News  |    |  September 29, 2012

AI and Sci-Fi: My, Oh, My!

By Science Fiction Writer Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo and Nebula Winner.
Keynote address for The Institute for Quantum Computing.

Most fans of science fiction know The Day the Earth Stood Still — I’m not talking about the Keanu Reeves remake; I’m talking about the good one, the one from 1951, the one directed by Robert Wise. In it, Klaatu, the humanoid alien played by Michael Rennie, comes to Washington, D.C., accompanied by a giant robot named Gort; the movie contains that famous instruction to the robot: “Klaatu borada nikto.”

Fewer people know the short story upon which that movie is based: “Farewell to the Master,” written in 1941 by Harry Bates.

In both the movie and the short story, Klaatu, despite his message of peace, is shot by human beings. In the short story, the robot — called Gnut there, instead of Gort — comes to stand vigil over the body of Klaatu.

Cliff, a journalist who is the narrator of the story, likens the robot to a faithful dog who won’t leave after his master has died. Gnut manages to essentially resurrect his master, and Cliff says to the robot, “I want you to tell your master … that what happened … was an accident, for which all Earth is immeasurably sorry.”

And the robot looks at Cliff and astonishes him by very gently saying, “You misunderstand. I am the master…”

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