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Meet the Robots Next Door: Autonomous, The Clockwork Dynasty, Humans, and Doug Unplugged

4 Apr

More and more robots are in the news from DARPA/Boston Dynamic’s Big Dog, a futuristic pack mule, to Hiroshi Ishiguro’s AI robot, Erica, which can converse on 20 different subjects.  It makes me question what the world will be like surrounded by machines that someday may be able to not just think, but also feel.  Check out these visions of what our robotic future could hold.

Autonomous
by Annalee Newitz
Autonomous

Autonomous is the debut novel from the founder of the Science Fiction Website io9, Annalee Newitz.  Autonomous follows Jack, a Robin Hood of pharmaceutical patents who is trying to fix the catastrophic results from her latest reengineering of a productivity drug that has caused its users to stop eating, drinking and sleeping due to an all-consuming desire to work.  International Property Coalition Agent, Eliasz and his indentured robot partner Paladin are hot on Jack’s trail and unexpectedly find love in a future where robots and human uneasily coexist.  Newitz imagines a world where humans can be indentured as well as robots since the theory is if it is ethical to enslave one type of sentient being than it is justified to allow humans who cannot afford to live on their own the same “option.”  Autonomous deals with a variety of social and philosophical issues including rights to health care, gender identity, corporate responsibility, and what being autonomous means for not only robots, but humans as well.

The Clockwork Dynasty
by Daniel H. Wilson
Clockwork Dynasty

Robots are not a new concept with automatons dating back a hundred years.  In Japan’s Edo Era, the  karakuri ningyo, a type of mechanical dolls could pour tea, shoot arrows, and even paint Kanji characters.  While Newitz focuses on the robots of the future, Wilson looks back to these earlier mechanical dolls and imagines a world where robots have been secretly living with us for centuries.  The main action of The Clockwork Dynasty jumps from the current day when a brilliant grad student studies early automatons and 1725 in Russia, when the Czar Peter the Great has secretly had Peter and Elena, two avtomats, carrying out secret missions for him.  The Avtomat, as the robots, are called in The Clockwork Dynasty reminded me of the folk tales of golems since each golem was activated by a word such as truth, and each of the avtomats have a guiding principal they are programed to uphold.  The relationship between the adult bodied Peter and the child bodied Elena reminded me of the relationship of Louise and Claudia in Interview with the Vampire, where the differences in their appearance impact their experience of immortality and relationship with one another.  For those who enjoy The Clockwork Dynasty also check out Wilson’s novels Robopocalipsis and Robogenesis, as well as his humorous non-fiction, How to Survive a Robot Uprising.

Humans
Humans

I recently started catching up on episodes of Humans, which is available to stream from Hoopla.  Humans is set in the UK in the near future when robots called synths have replaced much of the workforce and act as maids, babysitters, and more.  The Hawkins family has just acquired a new synth Rita and each reacts differently to her presence with father Joe feeling it fills the void left by his wife while at work, his youngest daughter views her as a doll come to life, his wife is suspicious of her and sees her as a threat to her family safety, their older daughter is angry that her future is limited by the synths like Rita taking all her job opportunities, and their teenage son views her as an object of adolescent desire.  What none of them realize is that Rita is part of a group of synths that cannot just mimic humans, but has also gained consciousness.  The series is based on the Swedish series Real HumansHumans will appeal to fans of drama as well as science fiction.  Hoboken Resident Library Card Holders, check out the first two seasons on Hoopla before the third season debuts later this year on TV.

Doug Unplugged
by Dan Yaccarino
Doug Unplugged

The previous entries all contain violence and other adult content not appropriate for a younger audience, but of course the concept of robots is one that has long been intriguing to children.  My son is a fan of them so was delighted with another title available from Hoopla, Doug Unplugged.  Dan Yaccarino’s Doug Unplugged is a charming picture book which features bold colors and retro-futuristic illustrations.  Doug’s parents leave him plugged in to learn all about the city where he lives, but he discovers when he unplugs himself and explores on his own that nothing beats experiencing something for oneself; this is an important lesson for our screen addicted times.  You can either check out the print version available at our pop up branch or check out a Hoopla version which animates some of the drawings and features a read along to the narration to assist your emerging reader.  Also available in print and from Hoopla is Doug Unplugs on the Farm.

Want more robots?  Check out my previous posts discussing Isaac Assimov’s I, Robot and Charles Stross’s Neptune’s Brood.
Written By Aimee Harris, Head of Reference

Take a Virtual Vacation with these Travel Shows on Hoopla Digital

7 Mar

After a stressful day, sometimes I find it can be hard to shut off my brain, at those times I often find it comforting to read a book, but another favorite way to unwind is by watching a travel show and drifting off to sleep imagining my own virtual vacation.  Here are a couple shows that Hoboken Library Resident Card Holders can check out from Hoopla and take a relaxing virtual trip, no passport required.

The Kimchi Chronicles

kimchi-chronicles.jpeg
The Kimchi Chronicles stars Marja Vongerichten who was the daughter of a Korean woman and an American GI who was adopted by Americans, but returned to Korea to find her birth mother.  The Kimchi Chronicles moves between showing Marja sampling mouthwatering food and experiencing Korean culture while exploring Korea with friends and relatives, and her and her talented French husband Jean Georges creating Korean-inspired dishes back home.  Several of their celebrity friends, including Hugh Jackman and Heather Graham, make appearances in some episodes.  I enjoyed how each episode focused on a different ingredient such as pork or areas such as Seoul.  If you are like me and can’t get enough of Korean delicacies check out a previous post were I discussed Edward Lee’s Korean/Southern Fusion Cookbook/Memoir, Smoke and Pickles.

Café SecretsSeason 1 and Season 2


Café Secrets is a charming series about the Café culture in New Zealand with popular Kiwi food writer and former café owner, Julie Le Clerc.  Each episode features recipes from the café owners as well as some of Julie’s own café classic recipes.  The series is a bit heavy on product placement, but this didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the show.  I appreciated that the series explored not just the cafés, but also the local communities, with Julie taking part in local events from participating in a fashion show to helping out in a community garden.  Those looking for more New Zealand travel/cooking shows may want to check out New Zealand with Nadia Lim (the Masterchef New Zealand winner travels and cooks her way around her native country) and Cook the Books (featuring a variety of New Zealand Cookbook authors, including Julie Le Clerc in one episode).

The Shelbourne HotelSeason 1 and Season 2


The Shelbourne Hotel is a Dublin landmark which recently celebrated its 190th birthday.  The TV series gives a behind-the-scenes looks of the running of the hotel as it celebrates holidays like St. Patrick’s Day, has special events like a historic tasting menu, and hosts celebrities like a Rugby team.  From living through my own renovations at the library and at home it was interesting to see how the hotel coped with their own restoration of their historic structure.  The show portrays the hotel in a very positive light so don’t expect juicy gossip, but it is perfect for those looking for a quaint virtual trip.

-Written by Aimee Harris, Head of Reference

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