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The Fox Inheritance blog tour, Day 2

August 25, 2011

I am pleased to welcome Mary E. Pearson, author of The Fox Inheritance, to the blog today. One of the most important characters in The Fox Inheritance (my review here) is a robot named Dot, so as part of of her blog tour, Mary is here discussing artificial intelligence, robotics, and her favorite fictional robots. Here’s what she had to say:

I didn’t plan for Dot to be a key character in The Fox Inheritance, but the minute she breathed the word “Escape” with such enthusiasm, her personality just kept growing. Every book has a secondary character that takes me by surprise and with this book it was definitely Dot. She kept becoming “more” which made me think more and more about the possibilities of Artificial Intelligence and its uses and abuses.

There’s one scene in the book where Locke notices Dot humming, almost like the purr of a cat, and he wonders who programmed her. Did they own a cat? He wonders who filled her head so she would be the way she is. I suppose that’s what I was wondering too.

photo by Zlatko Unger

One of the many goals of AI is to make robots more humanlike so they can understand and anticipate human needs and requests. We already see one small aspect of that with our smart phones anticipating the words we type and getting to know our own unique writing patterns. But what if we keep programming computers with more of our human traits and behavior patterns, and what if, in turn, they keep absorbing our more subtle characteristics over time? And if there was a Bot who was in a position for a lot of varied human interactions, such as a cab driver, could all of those traits she observes combine to become her own unique personality? Isn’t that similar to how humans develop their own personalities? Through life experiences?

We know computers are advancing at exponential rates. I have to assume it won’t be long before they jump that hurdle from only logical thinking to fully intelligent thinking. Will that make them human or at least partially human? Will that give them any basic rights? That will certainly be a dilemma of the future.

As for my favorite fictional robot, the first one that came to mind was Robot (sadly, he had no name) on the Lost in Space television series, along with his famous line, “Danger, Danger, Will Robinson!” I probably repeat his warning at least once or twice a year, when life runs amuck. Another favorite robot was the slightly neurotic, but lovable C-3PO from Star Wars. My earliest memory of any kind of robot was the evil Master Cylinder from the Felix the Cat cartoons, but I was not fond of him! In fact, I think evil robots loom as large in my memories as the good ones do. I remember being frightened, but at the same time quite fascinated by the Gunslinger robot in Westworld played by Yul Brynner who stops responding to his programming. He was absolutely chilling.

And I think that’s what ultimately fascinates me—when robots strike out from the path we’ve created for them. In The Fox Inheritance, there are both kinds of Bots, good and nasty, and then there are a few who create their own special category like Dot. She defies labels, and makes Locke consider his own humanity and his place in this new world he’s been plunged into.

Whether good, bad, or somewhere in between, do you have a fictional favorite robot?

Thanks, Mary! Tomorrow The Fox Inheritance blog tour will visit Bildungsroman, where Mary will be talking about pursuit, writing choices, and characters she would like to friend.

Here’s the full blog tour schedule:

  • Thursday, August 25 (today!)
    The YA YA YAs
  • Friday, August 26

If you’d like to enter to win a signed copy of The Fox Inheritance, fill out the form below.  ETA 8/31/11: The drawing is over. Thanks for entering!

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