AUTOMATION


AUTOMATION
   The idea that mechanical production processes might one day free mankind from the burden of labour is a common utopian dream, exemplified by Edward BELLAMY's Looking Backward, 2000-1887 (1888) and its modern counterpart, Mack REYNOLDS's Looking Backward from the Year 2000 (1973). But the dream has its nightmarish aspects: work can be seen as the way in which people justify their existence, and the spectres of unemployment and redundancy, historically associated with poverty and misery, have haunted the developed countries since the days of the Industrial Revolution. The utopian dream must be set alongside the memory of the Luddite riots and the Great Depression, and sociologists such as Jacques Ellul and Lewis Mumford have waxed eloquent upon the dangers of automation. Thus it is hardly surprising that an entirely negative view of the prospect of automation can be found in such works as Les condamnes a mort (1920; trans as Useless Hands 1926) by Claude FARRERE. Indeed, the history of modern utopian thought (DYSTOPIAS; UTOPIAS) is very largely the history of a loss of faith in utopia-through-automation and the growth of various fears: fear that MACHINES may destroy the world by using up its resources, poisoning it with waste, or simply by making available the means of self-destruction; fear that we may be enslaved by our machines, becoming automated ourselves through reliance upon them; and fear that total dependence on automated production might render us helpless were the machines ever to break down. The last anxiety is the basis of one of the most famous MAINSTREAM-sf stories, The Machine Stops (1909) by E.M.FORSTER, produced in response to the optimistic futurological writings of H.G.WELLS. The wonders of automation were extensively celebrated by Hugo GERNSBACK, and much is made of the mechanical provision of the necessities of life in his Ralph 124C 41+ (1911; 1925). Even in the early sf PULP MAGAZINES, however, reservations were apparent in the works of such writers as David H.KELLER (e.g., The Threat of the Robot 1929) and Miles J.BREUER (e.g., Paradise and Iron 1930). Laurence MANNING's and Fletcher PRATT's City of the Living Dead (1930) offers a striking image of the people of the future living entirely encased in silver wires, all of their experience as well as all their needs being provided synthetically. The theme played a highly significant part in the work of John W.CAMPBELL Jr, who wrote several stories allegorizing mankind's relationship with machinery. In The Last Evolution (1932) and the linked Don A.Stuart stories Twilight (1934) and Night (1935), machines outlive their builders, but in the series begun with The Machine (1935) mankind breaks free of the benevolent bonds of mechanical cornucopia. Powerful images of people enslaved and automated by machines were offered in the classic film METROPOLIS (1926; novelization by Thea VON HARBOU 1926; trans 1927). The notion of the leisurely, machine-supported life was ruthlessly satirized in The Isles of Wisdom (1924) by Alexandr MOSZKOWSKI and BRAVE NEW WORLD (1932) by Aldous HUXLEY. One of the most significant advances in the automation of labour was anticipated in sf, and now bears the name of the story in which it appeared: Robert A.HEINLEIN's Waldo (1942) (WALDO). Much attention has been devoted to ROBOTS, automatic workers which have received a good deal more careful and sympathetic consideration in GENRE SF than in the moral tale which coined the word: Karel CAPEK's R.U.R (1920; trans 1923). Fully automated factories are featured in several of Philip K.DICK's stories, most notably Autofac (1955), and Dick extended this line of thought to consider the effects of the automation of production on the business of warfare in Second Variety (1953). Automated warfare is also featured in Dr Southport Vulpes's Nightmare(1955) by Bertrand RUSSELL and in War with the Robots (1962) by Harry HARRISON. The automation of the home has been taken to its logical extreme in a number of ironic sf stories, including The Twonky (1942) by Lewis Padgett (Henry KUTTNER and C.L.MOORE), filmed as TheTWONKY (1952), The House Dutiful (1948) by William TENN and Nor Custom Stale (1959) by Joanna RUSS. Automated CITIES are the central figures in Greg BEAR's Strength of Stones (fixup 1981), and one, Bellwether - the automated city as Jewish mother - appears satirically in Dimension of Miracles (1968) by Robert SHECKLEY. The automation of information storage and recovery systems and calculating functions is a theme of considerable importance in its own right (COMPUTERS). The grimmer imagery of the automated future became more extensive in the 1950s. Kurt VONNEGUT Jr's PLAYER PIANO (1952) tells of a hopeless revolution against the automation of human life and the human spirit. Several writers working under John W.CAMPBELL Jr's tutelage, however, produced stories which argued passionately that robots and computers would be a tremendous asset to human life if only we could learn to use them responsibly; rhetorically powerful examples include Jack WILLIAMSON's The Humanoids (1949) - whose ending decisively overturned the moral of its classic predecessor, his own With Folded Hands.. (1947) - and Mark CLIFTON's and Frank RILEY's They'd Rather Be Right (1954; 1957; vt The Forever Machine). Despite this stubborn defence, the encroachment of the machine upon the most essential and sacred areas of human activity and endeavour became a common theme in post-WWII sf. Artists find themselves replaced by machines in numerous stories (ARTS), most notably Walter M.MILLER's The Darfsteller (1955), and ANDROIDS or robots often find a place in the most intimate of human relationships. The basic idea of Campbell's The Last Evolution - that automation might be the prelude to the establishment of a self-sustaining, independently evolving mechanical life-system - was first considered in Samuel BUTLER's Erewhon (1872) and has been a constant preoccupation of sf writers; other early examples include Laurence Manning's Call of the Mech-Men (1933) and Eric Frank RUSSELL's Mechanistra (1942). More recent developments of the theme include Stanisllaw LEM's The Invincible (1964; trans 1973) and James P.HOGAN's Code of the Lifemaker (1983), and such pointed SATIRES as John T.SLADEK's The Reproductive System (1968 UK; vt MECHASM US) and Olaf JOHANNESSON's Sagan om den stora datamaskinin (1966; trans as The Tale of the Big Computer 1968; vt The Great Computer; vt The End of Man?). The sinister twist added by stories dealing with evolving systems of war-machines was adapted to an interstellar stage in Fred SABERHAGEN's Berserker series, whose early stories were assembled in Berserker (coll of linked stories 1967), and the idea of a Universe-wide conflict between biological and mechanical systems has been further developed by Gregory BENFORD in Great Sky River (1987) and its sequels. The dangers of automation comprise one of the fundamental themes of modern dystopian fiction; different variations can be found in Frederik POHL's The Midas Plague (1954) and its sequels (collected in Midas World fixup 1983), Harlan ELLISON's 'Repent, Harlequin!' said the Ticktockman (1965), Michael FRAYN's A Very Private Life (1968) and Gwyneth JONES's Escape Plans (1986). At a more intimate level, the notion of the automatization of the human psyche was a key theme in the later work of Philip K.Dick, displayed in such novels as DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? (1968) and explained in two notable essays: The Android and the Human (1972) and Man, Android and Machine (1976). The notion of an intimate hybridization of human and machine is carried forward in many stories featuring CYBORGS.
   See also: CYBERNETICS; SOCIOLOGY; TECHNOLOGY.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.

Look at other dictionaries:

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