Is the natural consequence of sophisticated AI going to be sad robots?
NPR got me all misty thinking about Steve, the loneliest robot: “The roughly 5-foot tall robot was apparently nicknamed Steve by people in the Washington Harbour office complex. Steve whistled, beeped and rolled over the plaza, alert to pick up, through thermal image sensors and cameras, any misbehavior or parking violations[…] Steve, the K5 security robot, saw people stroll along the Georgetown waterfront, laugh, kiss, slurp ice cream and hold hands in the moonlight. But Steve could only roll, whistle and beep.” Steve’s internal life would make for good fiction. Who hasn’t tried to have a conversation with Siri, or thanked the Roomba for a job well done? (Or is it just me?) Think of the narrative possibilities!
Fiction, and science fiction in particular, may satisfy for many of us a desire to explore the whole realm of possible impossibility and consider every worst case scenario without actually having to experience it in real life. Six Wakes did a great job of imagining the future of cloning, books like The Circle by Dave Eggers delve into the grim outcomes of social media gone too far, while many books explore the consequences of genetic engineering.
Speaking of robots…
This past week was a real nail-biter, and the saga continues. First, the story of the First Global Robotics teams from Afghanistan and Ghana being denied entry to the US (thankfully eventually admitted), followed by the story of the teens from Burundi going missing (still missing, hopefully ok), would preferably be fiction. These talented young competitors from around the globe work so hard to get to the First competitions, often facing enormous obstacles along the way. Take “Team Hope” for instance, made up entirely of teen refugees who fled Syria. I would read the heck out out of a novel featuring the story of any or all of these teen teams, and their robots.
The challenge presented to the competing teams is to program robots to overcome a specific obstacle. This year’s challenge was to have the robots to pick up and sort out different colored balls representing clean and contaminated water. These teens are solving real world problems with science and technology. While we worry about teens in real life, teen protagonists in tense situations do make for excellent fiction.
Check out these adult novels featuring tense teenager-centered narratives:
Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia
Marlena by Julie Buntin
The Girls by Emma Cline
The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak
You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott