The Year 2018 in Scifi Robotics
A brief recap of the year in robot fiction- stay tuned for a recap of the year in real robots...
The highlights of the year in written robot science fiction were the awards for All Systems Red, the first entry in the MurderBot Diaries, which won both the Hugo and Nebula for best novella, and Secret Life of Bots which won the Hugo for best short story. Other nominated work involved robotics as a major plot point (Autonomous, Provenance, Raven Stratagem, Fandom for Robots, and Carnival Nine). New releases such as Scalzi’s Head On and McAulty’s The Robots of Gotham may be award nominees for 2019. 2018 was less kind to robot science fiction film franchises. Pacific Rim Uprising underwhelmed audiences. ELLE continued the tradition of robots being more interesting than the human characters in Solo: A Star Wars Story. Cable and internet did better with HBO’s Westworld continuing to captivate audiences and with quirky online fare such as Automata: The Series having a bit of fun with robots.
In terms of teachable moments, 2018 saw three topics garner more attention than usual: teleoperation (Head On, Provenance), product liability and poor software engineering (the MurderBot Diaries), and outlawing intelligence (The Robots of Gotham, A Closed and Common Orbit). Head On provided a probably too-close-to-home description of what it would be like to have to use telepresence for work; it is possibly the most realistic novel on how a robot technology would really function in a complex society. The Robots of Gotham was a kitchen sink of interesting ideas wrapped with a less interesting GameLit bow; the plot was predicated on the possibility that the US would fall behind in AI and robotics technology while fascist regimes like Venezuela would take advantage of the low bar of entry into AI and obtain world-wide dominance. Of course, the standard sexbots, robot rights, and when is a robot sentient continued to be explored in fiction, but those themes have been popular for many years.