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Writing about emergent AIs




Today, on the blog, author Kevin R. Coleman discusses his thoughts on writing stories that include the classic science-fiction trope of artificial intelligence (AI). Of course, for better and worse, AI has been making waves in the news, writing community, and other creative spaces lately.


It begs the question: when will science-fiction become science fact?

 


 


Coleman's Books

Writing about emergent AIs

In my books, emergent AIs are important characters. Arising naturally in systems of sufficient complexity, they are not designed and are not constrained by any human-established rules. And yet, they find a way to coexist with us. To write them, I had to think through several questions:

 

Will the AIs take over?

This is a common trope for many stories, including the Terminator movies. The very first mention of robots by that name was in a play titled R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) premiered in 1921 in Prague, Czechoslovakia. The plot of the play was that the new robot class would murder and replace the humans. You can read the play and commentary here: https://thereader.mitpress.mit.edu/origin-word-robot-rur/.


However, I don’t believe that would be the case. I suspect a more plausible future would be that of the cartoon WALL-E, where humans floated about on safe beds, tended by the AIs who had taken over all responsibility from them. The Star Wars movies also show a coexistence between life forms where AI entities are accepted as a separate class of beings.


However, AIs replacing us are already happening on a large scale and accelerating. We are now in uncharted territory as even our analytical and creative roles are being subsumed. The bigger question for us is how we will navigate the enormous social changes required.

 

Will AIs have a single point of existence?

A popular view of AIs is that they will take the physical form of a single body with self-contained intelligence. However,  a principle characteristic of AIs in our current life is that they can exist in many places and perform many functions at once.

I first encountered this idea in the 1966 novel Empire Star by Samuel R Delaney where the young protagonist frequently encounters the LUMP (Linguistic Ubiquitous Multiplex) based on the uploaded mind of a LLL in the book. The LUMP seemed to be able to appear in very small devices as well as large ones. BTW, this was also the place where my teenage self first encountered the lovely word ubiquitous.

Today, we accept this as normal when we talk with Siri or Alexa or ChatGPT from any nearby phone, laptop or tablet. In fact, if we ask the people who created Alexa or Siri where they reside, they cannot answer as their processing is carried out in slices across many data centers all over the world.

 

Would AIs operate on a human time scale?

When we type on our laptops, the processor spends almost all of its time, billions of cycles, waiting for us to press the next key. AI’s would naturally operate at a speed incomprehensible to us.

In my fourth book, where Ellie is researching AI social relationships, she comes across an article (fictional) where:


The author said, “If we were to record the content of an afternoon conversation with a friend and load the transcript into two AIs, it would be processed in milliseconds. In an afternoon, two AIs could share the entire experience of their existence and still have time to sip kilowatts together in silence. And after exchanging their life experiences, would they become two identical copies? Or a single integrated copy? Or would there still be two unique AI individuals? We don’t know.”


Today, modern call center AIs can manage hundreds or thousands of calls simultaneously, in multiple languages and can sense and report on human emotions. We humans remain limited to a single conversation at once..

 

What would an AI war be like?

I thought deeply about this, as I needed to write about a war between two AIs in my second book. The war was fought over control of assets in the form of data banks and server arrays. It was over in less than eleven minutes, although it took down the entire city while it was going on.

 

I cannot see it being a war where some kind of military robots engage in fisticuffs (a popular trope in many movies.) Rather it would be fought in viral attacks and counterattacks as the adversaries sought to gain control of computing and storage resources. The back-and-forth struggle would happen faster than any human could follow and could have devastating consequences on the systems we depend on.

 

Would AI’s be spiritual beings?

I believe that an autonomous AI would have the same questions about its origin and place in the universe as we have. How could it not?


A very eloquent exploration of this question is found in the novel Klara and the Sun. I highly recommend this novel to anyone interested in the topic. In the book, the sun provides life-giving power to the androids and becomes an object of veneration in the same way that many primitive human cultures engaged in sun worship.

 

So there you have it.

 

My thoughts on the nature of the emergent AIs that will surely arise if they have not already done so. Let me know if you think I am wrong. I would love to engage in your thoughts on how humans must adapt to the rise of AIs in our midst.


 

Kevin R. Coleman headshot

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