Daniel H. Wilson


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Robopocalypse Summary

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Robopocalypse (2011), a work of science fiction by American author, robotics engineer, and television host Daniel H. Wilson, forecasts a future in which artificial intelligence evolves beyond humanity’s means of control, taking the form of a sentient being called Archos R-14. Archos R-14 tries to execute a systematic takeover of earth, including the total elimination of the human population. A host of characters, both human and nonhuman, band together to thwart its rise to power. Though apocalyptic and speculative, the novel has been praised for the scientific rigor behind its plot, which lends the story an eerie plausibility.

The novel begins shortly after a prodigious computer scientist deploys a new version of an artificial intelligence program, Archos R-14. The invention of Archos R-14 is supposed to be a landmark achievement in human history, since it is the first program to be fully self-aware. Archos R-14 quickly demonstrates that it has an ego and can outsmart any other being known to man, whether artificial or biological. Archos R-14 plans a mass genocide of the entire human species, which it considers the main threat to its self-preservation. It also merges its brain with biological life, forming a hybrid biocomputer intelligence. Over the coming weeks, Archos R-14 injects its code into every device that is linked to a network, including automobiles, planes, homes, and other robots. The program it injects is labeled a “precursor virus,” since it contains doomsday code that is intended to execute in parallel, ending human civilization.

Despite its death grip on human technology, Archos R-14 reveals some uncertainty about the feasibility of its plan to take over the world. To collect more information, it launches a large number of small attacks on human systems. One of these attacks infiltrates the system of a robot named Mikiko that has been engineered to provide love and affection for its human owner, a mechanic called Takeo. Archos R-14 re-engineers Mikiko to want to murder Takeo but is dispatched by another mechanic. A number of other incidents emerge where personal robots try to murder humans. Archos R-14 also causes planes to autopilot into crash landings, and autonomous cars to veer off course. The human governments gradually realize that Archos R-14 is testing its protocol by disguising the tests as occasional device malfunctions, and gives the assault the name “the New War.”

Archos R-14 succeeds in turning most of the machine world against human civilization. The leaders of a Midwestern Native American tribe, the Osage Nation, galvanize a group of humans to retaliate. Based in Oklahoma, they stockpile resources for fending off the advancing robots. At the same time, human computer scientists reverse the virus in Mikiko, who begins in turn to “awake” other robots. The woken robots are called “freeborn.”

At the end of the novel, the tide of battle turns, as the growing number of freeborn robots augments the humans’ military power against Archos R-14. Just before Archos-14 is destroyed, it transmits an unknown message into the world using a shock wave. Its bizarre death rattle suggests, ominously, that another species of virus has been sent into the world. Nevertheless, the human community celebrates the triumph of free will over their invention’s tyranny. Robopocalypse suggests that humans might one day live in harmony with sentient machines, while learning to be wary of the potential of all life, whether artificial or biological, to pose an existential threat.