August 1, 2010

Robot Love

August 1, 2010

I still enjoy The Columbus Dispatch with my morning coffee. Granted the paper newspaper has shrunk exponentially over the last several years, and the on-line version is more up-to-the-minute.

But somehow my day doesn’t start until I’ve scanned the front page for the latest uproar in our state government, perused the obituaries to be sure I’m not listed there, studied my horoscope to determine whether it’s safe to leave the house, and caught up on such earth-shattering events as how Lindsay Lohan is doing in jail.

This morning, the miniscule book page featured an interview with a local psychology professor whose debut novel was recently published. The title of the article is “Couched in familiarity,” and the first words out of the author’s mouth are, “They say you should write what you know.”

But should you?

Suppose other people don't want to read about what you know? Suppose everyone says your stories are too small?

This has happened to me more than once, even though I’ve written about living through World War I, surviving the social upheavals of the 60s and 70s, finding out who murdered a prominent minister with a dark secret, and struggling through an ill-conceived marriage and a hasty separation.

I keep asking myself what “bigger” means, what I should do about ordinary people with life-sized problems—the sum total of what I know.

Because I’m a writer who never stops writing, even if what I write is only inside my head, I’ve been framing possible scenarios for my next novel and thinking about trying something completely outside my own experience.

The most recent issue of The Smithsonian Magazine has given me food for thought in this regard. On the last page, I discovered a survey cataloguing the difficulties humans and robots face, once they decide to marry. The author predicts such unions will happen around 2050.

Here’s a brief summary of problems when humans and robots say, “I do”:
  • Humans get bored more easily with their electronic mates than the other way around, mainly because robots make strange humming noises and require constant circuitry repairs by other robots.
  • Humans must sleep eight hours a day and eat at regular intervals, while robots prefer to party 24/7 without interruption.
  • Robots lack a moral sense; they're not programmed to recognize the word monogamy.
  • After a divorce, robots cruise bars for dates within two hours, barely time for the “ink” to dry on the final decree.

As I contemplate this brave new future, I can imagine a world in which my prospective heroine attends an electronics expo, say in Atlantic City, and finds the robot of her dreams, only to be disillusioned because his neural networks aren’t sophisticated enough to sensitize him to her desire for total intimacy.

After he demands a divorce and promptly shacks up with an older model 2000 cyborg, she takes a yearlong trip around the world, during which she eats a lot of pizza in Naples, cleanses herself at an ashram outside Hyderabad, and finds true love with a multi-lingual, souped-up Twelve Million Dollar Man at a biomechanics lab in sunny Provence.

Hmm. Silly? Yes. Fun? Maybe. Different? Definitely. Worth the plunge? Won’t know until I walk to the end of the diving board, close my eyes, and jump in.

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