Book Review: We, Robots

Layout 1by Michael D. Pederson


We, Robots
Sue Lange
Aqueduct Press, 98 pp.

We, Robots, a novella, is part of the “Small Paperback Series” from Aqueduct Press. Like Lange’s previous novel, Tritcheon Hash, this novella combines a hearty blend of science fantasy with good old-fashioned, tongue-in-cheek satire.

The story follows (and is told by) Avey, an AV-1 model robot that is purchased as a nanny for a young girl. Like all the best science fiction robots, Avey is a mirror held up to society; as he learns how to function around people we learn more about ourselves. As humanity numbs itself with “pain stoppage” technology, robots are equipped with pain sensors to make them more empathic and to give them greater learning capabilities. It’s fun to watch as the humans become less sensitive and the robots more so. Social allegory can be a bit of a blunt hammer in the wrong hands, but Lange wields it well.

A major focus of the plot is the oncoming Singularity. I think that Lange oversimplified a bit in her description of the Singularity. In her words, it is “that exact instant when artificial intelligence, AI, surpasses biological intelligence.” More fully, the Singularity describes the point when technology begins advancing at an exponential rate due to a superhuman artificial (or enhanced biological) intelligence. To use an example from Lange’s novel: it wouldn’t be the point when robot intelligence grows beyond ours, it would be the point when robots use that intelligence to start modifying themselves and technology to grow beyond humanity. I’m just nitpicking though; Lange cleverly avoids any problems here by having her robots decide not to move past the Singularity. She calls it the “Regularity” instead. I have to give her credit, it’s a nice twist; just because the Singularity is possible, does it have to happen? And her reasoning for not pursuing the advance is extremely plausible—self-interest, the most human of emotions. Good stuff.