Robot toys and fiction on the topic of robots / artificial intelligence and learning?
April 27, 2010 6:29 PM   Subscribe

Robot toys and fiction on the topic of robots / artificial intelligence and learning?

I'm part of a research group which is creating a presentation geared towards 6-12th grade students about robots. It's going to be in a local library and if it does well it may go in the Seattle Science Fiction Museum. The goal is to contrast the way that robots are portrayed in the media with real robotics technology. I'm very interested in the ways that robots are being used to aid in education, both with kids and with people with learning disabilities / different learning styles. I've been able to find some factual information about this topic, but am struggling to find the fictional component. Most pop culture about robots seems to be more about exciting topics like robots taking over the world, robots shooting laser beams out of their eyes, sexy robots who always want to put out, etc. I'm not very knowledgeable about science fiction, so I'm not familiar with much that's outside of the "mainstream".

Films, books / short stories, pieces of digital art... any of these would be good. It'd be particularly useful if it's something that kids are likely to already be familiar with, since I think that'd capture their attention more.

I'm also interested in recent toys that incorporate robotics and learning. I remember speak n' spell in my youth and robots that played cassette tapes, but I have no idea what cool robot toys the kids might be playing with these days. I know about Lego Mindstorms and am hoping to incorporate those somehow.

The other class groups are mostly just doing posters. One is doing a short film. I really want ours to be interactive though... kids are going to be dragged there as part of a school trip, and I'd like them to find the topic interesting and inspiring vs. some boring thing they're being forced to do.

I'd take tips about especially cool factual ways that robots are being used to teach people, too... I might've missed some of the best ones.
posted by groovinkim to Education (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Isaac Asimov's I, Robot and its "sequels". They're a series of short stories, and almost none of them are about robots taking over the world. The first story is about a robot nursemaid, for instance. Only the last story is about them taking over the world, and it's not out of conflict with humanity--it's because they've been so competently programmed to save humanity. There are some other Robot stories by Asimov, but I forget the names of the collections.

These are the science fiction robot stories.

You ever heard of the Three Laws of Robotics? Those come from this collection.
posted by Netzapper at 6:42 PM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

You've seen WALL-E, right?
posted by teraflop at 6:43 PM on April 27, 2010

I'm not sure if this is exactly what you're looking for, but A.I. (and the short story it's based on, Super-toys Last All Summer Long) are really interesting takes on companion robots, which also raise some interesting ethical questions. There's some robotics technology (Paro, for one) already aimed at providing companionship to the elderly.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:43 PM on April 27, 2010

Three Laws of Robotics.

1) A robot may not harm a human, nor through inaction allow a human to come to harm.

2) A robot must follow a human's orders, except where this would violate the first law. [No military robots!]

3) A robot must protect its own existence, except where this would conflict with the first two laws.
posted by Netzapper at 6:44 PM on April 27, 2010

If you're looking for classics, Asimov is always a good place to start -- the "I, Robot" collection of short stories and "The Positronic Man" were major favorites of mine when I was in middle school, and approach the subject with more thoughtfulness than most.

Obviously there's Wall-E, although that's a bit young for these kids.

If you want something they may already be familiar with that's age-appropriate and more carefully considered than average, the character of "Legion" in the recent game "Mass Effect 2" was particularly interesting in its presentation of robotic intelligence and how large numbers of them might coordinate with each other.

A bit more obscure but still recent would be the "Automata" comics (begun here and then continuing for four more pages starting here) created for Penny Arcade, which feature some excellent art and intriguing world-building.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:49 PM on April 27, 2010

Memail or email. I eat, sleep, and breathe robots. I have tons to say that's way too long for an answer here.
posted by olinerd at 6:55 PM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Culturally: robots are endemic to pop culture. Check out this very long list of fictional robots and androids. I'd get a select few kids in your cohort and see which robots have the best Q score.

Institute for Personal Robots in Education seems like a potentially useful resource, though they seem to emphasize computer science rather than engineering.

A recent TED Talk Dennis Hong: My 7 species of robot that I thought was inspirational. He works at Virginia Tech which has a Robotics department. Their page on what it takes to get accepted into their programs will be useful for students considering robots in college.

You may have a local robotics club: Washington (inferring Washington from your mention of Seattle). The Seattle Robotics Society looks very promising, and has what appears to be an active mailing list.
posted by artlung at 7:17 PM on April 27, 2010

Oh my gosh is super-awesome.
posted by artlung at 7:22 PM on April 27, 2010

-Looking For The Mahdi by N. Lee Wood. (may be a bit mature for the younger ones)

-How To Survive a Robot Uprising
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:49 PM on April 27, 2010

Well, it depends on what you want to define a robot as being. There's human-like autonomous robots, non-human-like autonomous mobile robots, stationary preprogrammed robots, teleoperated robots, and self-driving cars and so on. All things that people have called robots - but it's difficult to come up with a definition of 'robot' which includes all of those without including practically everything.

That said, almost all substantial fictional representations of robots focus on human-like autonomous robots. You might see an industrial robot arm in a car commercial, but rarely as the star of a film.

That said, here are some fictional depictions of robots:

* Time Of Eve. I've put this first because you should watch it first, because it's good.
* You could point out a pretty big contrast between terminator 1 and terminator: sarah connor chronicles.
* Futurama!
* Looking at the TV Tropes Robot Girl page, there are a great many favourable depictions of human-like robots in anime, manga and video games. For example, Chobits.
* Not to mention giant robot samurai metaphors.

You could also contact Claire Rocks, from walking with robots, who might be able to help.
posted by Mike1024 at 5:03 AM on April 28, 2010

I have to recommend John Sladek's Roderick books (collected here in one volume). As one reviewer on Amazon put it, Roderick is a "mechanical Forrest Gump".
posted by JaredSeth at 9:11 AM on April 28, 2010

Of course, that terminator 1 link should have gone to something like this, and would have done if I hadn't made that post on a computer with sound disabled.
posted by Mike1024 at 3:50 PM on April 28, 2010

Response by poster: These are all pretty cool... but I'm still seeking fiction specifically about robots and learning.
posted by groovinkim at 10:11 AM on May 3, 2010

So... robot teachers?
posted by artlung at 1:45 PM on May 3, 2010

Response by poster: Right, I've already googled this topic but am still struggling with the fiction aspect. If you glance at those links, you'll see that they're about factual stuff.
posted by groovinkim at 1:39 PM on May 5, 2010

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