Robots are, and always have been, a theatrical special effect. They were invented not by engineers but by noted Czech playwright Karel Capek in his 1920 play RUR (Rossum's Universal Robots). Robots are technology incarnate—they showboat around on their two clumping feet, aping our human form to get applause. Truly intelligent humanoid machines are about as likely as Puss in Boots. If cats were bigger and could walk upright and talk (if cats were like robots, that is), then cats would tear us humans to shreds, with relish. Robots, by stark contrast, have no will, ambition, or intentionality. They're like piles of toasters in the shape of the Statue of Liberty.

So Daniel H. Wilson need not fear grim reprisals from tomorrow's metal masters, even though he has written a daring tell-all book called How to Survive a Robot Uprising: Tips on Defending Yourself Against the Coming Rebellion. In fact, Wilson's loyalties seem rather suspect, given that he graduated from Carnegie Mellon University, that world-renowned hotbed of robotics science. If he'd really wanted to make a sound public case for the impending robot genocide, then presumably he would have fired up his soldering gun and wiped out the student body. But in the long-established theatrical tradition of robotics, Wilson chose the easy way out: sci-fi drama over impossible feats of hard artificial intelligence. His arch, slender, geek-humored tome has just been optioned for Hollywood—by the very screenwriters who put fifty thousand Frankenstein volts through the rusty chassis of Herbie the Love Bug.

The prospect of a homicidal, animatronic Herbie tearing Lindsay Lohan to shreds on-screen—really, who wouldn't go for that? But I have serious objections. I've carefully studied every strategic tip for antirobot warfare in this primer, and frankly, Wilson's goofy armchair schemes (which suggest tricking robots into swimming pools, throwing mud to blind their sensors, and so forth) aren't even up to the cornball movie notions of Terminators 1, 2, and 3. Those Terminator flicks obviously couldn't rid us of our robot overlords, for Schwarzenegger is now the governor of California.

From a book that purportedly recommends antirobot military operations for desperate, dispossessed humans, I expected maneuvers at least as dark and punchy as Earth First! hippies monkey-wrenching bulldozers circa 1975. Instead, what we have here is a brief, wiseacre introduction to robot science, along with some terrific two-tone graphics by Richard Horne. This Horne guy has real talent and is punching way above his weight for a techie-book illustrator. He should get into set design right away!

 
     
     
 
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HOW TO SURVIVE A ROBOT UPRISING: TIPS ON DEFENDING YOURSELF AGAINST THE COMING REBELLION BY DANIEL H. WILSON. NEW YORK: BLOOMSBURY. 176 PAGES. $15. BUY NOW