorphize robots. We've seen that humanity's vision of robot servants is even older than the term robot itself but the household humanoid robot is still a technology of the future. The latter may have as much to do with cultural roadblocks to human-wannabes than technological hurdles.

The introduction to the 1984 book If I Had a Robot: What to Expect from the Personal Robot speaks of this desire to see the artificial, mechanical man become "real" (provided they don't get out of hand). The book gives readers an imaginative peek at the personal robots just around the (1984) corner.

A selection from the first chapter of the book appears below.

Let us not shilly-shally in this matter; robots are interesting only insofar as they act like animals - nay, like people. The great romance of robotics is rooted in our longing for these artificial creatures to behave like natural creatures.

 

Our images are muddled, of course. We look on robots as forbidden fruit - the Golem, brought to life by the improper use of arcane knowledge. We fear them as we fear the Frankenstein monster . . . deliciously. At the same time, we like them, root for them, support them, hope they'll turn our brave, strong, good, and caring. It's hard to say now whether Isaac Asimov, writing the stories collected in I Robot in the faraway thirties and forties, was creating new concepts, or recording the chiefly unarticulated views and expectations of society at the time. But certainly, Asimov's magnificently crafted stories have largely determined the expectations of everybody in the Western World with respect to robots. With due respect to writers Capek, Williamson, Saberhagen, and the others. Asimov has dominated robotics thought for some decades now. How many of us have been waiting, waiting for those critters to start appearing among us?

And haven't we been lucky that Asimov is such an optimist! Logical purists may cavil at the Three Laws of Robotics, complaining, perhaps with reason, that the laws are inconsistent. That really doesn't matter. The robots in the stories are so likable - with an occasional rogue among them - that we want to deal with them directly, to get to know them, to be friends. All the automatic defenders and destroyers, are as nothing in our imagination, compared with Asimov's interesting creations, who try to make things work out for the better.

That's quite an accomplishment. Whether he created it all out of whole cloth or crystallized the latent hopes and dreams of people in general, Asimov has powerfully influenced popular thought on robotics - for the good, many of us think. Certainly the Star Wars robots are in the Asimov mold, determined by the life experience of George Lucas and his associates, who grew up in Asimov robot tradition.

And what about reality, if there is such a thing?


See also:
Will Robots Make People Obsolete? (1959)
We'll All Be Happy Then (1911)
Maid Without Tears (1978)
The Future of Personal Robots (1986)
Robo-Shop (1989)
Japanese Retail Robots (1986)
In a Cashless Future, Robots Will Cook (1996)
The Robot is a Terrible Creature (1922)
Our Dread of Robots (1932)

 

Wednesday
May282008

Moon Tourism (1988)


This image of "moon tourists [discovering] the pleasures of this Moon beach," is from the 1988 book The Earth's Moon (Isaac Asimov's Library of the Universe).

Imagine seas on a terraformed Moon! By creating an atmosphere on the Moon, we could capture sunlight and turn the Moon into a celestial tourist trap. This would be fun, but many scientists feel it is more important to keep the Moon pretty much as it is. Then we could use it to help us better understand Earth and the cosmos.


See also:
Vacations of the Future (1981)
Welcome to Moonbase (1987)
New World's to Radically Alter (1981)

 

Tuesday
May202008

Will robots make people obsolete? (1959)


The January 4, 1959 issue of Parade magazine published a piece by Sid Ross titled, "Will Robots Make People Obsolete?"

The piece in its entirety appears below in all its dystopian glory. Who knew that Parade could be so dark? The piece claims that in the future "mankind's major struggle will be against boredom, with the suicide rate zooming as people lose the race."

The heaviness of the piece, along with the accompanying illustration, raise so many questions. Chief among them, why would a family of four gleefully jump into that menacing robot's mouth?


Secondly, why would Father be fed an entire pumpkin? For that matter, why is this evil machine feeding him at all?


Is Robo-Dog attacking Little Johnny for a reason? Maybe Johnny pulled Robo-Dog's metal tail one too many times. I'm willing to accept the possibility that Johnny deserves what's coming to him.


Lastly, despite the abject horror on Mother's face, the robot servant appears to be doing a damn fine job. Baby is happy and there's no indication that supper is burning. Granted, we have to assume that Mother was less-than-gingerly placed into that trash can by Mr. Octo-Eyes.


(UPDATE: I've been informed that the illustration for this piece was done by the incredible Jim Flora.)

