Thursday, 23 August 2012

A book about robots by someone who hates robots

In 1985, Wayland Publishers decided to put out another book in their Topics series of educational titles - this one would be about robots, and would introduce children to this fascinating and constantly evolving science. The man they chose for the task of writing said book was a Mr. Graham Rickard - who it turned out really didn't like robots. He just wanted to go skiing instead! But, ski poles don't pay for themselves, so the book had to be written. Graham wasn't going to go quietly though - here's an opportunity to grab the kids from an early age, and to tell them that robots are NOT a good thing. Here is that book, time to do some learning!

The warning signs are right there in the blurb, with the ominous last sentence:

Upon opening this particular copy of the book, it seems that Rickard was rumbled early on. Carshalton College withdrew this book from its library in 1986, probably less than a year after acquiring it:

But we're not about to let some pro-robot librarian's ban-hammer stop us from learning the awful truth, are we? Nah. Press on!

It starts out on a fair-enough level - an educational few pages, describing what a robot actually is:

"Most robots do not look at all human and can only do one job each" - pathetic, aren't they?

"This one is great fun but it has no real use" - bit harsh isn't it? Look how happy he's making the children!

Sorry, should've put a warning in somewhere that there's a picture of an automaton in there. Some people are scared of them. Anyway, they're "just machines with no intelligence", so what's to worry about? Here's what's to worry about, in that last sentence there: "The robot age had begun".

"Parts and materials have to be brought to them in exactly the right position, because they are blind" - couldn't there be a nicer way of putting that? For someone who wants to put such distance between robots and humans, Graham's giving the poor things a fair amount of human traits.

"They are useful for doing jobs which are too dangerous or boring for human workers" - that could be considered a compliment, couldn't it? Actually, Graham plays fair for the next few pages, listing the useful ways robots are being used to help out in the modern world, such as shearing sheep in Australia and disarming bombs in Northern Ireland. We also get a look at some wonderful 1985-era facial hair:

Would it be worth a trip to France to see if Mr. Sam is still working? That'd be a nice thing to do. It's an excuse to get out of the house.

Next, is the "Next" robots:

"They are still extremely stupid... About as intelligent as an earthworm" - Ha, stupid robots! Idiots, that's what they are. Annelidian-level idiots! This chapter is mostly short-term speculation, and offers up both good and bad things that robots could be doing for (or TO) us within the next few years:

This is where our Graham's anti-robot paranoia starts creeping up: "If (intelligent robots are) used against mankind, the results could be terrifying. People would stand little chance against an army of robot soldiers whose aim would never miss and who could even fight in a nuclear war"; "The idea of a robot hurting a human being is very worrying, and governments may soon have to pass laws to make this illegal." Graham may've missed the "fiction" part of Asimov's works whilst writing this book - it'd still be another twelve years until a computer would beat a human at chess, never mind figure out how to butcher somebody. Two more pages of this chapter, then it's onto scarier stuff.

The final chapter, Robots and the Future, is full-blown Doomsday prophesying. See for yourself! It's a rollercoaster of emotions in this one, it really is:

So, we'll be living in a world designed and built both by and FOR robots, and no-one will be allowed to work in the manual sector by the year 2000. But that's okay, because we'll have more leisure time and our robotic overlords will look like all look like Bender's mates. Decide for yourself whether that's a good thing or not. Graham finishes his pamphlet with this chilling conclusion:

"Robots can already see, feel and hear. When they begin to think with artificial intelligence, they will be far more accurate than any human worker. But they can never have morals, so their human masters will have to make sure they keep control of these mechanical slaves."

And on that note, the book is finished. Any child who picked up this book with a view to learning about how C3-P0 works would be instantly transformed into a Luddite and to this day doesn't even have a Facebook. That child avoided machines throughout their entire life, instead growing stronger in every physical and mental way imaginable, free of the influence of the machines that gradually began to control and enslave the rest of us. And one day, that child will save us all. And Graham Rickard was his creator.


  1. I think I saw Sam - or one of his brothers - in the Swiss Alps earlier this year.

  2. Thought that'd be something you'd've taken a picture of?

  3. Subjects have to stay completely still to be effectively captured by my camera, and we were driving. So even if I could have extracted my camera in time, it would have been blurry and in the distance, like an image of bigfoot.