Three New Stories and some Repetitive Essays 23 September 2020
I have to admit that the only reason I purchased this book was so that I could read the three robot stories that aren’t in any of the other books that I have, and that is quite annoying beThree New Stories and some Repetitive Essays 23 September 2020
I have to admit that the only reason I purchased this book was so that I could read the three robot stories that aren’t in any of the other books that I have, and that is quite annoying because there are a bunch of stories that appear in the other books meaning that I pretty much skipped half the book because it ended up that I would be simply rereading something that I have read multiple times before. Still, as I mentioned, there were three stories that I hadn’t read, as well as a collection of essays that Asimov wrote on robots, one of them back in the 50s, and the rest of them in the 80s.
As he says, most of his robot stories deal with conflicts in the Three Laws of Robotics (something that he drums on about repeatedly, as well as the fact that he is the first person to have ever coined the term robotics, though he also points out that this is probably the only long-lasting contribution that he has ever made to humanity). The first few stories weren’t so much like this, but when he and Campbell sat down and nutted out the rules, they did open up lots of opportunities to write about how they interact, and the problems that arise when these laws come into conflict. Then again, the entire legal profession builds itself around the fact that laws can never be hard and fast, and there are always exceptions, and loopholes, and ambiguities that can be exploited. As some have said, every time you attempt to plug a loophole in the law, a hundred more open up.
One interesting story has a robot named Rambo (Asimov suggested that all robots have names that start with R, meaning that no human has a name that starts with R). This quite clearly tells us when the novel was written because, well, the word Rambo only entered the English language after the character appeared in the film First Blood (which I have to admit is actually a pretty good film). I sometimes wonder if this was intentional, namely because Asimov is demonstrating how language changes over time, and that you can actually date a story based upon the words that are used, even a word that is as innocuous as a name (my English teacher once said that the name Shane didn’t appear until after the film of the same name, though the internet suggests that he may have been wrong).
With the essays, it is interesting to see how dated that they are. Okay, we did have a rudimentary form of the internet back in the 80s, but Asimov was writing as if robots needed to have all of their thinking power inside of their units, but this is no longer the case, with wifi and with the internet. In fact, with the development of the cloud, processing power is stored elsewhere and software accesses this power remotely, meaning that robots don’t need to have all of the processing power inside of them. In fact, I suspect that a lot of automation is done this was these days, and that driverless cars would also be using this technology (though it doesn’t solve the problem of what would happen if the network went down).
Yet there is also the question of whether robots can ever think and react like humans. Sure, we have machine learning, and some of the methods are designed to mimic the way the human brain works, yet the catch is that human brains don’t think in binary – we think in different ways – computers simply come down to thinking in terms of 0s and 1s. Another thing is that you have to tell computers everything that it needs to know. For instance, if we put a cup on the table, we know that this cup will be there when we return (unless something happens otherwise, such as our housemate puts it in the dishwasher). This needs to be programmed into the robot, as well as contingencies (if it is not there, somebody has moved it – yeah programming computers comes down to a lot of if/then statements).
It is interesting to see how Facebook developed the reactions that exist beyond simple likes. We were discussing this in one of our Machine Learning classes, how it is a way to teach computers what makes us sad, what makes us laugh, and so on. Yet, I’m still not convinced, that we all of this data being passed through Facebook’s servers, that a computer will learn to be able to respond to a joke or even be able to create one themselves. Another thing is that the first time we hear a joke we consider it funny, but as time goes on, and we continue to hear it, it ceases to be funny – can a computer be trained in that method as well, or is it the case that if a computer learns that something is funny, then it just laughs whenever it sees that joke, without realising that the joke has ceased to be funny years ago.
