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Aug 30, 2013

Asimov and Robots in Time

The Exode Trilogy provides a rather broad perspective on the origins and ultimate fates of human-like robots, humans and other stray forms of life that find their way to Earth. Really, it all started with Asimov's positronic robots...

End Game
Isaac Asimov had fun creating stories about humanoid robots and left his Foundation Saga hanging by a thread (Foundation and Earth)...would Daneel's 20,000 year-old positronic systems last long enough for him to bring Galaxia to completion?

In the 20th century, when explorations of machine reproduction and artificial life began, the concept of a "robot" began to shift from

1) a machine that came out of a factory, fully programmed to produce human-like behavior,

towards

Giskard and Daneel
imagined by megaduce
2) a form of artificial life that grew and learned like we humans do.

Asimov confronted the question: if a robot with human-like behavior got old, really old, would it be easy for that humanoid robot to duplicate itself, would it be essentially immortal? For digital computers, software programs can easily shift from one machine to another, but how can Daneel transfer 20,000 years of memories into the brain of Fallom, a human?

And another thing....
When I started devising a fanfiction sequel to Foundation and Earth I found it impossible to accept the idea that Giskard was the first telepathic robot to understand how to wire telepathic abilities into a positronic brain. And just how were positronic brains invented and built in the 20th century, anyhow?

Asimov sketched out a timeline for the development of increasingly sophisticated humanoid robots in the science fiction stories that he wrote in the 1940s. From the perspective of the 1940s, he knew that if computer-powered robots were going to be ever made that could haul around their brain circuits and produce human-like behavior then there would have to be a computer miniaturization breakthrough. To advance his robot stories, Asimov invented an imaginary technology: the positronic brain.

When the 1960s arrived, the microchip industry took off. Writing in 1964, just on the brink of the integrated circuit revolution, Asimov predicted, "Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence."

In his I, Robot compilation, Asimov set the story Reason in about the year 2015. In that story, Asimov shows us what he meant by a robot: a man-made device in the shape of a human that could reason and talk like a person. Sadly, no such computerized device that can think and talk like a person exists, yet. Why is it so hard to duplicate human language behavior with any existing computer? Why was it so easy for Asimov's imagined positronic engineers at U.S. Robots?

The secrets of positronics
In The Foundations of Eternity, I laid out my fanfiction version of the origin of positronic brains. I imagined that the key "trick" for endowing positronic circuits with human-like thought involved copying the pattern of neural circuits in a human brain into the functionally equivalent positronic circuits. If Daneel's positronic brain has a structure that duplicates human brain patterns then maybe that helps explain why it is possible for Daneel to transfer his memories to Fallom.

In The Foundations of Eternity I have fun with an explanation for how -in the Foundation Reality- positronic brains could be produced on Earth in the 20th century. Positronic robots were first produced at a secret base on the Moon, long before they existed on Earth. Development of a positronics industry on Earth involved a few secret agents who provided Earthlings with the means to begin a positronics industry: Trysta and Merion develop a working relationship with Rycleu, a positronic robot. Together they provided key technological clues that allowed positronics to flourish on Earth.

Eventually it becomes clear to Trysta that any attempt to quickly establish positronics on Earth has disastrous consequences: the surface of Earth will become dangerously radioactive. However, delaying the development of positronics on Earth has its own implications: global warming, ice cap melting and catastrophic sea level rise.

Trysta develops a collaboration with the Nereids. Actually, there are no Nereids on Earth, only a few Interventionist agents of the Nereids. Working through those agents, the Nereids make some useful technologies available to Trysta. Two of the most important technological assists provided to Trysta are
1) access to Nereid teleportation technology and
2) the Nereids help Trysta expand her rather limited capacity for viewing Realities.

Viewing Realities
Trysta is an Asterothrope, sent to the 20th century from a distant future after humans have become extinct. Disguised as a human, her mission was to bring the Foundation Reality into existence, but Trysta comes to view the Reality she has created as a trap. The alien Huaoshy have also started traveling through time, and the conflicting interests of humanity and the aliens has seemingly locked Earth into a strange attractor where all possible futures turn out badly for Earth.

