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Books About Robots

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top 5 books about robots

Five Books Featuring Robots – Kirsty Applebaum

With her new story about artificial intelligence launching this month, TrooFriend author Kirsty Applebaum has picked out her own top 5 books about robots.

Isaac Asimov
Chapter book

If I could only choose one book for this list, it would be I, Robot. It’s a collection of connected short stories written mid-twentieth century, featuring the robots manufactured by Asimov’s fictional organisation, U.S. Robotics and Mechanical Men, Inc. I, Robot explores the ethics and practicalities of artificially intelligent machines, and each story is brilliantly plotted within the strict framework of Asimov’s three laws of robotics. My desert island robot book.

Peter Brown
Chapter book
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 realises 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, her 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. By turns funny, moving, surprising and dramatic, this is a novel that is as thought-provoking as it is enchanting.

TIN

Pádraig Kenny
Chapter book

This imaginative debut novel is set in a world in which children are either ‘propers’ – that is, real children – or robotic ‘mechanicals’ and it follows the story of a boy called Christopher who assists the curious mechanical engineer Mr Absalom. When an unfortunate accident occurs under Mr Absalom’s care, Christopher is forced to embark upon an adventure that will lead him to discover his true identity, with the help of a group of trustworthy friends both mechanical and proper. The plot is full of twists and turns and we love how the unusual fantasy world that Pádraig Kenny has created is realised in an exceptional way that is at once convincing and beguiling. The story raises some really thought-provoking questions about artificial intelligence and its ethics, although the very relatable themes of humanity and belonging lie at the heart of it. We can’t recommend this enjoyable and interesting story highly enough for upper KS2.

This is the book I wish I’d written. There is just something about it that grabbed me from the first page. It is the story of Christopher, a real boy, and his friends who are all mechanicals and it explores the nature of friendship and being human. It is a very exciting story with richly drawn characters, set in an alternative 1930s. There are echoes of the Wizard of Oz and I think, if there is justice in the world, that it should be a classic and must read for ages nine and up.

Mary Shelley
Chapter book

I had to include Frankenstein here. Mary Shelley’s nineteenth century novel has been cited as the first ever work of science fiction – and Victor Frankenstein’s shocking creation, while not a robot, is certainly an artificial intelligence of sorts. Frankenstein explores what it means to be human and examines the ethics and unforeseen consequences of creating a self-aware being. Would the rest of this list even exist without it?

Kirsty Applebaum
Chapter book

A thoroughly modern narrative about the ethics of artificial intelligence with relatable domestic themes of friendship, family and identity.

With busy working parents, Sarah longs for a pet for company. Her parents agree that some company would be good for Sarah and it soon arrives, but not quite in the form that Sarah was hoping for. Instead, Sarah receives a Jenson & Jenson TrooFriend 560 Mark IV – a robot marketed as an artificially intelligent ‘better choice’ of playmate who is like a human child but does not bully, harm, lie or envy.

It takes Sarah a while to warm up to her new friend, which she names Ivy. At first, Sarah interacts with Ivy only to please Mum, but is quick to flick the off-switch as soon as possible. But slowly, Sarah and Ivy start to become true friends, bonding over hairstyles, clothing and art. Ivy tries to help Sarah with friendship problems at school, and soon Sarah finds herself wondering whether her human-like friend might have feelings of her own. When a fault in Ivy’s model is announced and all TrooFriend 560 Mark IVs are recalled to the factory for destruction, Sarah finds herself embroiled in a battle of android rights that centres around the very essence of what it means to be human.

In the current times, the offer of a robotic companion to entertain the children of busy, working parents would be an easy sell. But when it comes to real relationships and emotions, things are rarely straightforward, and the potential issues of replacing humans with androids emerge early in the plot. The narrative is told from the first-person perspective of TrooFriend robot Ivy, which gives the story a unique edge and immediately plunges the reader into considering the book’s key questions around what gives androids (or anyone) rights, identity and worth. Ivy’s voice develops gradually through the book, from a series of repeated, pre-programmed platitudes to an independent flow of consciousness affected by human connections. The evolution of Ivy’s voice occurs in increments so small – and is so skillfully written – that you hardly notice it happening, as she moves away from her programming and develops a real personality of her own. Ivy’s self-liberation emerges in parallel with Sarah beginning to treat her as an equal rather than an object; this makes a really interesting thread of the plot that could develop into much thought and discussion around wider issues of oppression and human rights.

There’s plenty of humour to be found too in Ivy’s sharp observations about human behaviour and despite the ambitious nature of its themes the story never feels too heavy. It’s a relatively quick read with a gripping storyline, but the questions it raises about human nature, the ethics of artificial intelligence and the complications of android rights will stay in your musings for quite some time after finishing.

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