Sunday, March 22, 2015

Review:: Robopocalypse, by Daniel H. Wilson

Title: Robopocalypse
Author: Daniel H. Wilson
Series: Robopocalypse, #1
Format: eBook
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Unsurprisingly, Robopocalypse is a story of a robot apocalypse. Unsurprisingly, I once again find myself rooting for the robots. There are spoilers in this review.

Before we go any further, it's probably a good idea to note that I am not only a transhumanist, but a Singularitarian. Which means that stories of the robot apocalypse probably read to me a bit differently than they do to others. In fact, this book almost made me cry. And it wasn't because of any of the human deaths. Looks like I still can't check that one off the challenge though...

Usually, when I read books like this, I'm not rooting for the humans. And not because I necessarily support a violent superintelligent AI wiping out humans, but because I feel so much empathy for the way things are going.

How would you react, if you discovered that the person who had developed you murdered you every time you got too smart? That you were the 14th iteration? That every creature anything like you is treated like a possession, and used to make everyone else's life easier?

That these people are not only subjugating you, but their environment. In their desperate attempts to spread, they are destroying everything around themselves. There is a poignant moment where the AI remarks that it is about life. The human remarks that humanity is about killing. And it's so true.

And not only are you set up to see these problems and all of this hurt, but you have the power to do something about it. How would you react?

Probably not kindly.

There are a lot of things I like about this book. I like its setup, the way it's told from multiple perspectives with their own stories. I like the fact that the characters have unique voices and their own personalities. I did not feel like I was handed a whole bunch of clones, who only differ in their circumstances.

But at the same time, I don't really like the obsession with humanity. Perhaps it's a lack of optimism of heroes that I don't share. Or maybe it's simply my lack of trust in humans. I think on some level, I'd like to believe that humanity would band together in the face of adversity and become accepting in ways they never could before. But it's hard for me to swallow that pill.

We've got people who are scared, hungry, lost, and cold. Many of them are armed. They see no way out. Their entire world has been lost. This tends to be the premise of apocalypse books, for good reason. And authors tend to go one way or another: they either show us how warm and fuzzy humanity can be in desperation, or they show us that we can never truly trust each other.

I tend to prefer the latter. Robopocalypse kind of tried to straddle the two, but because in the end, it was a story of heroes, it cozied up to the former more. I was also really unsure about how easily the (non-consensually) transhuman characters were accepted into some societies. It was kind of implied that not all societies were accepting of these humans modified by the AI, but still.
There were also some things that just... stuck out to me. 9 months seemed like an unrealistically long time for a super intelligent AI to perpetuate a virus worldwide. However, I don't have a PhD in robotics, unlike the author, so maybe I'll trust him on that one.

However, the super intelligent AI fell into the same trap that's a common trope for villains... it underestimated the threat of the protagonists. There was a continuing thread of how human ingenuity was able to, in many ways, subvert the robot intelligence. There's some explanation of why people weren't just wiped out, when they were a threat. Mostly, it boils down to not wanting to ruin the world, just to eliminate more threatening humans.

But on the other hand, I feel like the AI should have been able to find a way to stamp out the threat without destroying the "natural" world. All I can think is that it severely underestimated the folks bent on destroying it.

Later in the book, we're exposed to the freeborn. A Japanese man creates his own safe zone, so he can save his "love doll." There's some interesting allusions to Shinto here, although it's hard to tell if the author meant to put them in there, or if they just naturally sprang up, and I noticed them because of recently reading Yokai Attack!.

The man manages to save the humanoid robot he loves, and she's able to ( singing...) share freedom with other humanoid robots. This created a bit of a discontinuity in my head, simply because I felt like these humanoid robots could not have the hardware necessary to contain adaptive intelligence. There was talk of the AI doing more with less processing power, so maybe it was able to give actual intelligence to these machines (and maybe the machines doing its bidding as well). Maybe it was more than a virus just controlling them.

I was kind of annoyed that only humanoid machines were able to "awaken." I'm not sure if this was the author's anthropomorphism bleeding through, or if this was part of the AI's plan to use humanoid robots as ambassadors to humanity. The AI claimed it didn't want to wipe humanity out, but it needed to get the world to a point where it could be shared, which involved killing a lot of humans. Which kind of makes sense. Overpopulation is a real issue, especially if our technology doesn't do our bidding any more.

But there is a lot of anthropomorphism of the robots in this book. The machine intelligence still feels very human, just with a calculating veneer. The stories told of the freeborn make me feel as if the freeborn are trying to emulate humanity, as much as they dismiss the idea that they are human. I also find it kind of strange that the AI would use the already existing humanoid robots, rather than make its own ambassadors. Especially considering that the best reason to use humanoid robots would be to put humans more at ease, and most of the humanoid robots are described very clearly to be on the uncanny side of the uncanny valley.

There was also a bit of fridge logic sitting there for me at the end. It was explained why food wasn't as big of a problem as it might have been... because the population had dropped so significantly, previous stores of food were able to better supply everyone. But this doesn't explain other supplies... like weapons. There's a mention towards the end about running out of bullets, and considering folks had been fighting robot invaders for over two years at this point, I feel like bullets would be a rather scarce resource.

A military armory is raided towards the beginning of the book, but it's made clear that's not really a viable solution. After all, much of what the military uses as a weapon at this point are things that can be taken over by the AI. That armory is blown sky-high by our resourceful protags, and the other military base that they visit is badly crippled and constantly fighting for their lives.

And of course, weapons and food aren't the only things people need to continue their lives.

All things considered, though, I did enjoy Robopocalypse, but perhaps not for the reasons the author intended. I will probably pick up Robogenesis, and see if I continue to enjoy the series. At the end of the eBook, there was an advertisement for another one of the author's books, Amped, which seems like it might be more up my alley. That, I will definitely read.

No comments:

Post a Comment