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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “‘Pluto,’ ‘Androids’ are introspective looks into science and life”

    As researchers explore the possibilities of augmented reality technology, social media, and cloud computing, robotics holds an enduring place in science. The latest New York Times Magazine profiles IBM’s Watson, a “”question answering system”” designed to tackle questions on Jeopardy. It is the company’s successor to Deep Blue, the 1997 supercomputer that defeated chess grandmaster and then-world champion Gary Kasparov.

    Imagine a world and time in which robots are advanced enough to not only answer trivia questions and compete with chess grandmasters, but also experience emotions and desires. And when housed in a humanlike form, what’s to distinguish them from human beings? What kind of world would it be if robots and humans coexisted?

    Two comic book series examine these questions, but from different angles.

    “”Pluto”” by Naoki Urasawa reinterprets a classic “”Astro Boy”” tale by Osamu Tezuka, a man who has been called the “”godfather of manga.”” The series, which completed its English publication this March, was commissioned for the original birthday of Tezuka’s beloved creation, Astro Boy, or Atom, as he’s called in Japan and in the story.

    More an adaptation than a reinterpretation, Boom! Studios visualizes the world of Philip K. Dick’s famous story “”Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”” using the original text and dialogue.

    Both stories feature flawed protagonists working for law enforcement while hunting down robots that have broken the law. Urasawa’s German robot detective, Gesicht, and Dick’s human bounty hunter, Rick Deckard, exist in a world where robots and humans live and work together, albeit somewhat uneasily.

    Urasawa and Dick’s robots are indistinguishable from humans, except in a few important ways. When Gesicht first meets Atom, the child robot seems genuinely excited to see another child playing with a toy UFO and wants his own. Gesicht’s analytical software goes haywire trying to determine whether Atom is faking his emotion. Deckard asks provocative, hypothetical questions and uses a machine to measure the subject’s physical reactions. He meets and works with a fellow bounty hunter, who is passionate about hunting down robots and is unaware that he himself is a robot.

    Both the authors point to emotion and empathy as the distinguishing features of humans, and suggest that we should be wary of imbuing, or programming, these qualities into robots. In “”Pluto,”” the seven robots experience and display many human emotions: joy, compassion, love, pride and doubt. But it is the introduction of hatred that leads to the murder of the robots, and potentially the destruction of humankind. In “”Androids,”” the robots fake it as best they can and are willing to do anything they can to escape their solitary corporate enslavement.

    Despite their dark visions, Urasawa and Dick are ultimately optimistic about the future. The robot murderer in “”Pluto”” redeems himself in the end, and Deckard reaches a realization about life in whatever form it may take. Once our machines reflect our virtues and sins, perhaps they can help us become better humans.

    “”Pluto”” by Naoki Urasawa and Osamu Tezuka, 8 volumes

    Final Grade: A

    “”Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,”” original text by Philip K. Dick, art by Tony Parker, 12 issues currently

    Final Grade: B

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