It is interesting reading this book, and the essays, after two and a half years of computer science, and halfway through an AI subjects. I suspect that a lot of developments came out of Asimov’s theories, but there were a lot of things that he couldn’t speculate on because, well, he was a chemist that liked writing Science-Fiction. Personally, computers tend to be reactionary, and can really only react to things that it is told to react to. Okay, they can search, but once again the parameters must be given to it. On the other hand, one can argue that the same is the case with us. However, our brain is able to take in an awful lot more information, whereas computers must be instructed to take that information, and has to be specific as well. Sure, we do have advanced machine learning algorithms, but the reason is that people have already created them. Mind you, as Asimov suggested, even when robots to replace humans, they also tend to open up a lot more jobs that humans are required to do....more
The Dream World of the Junk Addict 17 September 2020
You know how there are images that you see on Facebook that you basically can’t unsee? Well, this is like those images but in book form. You probably also know that there are books that you will notThe Dream World of the Junk Addict 17 September 2020
You know how there are images that you see on Facebook that you basically can’t unsee? Well, this is like those images but in book form. You probably also know that there are books that you will not find in the library of a Christain School. This is definitely one of those books, and I dread to think what would have happened to me if I was caught reading this book (though a part of me suspects that half the teachers probably wouldn’t know anything about this book, though I suspect that that would change pretty quickly if I had brought it to school, and read aloud from it during English class). Yeah, this book is pretty confronting, and quite surprising as well.
The thing that got me was that this book is pretty explicitly homosexual, and the reason that they tried to ban it in Boston was because it had references to pedophilia. Like, come on, surely they would have objected at the very explicit homosexual acts that this book portrays, considering that it was illegal back then. We are talking about a period when the government turned on one of the world’s greatest computer scientists, and one of the men that was instrumental in defeating Hitler simply because he preferred men to women, yet they didn’t get up in arms over this particular book.
Okay, one of the reasons was because there were already obscenity trials in the works so the publishers basically held off publishing this book while waiting for the outcome of the trial (namely Tropic of Cancer, a book that was published by the same publisher). I guess we know the outcome considering that I have just read this book, and it is also considered to be one of the seminal books of post-war America. I guess it also tells us that at the time people were pushing the boundaries to see what was permissible and what was not, though I guess this is a thing that is still happening to an extent. In another sense, it is also evidence that some people will use to point out the degradation of society, but honestly, it isn’t as if this is the only, or even first, obscene book that was ever published. Seriously, have a read of some of those Ancient Roman novels (or even the Greek ones), and they had been in print for centuries (Golden Ass comes to mind).
One thing that stood out in my mind is that if you wanted to write about your experiences on drugs, then this is probably the way that you should write it. Like, once again, this isn’t the first, and it certainly isn’t the last, book that people have written about their experiences, but you get the impression that the fifteen years that Boroughs is writing about really was like some sort of dream where the events really seemed to merge into each other. This is what stream of consciousness really is about, and honestly, I can’t see how you could write about your experiences on drugs without resorting to stream of consciousness. I guess it captures the feeling and the experience brilliantly.
Yeah, this book sort of doesn’t make any real sense, but it isn’t supposed to. It is just a series of stories, and these stories aren’t in any specific order. Interestingly there is one story where the main characters end up becoming statues, almost as if it is the reverse of the story of Narcissus, where the statue became a human. The locations jump all over the place, from Mexico City to Tangiers, to New York, but once again, the impression we are getting is that Boroughs was simply living in a dream world through that time, though he was also taking copious notes as well, no doubt because I suspect he wouldn’t have remembered anything, and even then, referring back to his notes probably wasn’t all that helpful either.
In another sense, you get the impression of the dirty and grotty lifestyle of the heroin junky, much more than you do from his other book, Junky, though in this book you are living it as opposed to being an observer from the outside. Yet the thing that sort of catches me is how homosexuality and drug use is so intertwined within this book. There have been arguments that homosexuality and drug use are intertwined, but I think that is absolute rubbish. I have known heterosexuals who use drugs, and I have known homosexuals that would never touch the stuff. Sexual orientation and drug use have no connection whatsoever. Yet, I have to admit that I generally don’t go into homosexual literature all that much, though of course I really don’t like those books that simply throw homosexual characters into the mix just to be different.
Yeah, I’m not too sure what to say about this book, but it has landed upon my shelf which contains all of those books that I really do want to read a second time, so I guess that settles it....more