Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Asimov and the Slide Rule Boys

So I am re reading I Robot by Asimov as its a text on an open university module I'm doing. Its great fun revisiting this classic, I love Asimov and enjoy older science fiction as it's always interesting dipping into retro-futurism and comparing it to current technologies and trends.

The first few chapters are told as retrospective narratives by Susan Calvin regarding early issues with robotics.. she is telling stories in 2062 about things that happened to 2 roboticist trouble shooters around now/2017... and of course Asimov imagined this all before publishing in 1950.

So as well as reading what Asimov imagined the future would have created (positronic brains the big one in I Robot) it's interesting to see what technology available in the 1950's he imagined would still be in use in his future world. Enter 'the slide rule boys'. At numerous points the trouble shooting characters, Powell and Donovan, refer to the 'slide rule boys' meaning the engineers and physicists working for USRobotics creating the robots.... and yes.. it's sexist..I know.

For me (and I freely and proudly admit I am a slide rule fan who carries a slide rule every day) I love that Asimov considered the slide rule such an important device that it wouldn't be superseded by an imagined other technology, it is testimony to the device and its standing at the time in the 1950s. Although they have fallen out of popular use, falling prey to calculators and computers, they are fascinating devices and powerful tools for a variety of tasks to this day. The slide rule I carry everyday (as opposed to the larger ones for home use!!) is an Aristo nr89 which can calculate a surprising number of things by manipulating the slides, multiplication and division, tangents and sines, diagonals of squares, inch to mm conversions, circle areas and more and more. Interestingly for me slide rules also gave me a more concrete feel for logarithmic scales... and.. the Aristo 89 has a metric ruler on the edge so is quite handy for ..heck... drawing lines and measurements. :)

No comments: