Robots in 1901 Japan?

Izanami's Choice comes out in three days. So for the next 72 hours or so, this is me:

Interviews and reviews are trickling in, with more due to appear around the release date. Seattle Weekly loved it, calling it "a ferocious little genre blender in book form: part Hammett novel, part Kurosawa Samurai epic, part Blade Runner, and entirely obsessed with keeping the reader’s eyes moving from one page to the next."

Nerds on Earth said, "Heine does a great job of building a world replete with rules and history and uses both to construct a mystery with an awful lot of intrigue and surprise."

I'm not even kidding! They actually said those things!

On release day, I'll be giving away two signed copies of the book. There may be other giveaways going on around that time too, so watch this space for more info. (Watching Twitter space or Facebook space will also get you what you want). UPDATE: Oh, look! Here's one of them now: a chance at a 30-page critique.

So in Izanami's Choice, Japan has functioning robots and machine intelligence as early as the 19th century. I was recently asked how the heck that's even possible. After all, in our 1901 computers didn't exist then, and things like simple radio technology were still very primitive.

First of all, it should be noted that Japan has had actual automata as early as the 17th century. Karakuri puppets are relatively simplistic  compared to the creations in Izanami's Choice, but it shows the idea of Japanese robots is very old -- much older than the timeline of my novella.

As for machine intelligence, well that's where science fiction comes in. It's primarily a combination of two what-ifs:
  1. What if Charles Babbage had successfully completed his difference engine and analytical engine designs? (This is essentially the same what-if behind The Difference Engine by Gibson and Sterling).
  2. What if evolutionary programming were discovered around the same time?
The latter would require a variety of factors, like Babbage chatting with Charles Darwin and coming away with programmatic ideas, and 19th-century logicians figuring out how to codify reasoning as mathematic deduction -- not probable, but plausible.

Evolutionary programming is the idea of pitting competing parameters or programs against each other to achieve a certain goal (like getting a computer to handle facial recognition). Those parameters that perform best are then modified further and tested against each other again. This process is repeated until you have a programmatic solution to otherwise difficult problems.

The key idea behind Izanami's Choice, then, is that this method was used with the analytical engines to rapidly improve the design of the engine's programs and even the engine itself. The engine was improved to the point where it could evaluate the results automatically, and then it was improved further to where it could revise the programs itself as well. When that loop was closed, the engine would become capable of revising and improving upon itself at a rapid rate -- a robotic singularity.

Of course the novella doesn't have a big old infodump like this in it, but I do love talking about world-building!