Friday, April 01, 2005

Who Is the Patron Saint of Underwater Robots?

You gotta read "La Vida Robot." It has :
  • scrappy teens
  • suspenseful competition
  • skilled feature writing
  • a call to action
  • a robot named Stinky.
There's also a nifty theological puzzle.
When Luis lowered Stinky into the water for their run, Lorenzo prayed to the Virgin Mary. He prayed that the [last-minute repairs] would work but then wondered ... whether it was appropriate.... He tried to think of a different saint to pray to but couldn't come up with an appropriate one. The whir of Stinky's propellers brought him back to the task at hand....
I think Lorenzo's first instinct was good. The BVM is an all-rounder, a good general purpose saint. But a more-focused patron saint might be better. Who is the patron saint of underwater robots?

Saint Christopher would be good to start with. He's the patron saint of travelers, which both Lorenzo and Stinky were. Contrary to popular belief, Christopher wasn't demoted to non-sainthood. It's just that his feast day was de-emphasized because he shares it with Saint James, who, as an apostle, outranks him.

Saint Barbara would be a natural. She has clout both with the contest location (UC Santa Barbara) and sponsor (NASA¬ó -- she was a patron saint of astronauts). Unfortunately (and unlike Christopher), she was demoted on account of mythicality.

Of course the robots themselves will eventually choose Saint Isaac. But Asimov is unlikely ever to be officially canonized, however canonical he may be.

I would go with Saint Elmo, who covers both mariners and electricity. He's also an unofficial patron saint of youthful ensembles and misbehaving robots.

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