Hostile Questions: Daniel H. Wilson

We had no beef with Daniel H. Wilson back when he was earning a PhD in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University. But then the good Dr. Wilson had to shove his knowledge of “science” and whatnot into our faces with “books,” including the brand-new Amped and the bestselling Robopocalypse, soon to be a “major” motion picture. Well, you know what else is gonna be “major”? This beat-down!!

Just who do you think you are?

I’m a robotics nerd who knows just enough to be dangerous. My name is Daniel H. Wilson and I’m the author of eight books, from How to Survive a Robot Uprising to Robopocalypse. You might sense a trend in what I write about, but honestly, I love robots and I think technology is the most important byproduct of the existence of humanity. What we make is bigger than what we are, so, uh, get off your high horse, human.

*Nice photo artfully omitting his robot brain and mechanical, Transformer-like legs.*

I grew up in Oklahoma, within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation–which sounds cooler than it is, because the Nation mostly overlaps a city called Tulsa. As a kid I spent summers at the creek, visiting cattle auctions with my grandparents, and putting bugs under microscopes. At the University of Tulsa, I found out about artificial intelligence in the form of genetic algorithms. Once I figured out that you could make machines think, I hit the road to learn as much about it as possible. Turns out my imagination is bigger than my mathematic prowess, and I ended up writing for a living. You still have to call me Dr. Wilson, though.

What’s the big idea?

Human beings are pretty damn helpless without technology. Most of us can’t even walk outside barefoot. It’s amazing to think that every single human being–from the beginning of our species until now–has depended on tools to survive. We’ve been co-evolving with these machines for more than a hundred thousand years and there is no separating us. Holy shit, that is epic. So what is our grand trajectory? Where are our tools taking us? What will we become? I don’t know, but I sure like to think about it.

What is your problem, man?

I am vexed by the sheer momentum of cliché. Sure, I wrote a book with the fricking title Robopocalypse, but I seriously wanted a complex robotic villain who had a goal besides killing every human being on the planet. Way too many fictional robots seem to be obsessed with humans–wanting either to kill us or become us. I mean, what’s so great about us? A superintelligent entity probably wouldn’t give two shits about us.

What I found writing Robopocalypse was that it’s tough to jump out of the killer robot rut, probably because for about a hundred years robots only existed as fictional villains. Those roots have permeated our culture and fundamentally shape how we conceptualize robots –even now that real robots are a common occurrence. Pushing against that inertia is hard and, let’s face it, sometimes I’m scared that I’ve contributed to it. I did name it Robopocalypse, after all.

Haven’t you done enough?

Some upstart director named Spielberg is adapting Robopocalypse into a gigantic sci-fi movie. It comes out next July 4th weekend. I hope I like it, because I plan to rent a theater and invite all my friends to see it. And my mom. My new novel is Amped, the story of a near-future civil rights movement sparked when people with disabilites start using neural implants that make them smarter than “normal” people. While the new novel does examine the human relationship with technology, I’m proud and befuddled to report that Amped doesn’t have a single goddamn robot in it. Take that, cubbyholes.

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About the Author:

Dan Kraus, senior editor at Booklist is the producer and director of numerous feature films, most notably the documentary Work Series, and the author of several YA novels, including Rotters and Scowler, both of which won the Odyssey Award.

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