THE VIRTUAL HISTORY OF ARTIFICIAL BEINGS
classic science-fiction films of the time,The Day the Earth Stood Still in 1951 and Forbidden Planet in 1956.
The first film reflected an era when World War II and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were recent memories.A flying saucer lands in Washington, D.C., and disgorges Klaatu, a human- appearing alien, and Gort, a giant robot. Representing an advanced galactic civilization, Klaatu warns the people of Earth that unless they learn to live in peace before they carry their destructive ways into space, there will be serious consequences. He reveals that Gort, which has seemed a secondary character, is one of the robots created to enforce peace. Klaatu continues:
In matters of aggression we have given them absolute power over us.This power cannot be revoked.At the first signs of violence, they act automati- cally against the aggressor. The penalty for provoking their action is too terrible to risk.
Gort has the power to destroy the entire planet if it chooses, and Klaatu leaves Earth with a final admonition: “Your choice is simple. Join us and live in peace or pursue your present course and face obliteration.” This is the Three Laws and the Prime Directive, with teeth.
Forbidden Planet puts elements from Shakespeare’s The empest within a science fiction setting that includes a robot named Robby (not Asimov’s Robbie) that corresponds somewhat to Shakespeare’s sprite,Ariel. Robby does not have the power Gort commands, but has other strong points. Built by an advanced alien race, it is incapable of harming humans, and can speak 188 languages “along with their dia- lects and subtongues.” Both Gort and Robby are clanker robots that could never be mistaken for people. Gort is hulking and metallic, with a featureless head. It understands language, but does not speak. Robby is a bizarre, almost deliberately ugly contraption whose monotone speech is accompanied by much mechanical whirring.
Soon, however, post–World–War–II technology was allowing ex- panded possibilities for artificial beings. No longer did they have to be housed in massive metal bodies, because plastics were strong, more versatile, and lighter. The appearance of plastics and other synthetic