Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Code of the Lifemaker

By James P. Hogan

Millions of years ago, a robot star ship came to our solar system and set up a self-replicating factory on Titan, one of the moons of Saturn. This factory was intended to process the natural resources of Titan and build other factories to do the same thing. But there was an burst of radiation and several programs of the factory computers were corrupted and the factories began to produce erratically.  Over millions of years, the machines evolved and self-aware robots came into existence. They arose from primitive roots and developed civilized societies. At the time they are discovered by humans, they are at a level equivalent to Europe's Medieval age. They have kings, armies, and a state religion but no advanced technology. They are ripe for exploitation by humankind.
Which is exactly what the people from Earth intend. Some argue that the robots are mere machines and all that that implies. But some of the crew of the space ship from Earth see the robots as living, intelligent individuals who should be treated with the same respect as any person.
Who will win this argument? The fate of the robot people hangs in the balance. Will they end up exploited as slaves by humankind? Will Big Money win out over compassion and decency?

An interesting idea, machine intelligence. Hogan's robots are very human in their thinking except, perhaps, a tad more logical. I found the robots interesting and I wish their story had been the main focus of the book. Instead, it is all caught up in the politics and power struggles of one group of humans against the others. Too much of the story was about them and not about the robots. Also, there was quite a lot of techno-babble, quite boring for non-tech types like me and also quite meaningless, like this example:

"Set the HG centerline to blue zero," Clarissa said, glancing sideways. "Then use the coarse control to lock the scan-base and select your profile analysis from the menu on S-three."

So while I liked the parts dealing with the robots, the rest of the story was a little too dry for my liking.  And by the way, it is spelled "coarse" in the book, not "course". I don't know if that is an error or not. Maybe there really is such a thing as a coarse control.

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