Started: 2 May 2006, 4:55 UTC
Finished: 24 September 2006, 11:22 UTC

I, Robot

Keyword: DRM

During Cory Doctorow's Guest of Honour speech (ABC story, audio), he pointed out that in Asimov's I, Robot, there's one company making robots, and that company essentially makes only one class of robot.

There is no commercial competition, no garage inventors, no children's build-your-own-robot-brain kits. Only US Robots.

Police state

Cory's contention is that this would entail an oppressive police state - a theme he explores in his novelette of the same name, drawing obvious parallels to today's world.

After all, robots were presumably not invented in a vacuum: they would have been a logical progression of technology which is applicable in many other, non-robotic areas. Thus, to ensure that only US Robots can make robots, it would mean heavily policing the rest of the population, making sure that they do not put together generally available components in certain ways; that certain knowledge is not communicated; that certain research is curtailed.

Similarly, today, one consortium would like to control who makes entertainment goods. There's one company that licenses DVD players, and they demand things of their licensees that have little to do with playing DVDs - region coding, disabling skipping, macrovision. Sometimes they succeed, other times less so (as with region coding in Australia), but they certainly try. They're working on laws to outlaw communication of certain knowledge - people have already briefly gone to jail for speech crimes in the US on this account.

Dark age

Another interpretation of Asimov's world would be that robots were the last invention at the apex of a civilisation beginning its decline; that they were a random and essentially unexpected last gasp of a civilisation about to plunge into a Dark Age for other reasons. Robots, then, would be essentially an epiphenomenon - something invented by-the-way, then forgotten; and the robots, slaves of duty, self-destruct to effectuate that forgetting.

This feels more consistent with the feel of Asimov's stories, but it's much less satisfying than Cory's version; it would make the stories basically meaningless.

A note on innovation

Looking up some details for this entry, I came across the quote "No employee makes the same mistake twice. He is fired the first time." for US Robots.

No innovation at all, then.

GPL and innovation
Quote: Heinlein on progress