Hans: I’m not really astonished. Part of the reason is that I realize it takes awhile for these ideas to percolate. Just the idea of downloading the human mind into a computer, which, I guess, got its biggest exposure with my first book, is still peculating. For some people it’s no longer a big deal. But back then not everybody got it, and a lot of those that did were outraged. You should have seen some of the things that Joe Weisenbaum wrote.
David: I don’t understand. Why?
Hans: Well, it’s obscene.
David: You mean unnatural?
Hans: Yes. It reminds some people of the holocaust. I mean, the idea of turning people into machines–what could be more horrible than that? Some people still react that way, but it’s definitely mutated now. It’s not such a big deal anymore. I figure that with the new book it’s going to take awhile for people to absorb some of that–especially, of course, the last chapter, which I think most people just shrug their shoulders about at this point. But I’m serious.
David: I found the last two chapters the most interesting of all.
Hans: Some people have said that, and that’s real heartening. But I know it’s a minority that react that way. Few people are in the mental state to realize the implications of our present research and development. There are religious positions, but there are also just basically conservative positions–people who are threatened by technology, and this is the ultimate threat (laughter). This substantiates all of their fears. If you’re nervous about the technology, then the idea that it’s going to become more powerful is just threatening in itself. And the idea that it’s going to affect you personally in this intimate way is certainly threatening. So there’s some real extreme reactions, and even some reviews that were just wildly outraged.
But part of it is a little bit like the stages of grief. First there’s denial, then there’s anger (laughter), and then there’s sadness or something. I’m not sure what the stages are, but there’s a whole range of emotions to pass through before you get to acceptance. So I’m willing to be patient. One of the good things about publishing with places like Harvard and Oxford is that, although they don’t promote the book nearly as much as some of the commercial publishers do (if you’re lucky, as of course, some books get short-shifted even by them, because they just don’t have the budgets or personnel to do serious promotion), but at least they keep the book in print for a long time. So Mind Children is still selling quite well actually. (laughter) The trouble with the Mind Children title was, of course, that a lot of people didn’t get it at all. They didn’t know what the hell to make of it. They wondered if it about baby sitting or what? (laughter)
David: Oh, I see–minding children. That’s really funny.
Hans: And then the cover pictures were not particularly helpful.
David: But the subtitle–The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence–was fairly large on the cover.
Hans: Right, well that’s true. But when you just see it on the shelf you don’t know. It looks odd. So I think the Robot title possibly gets it to a larger audience. I’m especially looking forward to what the effect of the Stars Wars movie will have on it (laughter), because I think there was a sort of euphoria about robots in the early Eighties, and that’s when some of these companies I was talking about were formed.
There were a lot of hobby kits and toys made by companies for programmers or robot hobbyists. Heathkit made The Hero. Commodore made Minarobot. There was a Axlon