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Book Review: I, robot by Howard S. Smith

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I’ll admit it straight out. I haven’t read Isaac Asimov’s novel or seen the similar movie staring Will Smith. So I’ll tell you now that if you haven’t either, don’t worry. Although Howard S. Smith re-used the title (supposedly different because “robot” isn’t capitalized), his novel is not similar to the 1940s version.

Howard S. Smith is an MIT-trained engineer and artificial intelligence expert. He even helped create the self-checkout lanes I get stuck in at Wal-Mart! So you’d think with such experience and knowledge, Smith would have some input about the robotics field. Well, he does. But here it is unfortunately in the form of a fiction novel. 

When I picked up I, robot, I sincerely thought I’d be reading a non-fiction piece about the current artificial intelligence and robotic developments being used in military applications. I was pretty excited, especially considering Dr. Smith’s biography. However, I, robot follows fictional Japanese police investigator Haruto Suzuki, a man obsessed with following rules. When he investigates the mysterious death of a business man staying in one of Tokyo’s hotels, Haruto stumbles into a much bigger murderous plot. Japan is exchanging artificially intelligent robots for nuclear weapons from Israel.

Dr. Smith is not a bad fiction writer. His main character Haruto is an interesting man who, in contrast to the ever-learning and growing robots, has trouble escaping from his regiment of rules. Along with characters, Dr. Smith creates great action sequences that, for the most part, are an intense plot filler.

Altogether, I, robot is a global story woven right along the lines of our modern theologies and technologies (that is as long as your political views don’t distract you). And Dr. Smith uses his extensive knowledge of current military robots, which should have been the most excited part. But this is where the unfortunate part begins.

I didn’t mind the choppy chapters or even the extensive character line-up with people that disappeared after a short introduction. I was more annoyed by the entire reason I bought the book in the first place: the exploration into artificial intelligence. In the form of a fiction novel, the lengthy, convoluted explanations were only distracting. Sure there are nifty diagrams and drawings as well as a vocabulary list and an impressive works cited, but why weren’t these things used in an intense fact-packed non-fiction book, rather than a sub-par techno thriller?   

Howard S. Smith seems to be a very intelligent man with a wide variety of interests, including karate, sci-fi, and robotics. If these seem like things that interest you as well, you may really enjoy I, robot, as a lot of others have. But in my opinion, I’d wait for the non-fiction version where Dr. Smith really delves, without distraction, into the future applications of artificial intelligence.

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About Janica Unruh