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Monday, June 13, 2011

Daniel H. Wilson: Robopocalypse Author Offers Advice on Surviving Robot Uprisings

Posted By on Mon, Jun 13, 2011 at 8:00 AM

click to enlarge robopocalpyse_cover.jpg

It's inevitable. Someday all this technology we love so much will turn on us and enslave us, and all sorts of badness will ensue. Author Daniel H. Wilson has thought about this a lot: The man has a Ph.D. in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University and once wrote a book called How to Survive a Robot Uprising. He describes it as "light non-fiction."

Wilson will be in St. Louis tonight to read from his latest book, his first novel for adults, called Robopocalypse. Haven't heard of it? You will: Steven Spielberg snapped up the movie rights before the book was even finished and plans to start shooting next year. The reading will take place at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at Maryville University; it's co-sponsored by Left Bank Books, St. Louis Public Radio and HEC-TV.

Last week Wilson took some time to chat with Daily RFT by phone from his home in Portland, Oregon.

Daily RFT: Can you tell us about Robo-po-calypse? Wow, that was hard to say.

Daniel H. Wilson: You got it.

I practiced.

Well, the book is the story of a disparate group of survivors in the near-term future after technology goes awry. Since it's called Robopocalypse, it's pretty clear what the plot is.

click to enlarge Daniel H. Wilson - IMAGE VIA

Did you write it on a computer?

I did. But I wrote it in the Underwood 1942 typewriter font. The conceit of the book is that it was written after the war when one of the survivors finds a black box full of other people's stories. The machines were taking notes the whole time. Imagine a guy in a tent in the middle of the Arctic waste, watching holograms on the wall. As I was writing the story, I used the typewriter font to get into the mindset.

I mean, did you start to fear your computer after a while? Like that it would turn on you?

No. I love technology -- robots, robotics, engineering. It was a fun exercise.

You seem to be an expert on that, considering you did write a book called How to Survive a Robot Uprising.

That was non-fiction, a way to make fun of evil robot movies. For the novel, I thought it would be more interesting if there was a conflict between the humans and the robots, not like they got up in the morning and walked around holding hands.

Like Rosie the Robot on The Jetsons?

The Jetsons were from the post-World War II era, when people were still optimistic about technology. It's not like that now.

Why not? We seem to be way more dependent on it now.

Yes, we are dependent on technology The stakes for the human race are going up every day. There's more and more weight on the shoulders of technology. It's a great theme to write about. It matters so much. I'm surprised I'm getting so much attention for robots, but the idea seems to resonate. Robots are technology embodied. It's hard to put your finger on that sense of unease that comes from our dependence on utilities and communication and sewage and all the technology we need to keep us alive. Robots are a metaphor for our fear of technology. It's easy to focus on them.

Did you expect all the Spielberg stuff to happen?

Of course I expected it! [laughs] No, really, the Spielberg news was surprising. It wasn't what I'd planned for. I hadn't gone to Hollywood to shop it around. The material leaked, and everyone was eager to grab the next big thing, and it happened to be exactly what Dreamworks and Spielberg were looking for. The guy loves robots.

How do you survive a robot uprising?

Well, robots aren't very good at locomotion in the woods. They're made for a human environment, like cities. So you would probably want to hide out in the woods, and you'd probably need to know how to survive in the woods. Nature's a bitch. But follow the FEMA guidelines and you should be fine.

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