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The Doom from Planet 4 (short story, 1931)

The first science fiction story about computer vision appears to be Jack Williamson’s 1931 short story The Doom from Planet 4. That story featured alien robots who are noteworthy for their camera eyes that actively tracked the movements of an island’s two inhabitants (which scientists call active perception). One is the beautiful daughter of the famous explorer who had been killed discovering the island, the other-- wait for it-- a handsome adventurer who had joined the rescue mission. Fortunately, the two discovered that the robots relied on centralized control like the robots in The Phantom Menace; when communication with Planet 4 was severed, the robots ceased to function. Interesting that, even in 1931, writers assumed machine intelligence and computer vision was too complex to reside in a robot body. This is like all those devices we have today that require Cloud computing for natural language understanding and computer vision. While the story got active perception and centralized control correct, it focused only on the mechanics of vision and not the conversion of the signal into a symbol and into a larger framework of semantic understanding. The Doom from Planet 4 is available online at See the Science Robotics article on Computer Vision and Machine Learning to learn more.

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