Trurl and Klapaucius

Artificial Intelligence: it’s all over the place. Deep Blue beats Kasparov at chess, AlphaGo teaches itself to win at Go through an artificial neural network, a chatbot named Microsoft Little Ice has written Chinese poems published as Sunshine Misses Windows, and self-driving cars are driving—well, at least as well as some of us do!

AI has been around even longer in fiction, films, and other entertainments that feature computers, robots, and androids in various flavors of menace and delight:  R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), HAL 9000, Star Trek, Gort, Neuromancer, the Alien films, Deus ex Machina, R2D2 and C3PO, Bladerunner (née Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), Magnus-Robot Fighter, Morning Becomes Electric, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, The Matrix trilogy—and does anyone remember Colossus: The Forbin Project?  Along with so many others.  If only they were all well-behaved enough to obey Isaac Asimov’s famous Three Laws given in I, Robot…but then, where would all our stories be if everything worked smoothly?

And about that AI-composed poetry.  Stanislaw Lem, the Polish science fiction master, is probably best known for his novel Solaris, which was made famous by the Tarkovsky film.  But he wrote many other works as well, one of them being a series of tales from the mid-1960s about two constructor robots named Trurl and Klapaucius, collected as The Cyberiad: Fables for the Cybernetic Age.  If for that special occasion, you’ve been looking for a unique love poem that’s ”…lyrical, pastoral, and expressed in the language of pure mathematics.  Tensor algebra mainly, with a little topology and higher calculus, if need be.  But with feeling, you understand, and in the cybernetic spirit….” then look no farther: you’ll find it among The Seven Sallies of Trurl and Kalpaucius in The First Sally (A), or Trurl’s Electronic Bard.  Frankly, it puts Microsoft Little Ice to shame.

While you can find information about Deep Blue, AlphaGo, Microsoft Little Ice, and plenty of other artificial intelligence accomplishments regularly flooding your electronic doorstep these days whether you want it there or not, you sometimes have to dig a little deeper for things like the sallies of Trurl and Klapaucius, all of which are worth reading and thinking about.  But you can find them if you go to the Library Catalog and type in Cyberiad — it will come up as an Alaska’s Digital Library ebook that you can check out. (Sorry – QuickSearch will bring up interesting articles about The Cyberiad, but not the Alaska’s Digital Library copy.)  Oh, and by the way—good luck with that tensor algebra!

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