Parade Magazine
January 4, 1959

All over the world and on the colonies in outer space, everyone is excited about the most popular event of the year. All human activity stops as people breathlessly await the outcome of the world's championship tiddlywinks contest.

 

In this world of the future mankind has little else to be excited about. For earth has been transformed into a "paradise" where incredibly clever robots take care of things. They do the farming, the factory work, run the trains, regulate traffic, enforce the law, cook the meals, clean the houses and distribute a vast wealth of goods and services to which every human being is entitled - merely by being alive.

Almost nothing familiar on earth today will survive in this robotized world of the future. For instance:

  • Only a privileged few will have the right to work at a job.
  • The dream of youngsters will not be to grow up rich and successful, but to be one of the favored few workers.
  • Juvenile delinquency will take the form of vandalism against robots.
  • Everyone wil aspire for some kind of "blue ribbon" for an amateur activity, hobby or sport - possibly an award for the best ship model built out of matchsticks or the most colorful rock garden in town.
  • Heroes and celebrities will be the persons who devise new parlor games.
Withering Family Life
  • Mankind's major struggle will be against boredom, with the suicide rate zooming as people lose the race.
  • Governments and family life will wither away. Public officials will be replaced by Board of Supervisors to "umpire" games, sports and recreation, and also administer competitive exams which would decide who could work at the few essential jobs left for human beings to do.
Fantastic? Certainly, by our everyday standards of progress. But every one of these dizzying pictures of life in the future could conceivably become real - when and if man creates robots to do his work for him.

 

Man's mastery of science and technology is advancing by tremendous leaps and bounds. One of his major goals ever since the caveman harnessed an ox to a primitive plow, has been to make something else replace human muscle power. The ultimate "something else" is the robot that acts and thinks like a man.

For the robot-powered society described here, Parade enlisted the fertile imagination and scientific knowledge of Isaac Asimov, an associate professor of bio-chemistry at the Boston University School of Medicine and a writer of science-fiction stories, including a series on robots.

Awful to Face

Wondrous as Asmiov's robotized world of the future may seem, the man who dreamed it up wants no part of it. Says Asimov, "I'll be glad that I will have long since been dead rather than face life in such a society!"

In the transportation systems of the future, electronically guided robots will be the bus and truck drivers. There may be robots that can repair TV sets, fix the plumbing, run IBM machines, act as traffic policemen, read galley proofs, serve as "information" attendants at railway stations.

"In theory," says Asimov, "there is no reason why any human job cannot be done by a machine if we can invent a robot brain as complex and as small as the human brain. Under such circumstances, there is no reason why a robot couldn't mentally be capable of doing anything a human can.

"But who will need man then? Man will die off of simple boredom and frustration." The reason, Asimov points out, is that comparatively few people can be usefully creative.

Consider the Joneses, who in a robotized world, have lost their usefulness:

Mr. and Mrs. Jones would have it easy. Their robot butler would awaken them gently, serve them breakfast in bed and wheel away and wash the dirty dishes. The robot valet and maid would choose the day's attire and dress them.

"Free" for the day, Mr. and Mrs. Jones must decide what to do. Mrs. Jones doesn't have the drudgery of housekeeping. Mr. Jones has no job to go to, since robots are doing nearly all the work. Of course, he could spend the day tinkering with his sailboat, although he knows a robot could tune u p the auxiliary engine more efficiently. Mrs. Jones may decide to work in the garden. Her robot could do this better, but she jealously guards this privilege.

Some people - the "aristocracy" in this strange robot society - would be entitled to work.


See also:
Closer Than We Think! Robot Housemaid (1959)
Monsanto House of the Future (1957-1967)
Monsanto House of the Future (1957)
Call a Serviceman (Chicago Tribune, 1959)
The Electronic Brain Made Beef Stew (1959)
Something must be wrong with its radar eye! (Chicago Tribune, 1959)
Frigidaire Kitchen of the Future (1957)
Monsanto House of the Future Brochure (1961)
How Experts Think We'll Live in 2000 A.D. (1950)

 

Friday
Jul062007

Garbage Men of the Future (1989)


This image is from Isaac Asimov's book Space Garbage, published in 1989 as part of the Library of the Universe series. The caption to the image appears below.

Low orbits are the most littered with space junk. Perhaps one day orbiting "garbage collectors" will be used to clean up these trash-filled orbits.