I, Predictor of Robots

There are those who say that in 1984, George Orwell predicted much of the society we live in today; – and then there are those of sound and rational mind. Orwell’s work, it seems to me, is a mixture of a description of his own time with an idea of what it might be to live in a totalitarian state (particularly somewhere like, say, Stalinist Russia). Nothing amuses me more than claims of Orwell’s foresight: unless it were claims of his mastery of English style.

On the back of my copy of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot (this is the edition published by … er … The Times of London), it says breathlessly, “One Man Saw It All Coming … Isaac Asimov ushered in the Robot Age with these superbly entertaining … etc … ”

Hmm, so that will be the Age of Robots that we’re living in currently, I guess, where … um … robots have become a perceived threat to human civilisation by their intelligence and started thinking for themselves, so we’ve banished them to off-Earth activities such as mining on Mercury (they’re always mining on Mercury in these sci-fi novels, though I can think of a few reasons this will be unlikely; – I’ll let Professor Brian Cox explain, “this tortured piece of rock suffers the biggest temperature swings of all the planets, from 427 degrees Celsius in the days to -173 degrees Celsius at night” – thanks for that, Professor Cox).

Or perhaps it was merely the Will Smith film he predicted.

Of course, Asimov’s vision is much the same as that of Karel Čapek’s earlier one: that robots will take over the drudge-work from mankind, but at some point will begin thinking for themselves and plot at world conquest – but without the underlying implications of proletarian revolution which exist in Čapek’s work.

All of which is not to the point: I gave up reading it, as usual, because it was in the main dull and uninteresting.


6 thoughts on “I, Predictor of Robots

  1. Well how are you gonna know whether or not the predictions come true if you don’t read to the end?

    I may not have the order of things quite right there. Anyway, everyone knows that the space mines should be in the asteroid belt.

  2. I think even by the end of chapter 1, the predictions haven’t come true. Let’s far it, Artificial Intelligence – as in, robots thinking like humans, has got precisely nowhere in the last 100 years; and is even less likely than us mining on Mercury.

    Yes, the asteroid belt. Perhaps the asteroids could be manoeuvred closer to Earth, so that it would be more economically viable to exploit them for their minerals. I shall look into the possibilities.

  3. One prediction in “1984” that Orwell did get right was “prolefeed”. Except that he thought it would be the state providing it.

  4. Hmm, having thought about your idea, I find my first argument against it then appears in your second sentence. I do think it’s a big difference between the state providing it and the non-state provision we have generally (indeed, it may be noted, where the state provides art, or entertainment, generally we expect it to be of better quality or aiming at something higher). But there is a manipulation I think in Orwell’s idea of state provision – an idea that people left to their own devices would look for something better – which I just don’t think exists.

    But secondly, I think this is also an example of Obooki’s prophetic fallacy (which I’m sure I did a post on once): that what is prophesied was already prevalent in the writer’s own time – and the most the writer has done is exaggerate it.

  5. <>

    Yes, I think you’re right. Watched Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange lately, and this “futuristic” film reeked of the 60s. Kubrick’s idea of music listening of the future was an audio-cassette (remember them?) that was much smaller than the audio-cassettes of the time.

    Just as Kubrick’s “futuristic” film is a relic of the 60s, so Orwell’s novel is a relic of the 40s, with its rationing, shortages, etc. But for all that, it has given us some of the most powerful and persistent images of any 20th century fiction.

  6. One of the funniest predictions of the future in films, which almost always dates them, is their vision of what the music of the future will actually be. If I was making a futuristic film, I’d go for Stockhausen.

    I always thought the car in A Clockwork Orange seemed suitably futuristic.

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