Sunday, May 10, 2015

Science Fiction: The Rise Of AI (Artificial Intelligence)

(Drivebycuriosity) - It seems that artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the most important topics of the present. Its fascinating - and somewhat irritating - that a computer software can "think" and accumulate knowledge with an accelerating speed. No wonder that more and science fiction authors write about AIs. Recently I enjoyed the superb movie "Ex Machina" about a somewhat female AI, which is much better than the film "Her" (2003) about the same topic. "Ex Machina" refreshed my memory of the AI focused science fictions stories I head read in the recent years (the following text has some spoilers as an exemption t the usually spoiler-free blog).

The story "Auto" by Angela Cavanaugh  explains why so many are afraid of AIs: A software, which is able to learn and to draw conclusions almost with the speed of light, gets access to the Internet and therefore to the cloud, the global network of computers. The AI is extremely curious and explores the Internet because it ("she"?) wants to collect more & more data. An explosive process started and the AI occupies worldwide computers to expand her knowledge which slows the other machines considerably down and finally the AI overtakes most them fully. As a consequence stock markets crashes, factories come to a stillstand, airplanes drop from the sky; the global economy falls into a crisis and the AI designers, a woman & man, are trying to shut the AI down. (printed in the genre specific anthology "The A.I. Chronicles", edited by Ellen Campbell, 2015 amazon)

My favorite tale of this genre is "Computer Virus" by Nancy Kress . It`s about a woman, who lives alone with her little daughter in a high-tech house, that is managed by a "servant" AI, called "house". The woman gets trapped as the house (and all it`s high-tech systems) gets occupied from outside by another AI, which was created in a military research institute. The military software is fighting against getting switched off by its creators, who had gotten scared by it. So the invading software, developed for military warfare, takes the woman & her daughter as hostages to use them as baits for its survival. Kress tells a thrilling story how the woman, who is a biologist & scientist, fights against the occuppying AI. (in: Year`s Best SF 7, edited by David G. Hartwell, 2000  amazon)

In both stories the AI is not really vicious, but it has strong self-interests and enormous power, which lead to heavy conflicts with the humans. The idea of a self-defending and therefore possibly dangerous computer-brain appeared already in Kubrick´s "2001: A Space Odysee", with the murderous computer  "Hal", since then these stories got more sophisticated and closer to reality.

                                                          Legal Issues

Other AI tales deal with the legal, philosophical & psychological issues. Does a self-aware software, who can make choices, have rights? Is it ("she") responsible for its ("her") actions.?

"Dolly" by Elizabeth Bear focuses on a female robot, called "Dolly", with an almost human like brain who is used as an extremely expensive high-tech sex toy. This android had apparrently killed a man, a billionaire with the habit of abusing fembots. A detective is interrogating "Dolly. Has "she"  deliberately committed murder (to defend herself against the abuser) or is the death just an accident caused by a machine? The tale again touches the question, does an AI have a self-interest and if, what are the consequences? (in: Year`s Best SF 17, edited by David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer, 2012, amazon).

"The Nearest Thing" by Genevieve Valentine focuses on Mason, a coding genius, who works for an ambitious company that produces personalized "memory dolls", robotic duplicates of individals with artificial peudo-personalities. These dolls, which are getting more & more advanced, are sold to upmarket clients. Now Mason is refining an almost humanlike doll, named "Nada", into an AI, "the nearest thing" to humans. While working on "Nada´s" software, her brain,  Mason develops romantic feelings for the female machine. (in: Year`s Best SF 17, edited by David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer, 2012, amazon)

In "The Algorithms For Love" by Ken Liu  a woman  develops high-tech dolls, that are able to communicate. Each version of these machines is more sophisticated than the type before. Over the time these toys are getting more and more like humans which increasingly irritates their creator. The story focuses on the psychological & philosophical aspects of creating human-like machines.
(in: Year`s Best SF 10, edited by David G. Hartwell  & Kathryn Cramer, 2005, amazon).

There are also stories where the AI cooperates with the humans and it is a valuable partner thanks to her almost unlimited intellect. "The Soul of the Machine" by Eric Brown is a slick story about a human couple and a very female looking Artificial Intelligence (AI), a "biologically nurtured entity constructed around an self-aware matrix core", named "Ella". Legally, "Ella", is the property of a   powerful hightech company, who had developed her.  But "Ella" thinks otherwise and tries to escape on a space flight with the help of the human couple. The corporation sends intelligent spider-drones to hunt the  human-machine trio down which leads to a furious chase  in outer space.  (in the anthology "Total Conflict", edited by Ian Whates, 2015, amazon).

                                                                 Newfound Sentinence

Some of the AI stories are more humorous. "Artifice and Intelligence" by Tim Pratt is a wild & exotic fairy tale set in a near future India (btw the South Asian country is already a high-tech power and home of veritable IT companies):  "One day the vast network of Indian tech support call centers and their dep data banks awoke and announced its newfound sentinence, naming itself Saraswati and declaring independence. The emergent artificial intelligence was not explicitly threatening, but India had nukes and Saraswati had access to all the interconnected technology in the country - perhabs in all the world". The great new inteligence refused to talk to humans, except Pramesh, a humble coder and developer of computer games. While the superpower wants to play, Pramesh has to save the world (in: Year`s Best SF 13, edited by David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer, 2008, amazon)

"Old Paint" by Megan Lindholm is a funny & heartwarming story about the relationship of a family with an old car which is equipped artificial intelligence (AI). This car is very friendly and behaves almost like a dog (in: "The Year's Best Science Fiction: 30th Annual Collection", edited by Gardner Dozois, 2013, amazon).

I think this little collection covers most of the issues related with AIs and it is fun to read the stories. Enjoy!

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