David Madore's WebLog: Robots, and Pentacles

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Robots, and Pentacles

I'm currently reading Asimov's I, Robot collection of short stories: whereas I had already read most of Asimov's “non-robot” fiction, I have so far mostly avoided his robot stories (apart from a few that managed to find their way into other collections, and, of course into Foundation). And I proceed with mixed feelings: to be sure, Asimov is great, like he often is; but still, his principles of robotics and robotology, and in particular the famous (and oft-quoted) Three Laws of Robotics, always seem to me a little contrived. And I can't help but feel a little bothered by the fact that some of the premises conflict with my views on AI (such as the idea that making a talking robot would be considerably more difficult than making one with sufficient intelligence to understand human speech but not practice it itself). Anyway (…anyway, I tend to find the ideas of the Singularity Institute equally contrived). But of course the Three Laws of Robotics are a big step forward compared to pre-Asimov visions of robots as man-threatening machines that might take over the world. Still, I far prefer the Foundation cycle, which, in a way, has far less aged (even its earliest parts) than the robot stories.

In case there are some people around who haven't heard of the Three Laws of Robotics, here they are:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

(Incidentally, I think there should logically be a Fourth Law, about not harming other robots as long as that does not conflict with the First, Second or Third Law.) Of course, Asimov, as one would expect of him, cleverly finds all imaginable ways to circumvent (or apparently circumvent) the Three Laws which he himself set out. Sometimes it is very ingenious.

Still speaking of fiction, I've barely begun writing my entry for the story writing circle (which I've already talked about in a previous entry). I won't say what it's about, though, because it is supposed to be kept a secret until the deadline (which is currently 2003-05-28, but may be delayed for various reasons).

I haven't seen Matrix Reloaded yet. I will see it on Thursday.

After a discussion with my thesis advisor today, I'll give a few more thoughts to a subject which I had pursued some time ago: technically, “automorphisms of Del Pezzo surfaces of degree four”, but concretely I can describe them as some very nice (birational) plane transformations determined by a set of five marked points (“blowup points”, technically). In particular, there is a set (an abelian group, actually) of sixteen what I call “pentacular transformations” of the plane with a beautiful geometric structure. Maybe I'll try to draw some pictures if I have the courage (since, for once, what I do is not so high-brow that it can't be represented graphically). What I wish to check is that these pentacular transformations always exist (and not just in the case where the five blowup points form—the projective transform of—a regular pentagon, in which case I know for sure that they do).

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