Even with the help of Nereid technology, her rather limited capacity to observe alternative Realities does not allow her to find a way towards a better future. She knows that she is locked in a time travel war, but what can Trysta do? This is the dead end that Gohrlay and Trysta have worked themselves into by the end of Part I in the second book of the Exode Trilogy. Is there a future for the human species or is our species doomed?

Betty
The solution to this problem is technological. The Huaoshy realize that they have the power to put an end to their time travel war on Earth. They can alter the dimensional structure of the universe so as to make time travel impossible. Doing so will kick Earth out of the strange attractor and provide Trysta with the means to move Earth to a new, brighter Reality.

In addition to positronic robots, other types of robots are found in the Exode Trilogy. One of my initial goals for the Exode story was to allow both Interventionists and Overseers to make use of fairly sophisticated technologies while they are on Earth. I provided Parthney with a robotic assistant (Betty) and the Overseers make use of a robot to keep watch on the time-traveling Asimov after he assumes the role of Astounding editor John Campbell.

The Last Robot
I've also been toying with the idea that one of the positronic robots should remain in hiding on Earth, protected by a personal temporal field generator. What would such a robot do after R. Gohrlay and all the other positronic robots were erased from existence?

All of the positronic robots that were sent to Earth were working to accelerate technological progress and help the people of Earth rapidly develop robotics and space travel technology. Eventually, Trysta decides that it is a mistake to help with that cause. Fengtol and Rycleu are two positronic robots who I have placed on Earth in the 20th century. Fengtol is captured and so Rycleu could be the "escaped robot". Previously I had imagined Trysta escaping from the Huaoshy forces on Earth by making use of Nereid teleporter technology.

Maybe Rycleu should escape at the same time and in the same way. It might make sense to say that the Huaoshy forces on Earth were led to R. Fentol by Asimov. Before sweeping in and capturing Fengtol, it might have been possible to intercept communications between Fentol and Rycleu. That intercept would lead the Huaoshy forces on Earth to both Rycleu and Trysta, but they are both teleported to safety at the last second, frustrating Huaoshy efforts to win the "time war" by a conventional battle field maneuver.

Space Energy Missions
After their close call with the Huaoshy, Trysta can continue her life on Earth without much interruption, but Rycleu must carefully go into hiding, possibly taking refuge among the Nereid agents of Earth. I need to invent some progressive organization that would be this group of Nereid agents, agents stationed on Earth and working for social progress.

500 years ago the Nereid agents supported social change by weakening the Catholic Church and supporting the Reformation. I'm thinking that their main concern in the 21st century might be environmental issues. I'm imagining a think tank that supports space-based solar power development. Maybe called Space Energy Missions.

Possibly Rycleu could recognize that R. Gohrlay's plans were not working out for Earth, that pushing for development of positronic robots in the 20th century was too dangerous. R. Rycleu might decide to quietly help with the development of solar energy technologies.

I need to decide on the ultimate fate of R. Rycleu when the Nereid mission on Earth is finally terminated. It might be best if R. Rycleu, Hilde and the entire "staff" of Space Energy Missions is sent off to Mercury with the Buld after they swing by Earth for a quick visit. I've been thinking that the Buld could use hierions to transmit energy to Earth from solar energy collectors on Mercury, but it might be possible to simply use microwaves.

However, if I go that "low tech" route then I'd like some twist at the end such as constructing space elevators that would both carry power from space to the surface and provide a convenient way for people to go from Earth into space.

 R. Rycleu will no longer have any telepathic abilities after the Huaoshy carry out their final dimensional engineering project. I have to decide if any of the Nereid agents at Space Energy Missions would even have a clue that Rycleu is something other than a human. However, after departing from Earth, there might be no further reason for Rycleu to hide the fact that "she" is a robot. In fact, she might be particularly useful in helping to develop the power transmission system linking Mercury to Earth.
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Related Reading: the last Nereid agent on Earth.

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