While earning his doctorate in robotics from Carnegie Mellon, Daniel H. Wilson found time to write such scintillating survival manuals as How to Survive a Robot Uprising (2005) and How to Build a Robot Army (2007). He recently rocked the Hollywood buzz-o-meter when Steven Spielberg optioned his debut novel, Robopocalypse. Pretty good for a guy who hadn’t even finished the book yet.

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Robopocalypse is a scary damn book. How did you dream up this nightmarish scenario?

The better the technology gets, the more we depend on it. The more we depend on technology, the more afraid we become of life without it. If Robopocalypse is scary, it’s because we humans have a complicated, love-hate relationship with our technology.

Did your other robot books inform the writing of Robopocalypse?

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Robot Uprising and Robot Army were tongue-in-cheek field guides to surviving exactly the sort of scenario described by Robopocalypse. Originally, I wrote those books to ridicule the “killer robot” meme that seems to pervade television, film and science fiction. Instead, I chose to focus on the violent birth of sentient technology—and to explore how both our species might survive.

Max Brooks famously followed up The Zombie Survival Guide with World War Z.  Did you draw inspiration from his work?

I’m a big fan of Max Brooks and his zombie books. My work is often compared to his, and I take that as a compliment. While zombies serve as amazingly apt metaphors for many real-world topics, robots really are in our lives—not as metaphor, but as cold hard metal.

You have a robotics PhD. Do many scientists spend their free time imagining how their work might rise up and kill them?

Roboticists are focused on creating safe and useful robots that will do their jobs well without harming human beings. To that extent, scientists have no choice but to consider nightmare scenarios, or what might be called “fail states.” Just as it’s impossible to build a bridge that is guaranteed to never fall down, it’s impossible to make a machine guaranteed to operate safely in every possible scenario. Instead, scientists do the best they can to foresee every outcome, which might require a morbid imagination.

Your characters range from a robotics expert in love with his android companion to an American soldier who joins an Afghan rebel to launch a guerrilla war. Among your human cast, do you have any favorites?
 
One of my favorites is Takeo Nomura, the elderly Japanese engineer who is in love with a domestic robot. I love that Mr. Nomura is so gentle and thoughtful—focused on the welfare of the friendly machines around him. He has an almost autistic demeanor that, ironically, brings out the humanity that robots can express, while showing how barbaric and, well, inhuman, other humans can be.

Did knowing that Steven Spielberg and the guys at DreamWorks were tinkering on your behalf affect your writing?

The screenwriter was writing a script and the production designer was making art while I was finishing Robopocalypse. Having these two amazingly creative filmmakers calling to grill me about plot structure, confirm how a Faraday cage works, or share brilliant artwork of the robots I’d described was incredible. I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch my scenes come alive as I wrote them.

Mankind seems not to realize until Zero Hour that machines are all around us. Do people not realize they spend their days surrounded by robots already?
 
We regularly speak into small pieces of plastic to access a worldwide knowledge repository. Huge steel creatures build our products in dark factories. Artificially intelligent programs inhabit nearly everything with a microprocessor. Do we notice these things? No way. Not until they stop working.

Any final advice for defending ourselves against a robot uprising?
 
When the time comes, don’t be afraid to upgrade yourself with technology in any way you can. It may well turn out that human beings can’t survive the robot uprising. At least, not vanilla human beings like you and me.