Daniel Wilson Describes The Most Realistic Robots In Science Fiction

Roboticist Daniel Wilson, author of How To Survive A Robot Uprising, is penning a robot novel that just got optioned by Steven Spielberg. Wilson told io9 what makes his robots realistic - and what his novel Robopocalypse is about.

Word is that Spielberg may direct the film, and certainly will produce it. Cloverfield screenwriter Drew Goddard will adapt Wilson's novel for the big screen.

We caught up with Wilson via email.

So, how is Robopocalypse going to be more "realistic" than other tales?

The first, obvious thing to mention is that I've got a PhD in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University. I wrote a thesis, attended conferences, got patents, and I'm a doctor. Great. My robotics background means that you won't have to read about magical transformer robots that have no basis in research or reality. Also, the behavior of the robots will be consistent with the sensor suite they use to learn about the world and the processing capability they have to interpret it. Rest assured that the form and behavior of my robots will be consistent with reality.

Now, how boring does that sound? Thank goodness that's not what the book is about.

Robopocalypse is about people who are trying to survive a really, really fucked up situation in which technology has turned against us. It's about people figuring out where they stand with said technology, how much they can learn from it, and ultimately how they are going to co-exist with it. It's fascinating to think about how we would deal with the "robot uprising" situation, and these people are doing it against a highly realistic backdrop.

But all the technical details about robots are just the backdrop. The story is about the characters and that's why I love it.

But what makes your robots realistic?

Let me throw out a couple reasons why I think my robots are pretty realistic.

1) My robots specialize. This tendency is in the nature of a robot. We humans are stuck in our bodies, using tools and duct tape and our wits to deal with new situations. We're adaptable and that's our great strength. A robot's strength, on the other hand, is an ability to specialize itself by changing its form to solve particular problems — killing humans, exploring terrain, constructing buildings, etc., In other words, my robots don't all look like freaking people.

2) My robots are not defined by humankind — not by a desire to kill us, and definitely not by some pathetic desire to emulate us (I'm looking at you, Bicentennial Man). Aren't we beyond those themes by now? I simply can't respect a robot that *only* exists to hunt down and kill people. What's it going to do when all the humans are dead? On the other hand, I also can't respect a robot that is enslaved to humankind by a series of logical "laws." It's about time we gave some respect to robots and acknowledge that a super-intelligent race of machines might be interested in other things besides human beings.

3) My robots do not succumb to a laundry list of pet peeves that I have accumulated over the years, watching movies and reading books. This includes but is not limited to the following rules: My robots do not use chairs or office buildings. I do not use nano-robots — as they are almost always a magical cop out. My robots are not made of clean white plastic. My robots do not throw people across rooms, then slowly stalk toward them. If by some odd quirk a humanoid robot has to kill a person (and a more specialized cousin is not available for the task), then this robot will grab the person by the face and close its fist. End of story.

However, the only place that I can guarantee technical veracity is in the pages that I write. In any case, the novel will be out before the movie. Hint, hint!

Robopocalypse is in progress, so it doesn't have a release date yet. Wilson's latest book, Bro-Jitsu, is about the art and science of sibling warfare. Read more about Wilson on his website!