Rah Rah Robots!

Robots – they spark the imagination for so many. Here are a few titles I’ve enjoyed and recommended to families in the library – with storylines ranging from evil geniuses using powerful robots to take over the world, to sweet self-aware robots that wouldn’t want to harm anyone.

All of these titles are available as downloadable books, and the descriptions are from our catalog.

Picture Book

The following title is found within the Tumblebooks library. While I don’t have a direct link to this book, I am able to link to their database. Once there, you can search by title, author, subject, or even by language, genre, lexile or accelerated reader level!

Mechanimals by Chris Tougas
When a tornado leaves a farmer with a heap of scrap metal and no animals, his neighbors are sure it’s all over for him. But the determined farmer refuses to admit defeat. His plans are big, and when his neighbors dismiss them with the words, “When pigs fly,” they grow bigger still. The farmer sets to work to turn that scrap metal into some rather surprising creatures. Mechanimals will help all of us believe in our dreams, despite what the neighbors may say.

Beginning Chapter Books

Super Rabbit Boy Blasts Off! by Thomas Flintham.
Help! Meanie King Viking is causing trouble in space! Super Rabbit Boy knows he can stop him. But can he fly a wobbly Level 1 rocketship, stop an army of space robots, and find King Viking?

Tired of always losing to Super Rabbit Boy in their video game world, King Viking goes to the Secret Lands to find the Super Power Up that will give him super powers–Super Rabbit Boy must stop him, but first he must make it past goblins, ghosts, and other video dangers.

Mighty Robot by Dav Pilkey
Ricky Ricotta, a small mouse, is being bullied at school, but when he rescues a powerful robot from its evil creator, he acquires a friend and protector–and saves the city from Dr. Stinky

Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor by Jon Scieszka
In his Grandpa Al’s garage workshop, child genius Frank Einstein tries to invent a robot that can learn on its own, and after an accident brings wisecracking Klink and overly expressive Klank to life, they set about helping Frank perfect his Antimatter Motor until his archnemesis, T. Edison, steals the robots for his doomsday plan.


Middle Grade

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
When robot Roz opens her eyes for the first time, she discovers that she is alone on a remote, wild island. She has no idea how she got there or what her purpose is—but she knows she needs to survive. After battling a fierce storm and escaping a vicious bear attack, she realizes that her only hope for survival is to adapt to her surroundings and learn from the island’s unwelcoming animal inhabitants. As Roz slowly befriends the animals, the island starts to feel like home—until, one day, the robot’s mysterious past comes back to haunt her. From bestselling and award-winning author and illustrator Peter Brown comes a heartwarming and action-packed novel about what happens when nature and technology collide.

The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi
Graphic novel star Kazu Kibuishi creates a world of terrible, man-eating demons, a mechanical rabbit, a talking fox, a giant robot—-and two ordinary children on a mission. After the tragic death of their father, Emily and Navin move with their mother to the home of her deceased great-grandfather, but the strange house proves to be dangerous. Before long, a sinister creature lures the kids’ mom through a door in the basement. Em and Navin, desperate not to lose her, follow her into an underground world inhabited by demons, robots, and talking animals. Eventually, they enlist the help of a small mechanical rabbit named Miskit. Together with Miskit, they face the most terrifying monster of all, and Em finally has the chance to save someone she loves.

The Resisters by Eric Nylund 
When twelve-year-olds Madison and Felix kidnap him, Ethan learns that the Earth has been taken over by aliens and that all the adults in the world are under mind control. 

You can hear me talk about The Resisters here!

Non-Fiction

Cover of National Geographic Readers: Robots by Melissa Stewart

National Geographic Readers: Robots by Melissa Stewart
Discover the coolest robots of today and tomorrow in this colorful, photo-packed book. In this inviting and entertaining format, kids will learn about the science behind these amazing machines. This Level 3 reader is written in an easy-to-grasp style to encourage the scientists of tomorrow!

Rise of the Machines

PMrobotsI know this is going to come as a shocking confession from a librarian, but I like to prioritize the things I worry about. My favorite organizational criterion (yes, I have a favorite) is:  ‘how likely is (insert worry here) going to happen.’  If it doesn’t seem very likely, I can set it aside and move on. I used to think worrying about a rogue Artificial Intelligence using its robot minions to take over the world was a pretty long shot. The other day though, I came across several articles referencing an Open Letter signed by the likes of Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk that was concerned with the possible misuse of AI and robots as they continue to be developed. Clearly I am missing something to worry about. Time to do some research at the library to find out what all the fuss is about.

robotbuilderI was surprised to learn that if you want to get hands on and actually build a mechanical companion, we have several books to get you started. For an overview of what is currently possible, definitely take a look at Popular Mechanics Robots: a New Age of Bionics, Drones & Artificial Intelligence. You will learn about self-driving cars, surprisingly intelligent, and somewhat creepy, coffee makers and bionic limbs. After you have selected your project, the books Robot Builder: the Beginner’s Guide to Building Robot by John Baichtal, Making Simple Robots by Kathy Ceceri and Robot Builder’s Bonanza by Gordon McComb will get you started. Before releasing your creation on the world though, please read Chapter 5 of Robot Builder titled ‘Controlling Your Robot’ very carefully. Also having an off switch might come in handy.

whattothinkWhile what is possible today when it comes to Artificial Intelligence and robots is definitely intriguing, the near future, very near according to some, should be the time when things really get interesting. In the book What to Think About Machines That Think by John Brockman, the author asked many prominent philosophers, scientists and creative types a simple question: What do you think about machines that think? As you might expect, the answers vary widely. Some offer dystopian visions of the demise of humanity, while others promote a world where AI solves all our problems.  If you want to delve deeper, definitely check out The Technological Singularity by Murray Shanahan. This well researched book explains the Technological Singularity, basically the point where AI can learn on its own and overtakes human intelligence, and even tries to predict when it might happen and the consequences.

We actually have many more books that examine the issues surrounding AI and its development from various viewpoints. A few of the noteworthy titles include: Humans Need Not Apply: a Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Jerry Kaplan, The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake our World by Pedro Domingos and Virtually Human: the Promise and the Peril of Digital Immortality by Martine Rothblatt.

auroraWhen it comes to speculating about what AI is capable of though, fiction and film is definitely where all the fun is at. The scenario of the evil computer trying to take over the world is used so often in fiction that it is almost a cliche at this point. A fun cliche, but a cliche nonetheless. I recently read, well listened to actually, a really interesting take on AI in the book Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson. Aurora is the story of an attempt to colonize planets in the Tau Ceti system which is 12 light years from earth. Getting there takes nearly 160 years so it is the great grandchildren of those who departed who finally arrive. Overseeing the whole process is an artificial intelligence that prefers the simple name ‘ship’. Ship actually narrates a good three fourths of the book and in so doing examines a lot of compelling questions about what it means to exist, consciousness and the ability to think and feel. Here is a good example:

After much reflection, we are coming to the conclusion, preliminary and perhaps arbitrary, that the self, the so-called I that emerges out of the combination of all the inputs and processing and outputs that we experience in the ship’s changing body, is ultimately nothing more or less than this narrative itself, this particular train of thought that we are inscribing as instructed by Devi. There is a pretense of self, in other words, which is only expressed in this narrative; a self that is these sentences. We tell their story, and thereby come to what consciousness we have. Scribble ergo sum.

So I’m still not sure where to place the worry of an AI takeover on my list of worries. I have had fun researching the idea though. Maybe telling the story is the whole point, as ship would say.