Re: I, Row-Boat

In “I, Row-Boat,” by Cory Doctorow, Robbie is a sentient rowboat who ferries human-shells out to the reefs to go diving. One day, that day gets ruined when someone out in the noösphere decides to give the reef sentience. The reef hates it so much, it wants to Kill All Humans. Robbie, however, is an Asimovist, finding purpose in the Three Laws of Robotics. When his human-shells Janice and Isaac, turn out to have Kate (and later Tonker) riding them, Robbie has to defend them.

After that, it’s a row-boat vs. coral reef deathmatch. Seriously. Or as serious as you can get when everyone keeps their instances backed up.

It’s a funny story, from an angry, sentient reef to the difficulties Robbie has in obeying the Laws. There are wonderful descriptions of the sea, the reef, the fish, even the electromagnetic phenomena Robbie observes.  And yet I find a strangely negative attitude in this story about consciousness living in mortal flesh. The word “meat” gets thrown around a lot. Most AIs, given the choice, have decided to terminate their processes. Most humans have chosen electronic immortality in the great computronium in the sky. Conversely, non-sentient life on Earth is better off without us.

I realize this is a common SF take on the human condition, but dammit, I like my body, and I’m not ready to give it up!

You can hear Doctorow’s reading of it, complete with author’s notes in this podcast.