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"I do think there is a link in that in both cases, writing fiction or writing a computer program, at any given moment you're focusing on a very specific and particular thing—one word, one line of code, whatever."
- Neal Stephenson

Automated Drone Probes  
  Human-sized robot probes for exploration.  

Hosteen gave the command, and the drones rolled forward through the city’s gates. Looking now through the eyes of the squat mobile probe, Rawlins got his first view of what lay in Zone H of the maze. He saw a scalloped wall of what looked like puckered blue porcelain undulating away to the left, and a barrier of metallic threads dangling from a thick stone slab to the other side. The drone skirted the threads, which tinkled and quivered in delicate response to the disturbance of the thin air; it moved to the base of the porcelain wall, and followed it at an inward-sloping angle for perhaps twenty meters...

The drone was out of the chamber now and shuttling quickly through the place where the light-beam had flashed. Rawlins keyed in olfactory and got the smell of scorched air, lots of ozone. The path divided ahead. To one side was a single-span bridge of stone, arching over what looked like a pit of flame; to the other was a jumbled pile of cyclopean blocks resting precariously edge to edge. The bridge seemed far more inviting, but the drone immediately turned away from it and began to pick its way over the jumbled blocks. Rawlins asked it why, and it relayed the information that the “bridge” wasn’t there at all; it was a projection beamed from scanners mounted beneath the facing piers. Requesting a simulation of an approach anyway, Rawlins got a picture of the probe walking out onto the pier and stepping unsuspectingly through the solid-looking bridge to lose its balance; and as the simulated probe struggled to regain its equilibrium, the pier tipped forward and shucked it into the fiery pit. Cute, Rawlins thought, and shuddered...

From The Man in the Maze, by Robert Silverberg.
Published by Avon Books in 1969
Additional resources -

The probes are designed to move according to a specified guidance pattern, and when encountering new territory, gather information and move carefully:

The probe, lacking a guidance pattern, now moved much more slowly, hesitating at every step to extend its network of data-gathering devices in all directions. It looked for hidden doors, for concealed openings in the pavement, for projectors, lasers, mass-detectors, power sources. It fed back to the central data banks all that it learned, thus adding to the store of information with each centimeter conquered.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Man in the Maze
  More Ideas and Technology by Robert Silverberg
  Tech news articles related to The Man in the Maze
  Tech news articles related to works by Robert Silverberg

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