Kell Robinson

When I started reading "Software" I thought, oh, another piece of science fiction. I remember the science fiction I read as a teenager, and I didn't think Rucker's writing would hold much interest for me; but it did hold my interest, as it happened.

On a literal level, I can't believe that there will be such social cooperation and goal©driven behavior among robots, if they or some computers were to "revolt." Such a revolt would manifest itself perhaps as chaotic behavior that might even appear to have a purpose as a result of the intractable quality, the perceived obstreperousness and willful inducement of chaotic conditions. Constructive social acts I don't picture.

Looking beyond that, however, and approaching the piece more literarily than literally, I can appreciate it. The robots Ralph Numbers and Wagstaff have personalities. There is a conflict. And finally, the story raises issues of consciousness (to me they are issues of human consciousness) that are most engrossing: the nature of memory, and what happens to awareness when a being dies.

The story relates to the film "Fast, Cheap & Out of Control" on a less metaphysical level. Obviously, part of the film deals with robots, and the mole rats are something like the cooperative mining robots ("little boppers") of the story. But these comparisons are somewhat superficial, and anyway I think it would be best if possible to find some theme that connects the apparently unrelated subjects of the film, then compare it to Rucker's story. And what I see uniting the stories of the film is the human attempt to take things that exist independently of us that are mysterious or uncontrollable, and mold them. Either we try to control them as the lion tamer does, or we want to dispel mystery and bring something strange within the orbit of our understanding, as does the biologist with his mole rats (including physical manipulation and control). In the case of the robot scientist, we have the impulse to build things from scratch, to create a new life form, if the word is not too extravagant for mechanical devices, and in this way to exercise our control. I call this "image©izing." The topiary artist creates his images almost from nothing, as it were©©from bushes whose forms in nature, while certainly orderly in a sense, relate little if at all to the forms and the creations of human artifice.

How does this relate to the story told in "Software"... well, the question we could ask about the real human activities shown in the film, and taking a page from Rucker, is: when does our "image©izing" get away from us, and how?

I think it does sometimes, but not in the concrete external sense we have in the story, of a robot rebellion or some other catastrophe that happens outside of ourselves. Of course our manipulations do have external results, but there is a psychological dynamic that starts the ball rolling, and that is what we have to address. And it is much more simple and down to earth than the metaphysics of consciousness and death that Rucker's story suggests. No, it is the desire to control, to be in command, but only in terms of what we already understand. The film suggests that humans have an agenda to be Fast, Cheap and In Control. But it's going to take a lot of work to keep this machine going. And then what happens?