In Defense of Robots

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Sagan, Carl. "In Defense of Robots." Ch. 20 of Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science. NYC: Ballantine Books, 1974-79.

Significant for the source and venue, so to speak: a best-selling popularization by a notable scientist and popularizer of science. Of interest to the initial compiler and a co-author of "The Ovion/Cylon Alliance" — one person — is Sagan on the Viking rover (or "lander"),[1][2] a device for the exploration of Mars (and possible life, at least at one time, thereon or just a short distance therein).

In the development of such machines we find a kind of convergent evolution. Viking is, in a curious sense, like some great outsized, clumsily constructed insect. It is not yet ambulatory, and it is certainly incapable of self-reproduction. But it has an exoskeleton, it has a wide range of insectlike sensory organs, and it is about as intelligent as a dragonfly. But Viking has an advantage that insects do not: it can, on occasion, by inquiring of its controllers on Earth, assume the intelligence of a human being — the controllers are able to reprogram the Viking computer on the basis of decisions they make. (p. 290)

Sagan — who knows science fiction well — also discusses "domestic robots" and why they do not have "to look any more human than a vacuum cleaner does" (p. 291).


RDE, finishing, 2Jun22