Movies: Robot and Frank

June 22, 2014

I was waiting in line to check out books at the library when I noticed Robot and Frank on a nearby rack displaying a dozen or so DVDs. I’m not sure if their placement there means they’re popular, or recommended, or what. I often recognize the titles but rarely see any I want to watch.

As this was one I hadn’t heard of and it involved a robot, I was interested enough to pick up the box and read the description on the back. If it had been a book, that would have been enough for me to take it home to read. But since a movie would be for the whole family to watch, I first wanted to read some reviews.

The reviews were all positive, but the next time I went to the library it was checked out. I suppose it must be relatively popular, because it was weeks before I managed to find it again (back in the regular movie stacks but set apart on a display shelf).

It’s hard to sum up briefly, which is probably a large part of what I like about it. It doesn’t fit the usual categories of Hollywood movies (not surprising since it was an indie film, distributed by studios after it won a prize at the Sundance festival).

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Books: Robopocalypse

May 8, 2014

I checked this book on CD out of the library at the librarian’s recommendation, when I was looking for something we could listen to during our trip to Michigan and back for Zach’s graduation. I mentioned that we all like science fiction, so Pam suggested Robopocalypse.

It’s a reasonably interesting story (at least it kept me alert while driving hour after hour, although Jon managed to fall asleep a few times while it played). We would have preferred less coarse language, but it likely is fairly realistic considering that the book is all about fighting a war.

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Would you trust a robot to drive your car?

January 29, 2012

Science fiction writers have come up with a lot of interesting ideas about the future of transportation. Flying taxis have been around (in books) since at least 1940. When I was a child, we expected that there would actually be flying cars by the year 2000.

I vaguely remember reading Robert Heinlein’s short story “The Roads Must Roll,” in which the roads move instead of the people. There are strips moving at different speeds, ranging from 5 mph up to 100 mph. I’ve often thought of that story (without being able to remember most of the details) when attempting to merge into a lane of faster traffic.

There is the idea of teleporting, instantaneous transportation from one place to another. The best known example is “beaming” in Star Trek, but the idea goes back to at least 1933 (Frank K. Kelly).

The idea of cars that can drive themselves is hardly new either, but I don’t remember it showing up very often in the stories I have read. I suppose it just doesn’t make for much drama. I remember very much enjoying “Knight Rider” in the early 1980’s, but it was KITT’s personality rather than his (its?) technical capabilities that made the show interesting.

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Robots in space

November 2, 2010

Robots have been a staple of science fiction stories for decades. Isaac Asimov in particular has some intriguing stories exploring the ways in which humans and robots might one day interact. Real robots, meanwhile, worked at very mundane jobs in physically demanding or dangerous environments, and never looked much at all like their humanoid fictional counterparts. Some made it into the space program, but they were called probes or rovers, never robots.

This week, however – assuming the shuttle launch isn’t delayed again – a robot astronaut will accompany the human astronauts into space. From the waist up, Robonaut 2 looks surprisingly humanoid. His leg is still under development (yes, he will be a monoped rather than a biped), but when finished he will stand about 6′ 3″ tall.

He’ll be much heavier than the average man his height, weighing in at 410 pounds. In the weightless environment of space, however, so what? An article at HowStuffWorks gives details about Robonaut’s development and how he will work. Of course, the article is apparently a bit old, as it says “Robonaut is unlikely to visit space in the next five years.”

Oh, and the article doesn’t call Robonaut a “he” – that’s just how it came out as I wrote this post. After all, I’ve been reading science fiction since I was about ten years old – and robots always end up having personalities.