Posts Tagged ‘ encoding ’

Asimov: Robot Dreams

UPDATE: Mandala screenshots (below)

I’ve begun encoding “Robot Dreams”, a short story about a robot named Elvex (LVX-1) whose positronic brain has been uniquely imprinted with fractal patterns, and as a result has learned how to dream.  This text also features Susan Calvin, the mother of robot psychology in the continuity of most of Asimov’s robot stories.  In my encoding of this text, I’ve run into several challenges:

  • I’m finding “otherness” more difficult to determine than I’d expected.  This story in particular is challenging, because Elvex has become more “human-like” due to the unique architecture of his brain– a fact that appalls his creator and Susan Calvin.  The more Elvex describes his dreams, appearing increasingly “human”, the more the human characters try to distance themselves from him and emphasize his robotic characteristics.  In this situation, there is a definite tension between “other” and “same”; I can’t ignore that tension by making that attribute “null”, but how can I determine otherness in such an ambivalent circumstance?  …One solution is to look at the source’s motivation.  Is the source saying/doing something to create distance between human and robot, or to draw them closer together?  This raises a new challenge:
  • Can a reference then have multiple sources?  Can multiple sources have different motivations, and thus represent different levels on “otherness”?  If the answer is yes, how do I encode this?  …The answer I’ve come up with is to nest my pr_ref tags.  It’s still too early to tell if this is an effective strategy, but I’m trialing it.
  • How do I define my type attributes when it seems that the reference is fulfilling more than one of the possible types?  (e.g. in “Robot Dreams”  Susan Calvin interviews Elvex in her characteristically cold, clinical way.  Most of her questions/statements directed at Elvex can be construed both as “interactive”– since she is “interacting” with the robot– and “descriptive”– since she is describing the robot.)  One possible answer is to look at the possibility of multiple sources again.  The other is to identify a hierarchy of types: emotion trumps interaction trumps description, since all references “describe” something, but not all references “describe” an interaction, and not all interactions are emotional.  Without clearly setting this rule out, I think this is a strategy I followed when encoding “Someday”.  When there is a clearly a situation of multiple sources looking at motivation can again be valuable, and using nested tagging seems the natural answer.

I chose “Robot Dreams” because it has several elements that I felt needed to be explored in my analysis of Asimov’s robot stories.  First of all, whereas in “Someday” the two human characters were male children, in “Robot Dreams” the two human characters are female adults.  I wanted to see if gender and age played a factor (note: my tweaked encoding currently doesn’t catalog age as a factor– if it looks like this might be valuable information to mine, I may add it in future iterations).  Secondly it included Susan Calvin.  Although I have not, as yet, developed an element structure to analyze principal human characters, it has always been my intention for Calvin to be my first attempt.  Not only is her name synonymous with Asimov’s robot stories as a recurring character, but she plays a unique role in them as a foil for the various robots she psycho-analyzes; it would be a valuable exercise to compare the relationship references to her with those of the principle robot characters in the same stories.  Is Susan Calvin characterized as more robot (“other”) or more human?  In comparison, are the robot characters more or less human? Does she elicit more of an emotional response from the figures that interact with her?  An examination of reference sources in this analysis is useful too: does she express emotion more or less than the average robot?

Finally, the problem of “otherness” is central to this text.  I feel that the tension between being “too human” and “too different” is one that makes Asimov’s work so universally engaging, and has not been explored to its fullest.  My XML encoding can– hopefully– reveal exactly how that tension is expressed through the relationships in the text.

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I have completed a first encoding of the principal robot references in “Robot Dreams”.  Here are screenshots of Mandala evaluating “otherness” from the perspective of the three characters: Elvex (principal robot), Susan (principal human), and Linda (secondary human).  Click on the thumbnails below to view the images in full size.

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