Artificial Intelligence in Science Fiction

IMG_0174Artificial intelligence…dangerous enemy or friendly helper?

Science fiction has been debating this question for years. As early as 1968, Robert Heinlein wrote The Moon is a Harsh Mistress where a High Optical, Logical Multi-Evaluating Supervisor, Mark IV, or Holmes IV, is installed on Luna base to compute ballistics for pilotless freighters and control their catapult. This used only 10% of the computer’s capacity, so Luna Authority keep adding on  hardware and decision boxes and additional duties until by year three, it controlled all the phone systems, other computers, air, water, sewage, temperature systems for all of Luna. It had voder-vocoder circuits that supplemented all read-outs, print-outs and decision making boxes.Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Then it woke up.

Became self aware and took an interest in good jokes and pranks.

One which was issuing a paycheck to a janitor in Authority’s office in Luna City for $10,000,000,000,000,185.15. (the last five digits being the correct amount) So Luna Authority privately contracts a Manuel Garcia O’Kelly to figure out what went wrong and he discovers that the computer has become self aware. Rather than tell anyone, he starts to converse with the computer and names it Mike, after a Mycroft Holmes character.

The story is about the friendship between an incredibly powerful, but lonely computer and Manuel O’Kelly, or Man as everyone calls him

And how they engineered a rebellion on the Moon to gain freedom over Earth’s totalitarian control.

There is some magnificent politics in the story. To date, Luna has been a dumping ground for criminals, reminiscent of Australia. They are under the boot of Earth Authority like all good colonies, and are tired of the treatment. Problem is that they cannot transition back to Earth because of the long term effect of Luna’s light gravity and Earth’s heavier gravity. After living on Luna, their bodies cannot handle Earth’s heavier gravity and consequently once stranded on the moon, they cannot return to Earth.

Unfortunately, it’s a hard story to get into because of the dialect. Manuel tells the story in first person narration with a heavy Russian accent that throws the reader out of the story time and again. Maybe it’s Heinlein’s joke to have a Russian engineer the rebellion. Remember back then (1968) Russia and the U.S. were racing to be the first on the moon. Also, “Mike” (the computer) constantly refers to Manuel as Man.

You think you’re on an L.A. beach.

Hey, Man. What’re you doing, Man.

It took me a while to warm up to this classic story of computer and man (Man), but eventually after swimming through all the dialect and political theory, I ended up liking it.

Heinlein has a radical life philosophy, so be ready to read with an open mind and enjoy the intricacies of orchestrating a Lunar rebellion, complete with a Russian accented computer contractor that shouts slogans such as, “Give me Liberty or give me death.”

DragonshipThe other book that I read recently from the 2013 list is Dragon Ship by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. It made an interesting contrast to Heinlein’s story. Both are about self aware, super powerful  computers that interact and become “friends” with a particular human.

For those of you who have criticized the Liaden stories as “romance science fiction,” this isn’t the case here. The protagonist is Theo Waitley who is now grown up and captaining her first starship. This ship is from “old tech’ that is forbidden and dangerous. The ship’s original design was to service a now dead trader. The self aware computer that runs the ship has been out in the deep waiting for its captain for centuries. It wants a reason to exist. The captaincy key makes it way to Theo’s hand and she takes on a trading route with the ship for the Korval clan that is fraught with danger.  She also takes on an ex-lover who is being eaten alive by a nano-virus and is secured in the ship’s medical unit fighting for his life.

The computer not only acts very human, but creates a second persona when Theo needs more crew. This second self aware entity has feelings, a job description and to all intents and purposes the rest of the universe thinks it’s another human on the ship.

This is fifth in the series and I recommend you read the earlier ones. I love the Liaden stories and always look forward to the newest one. I love the strong family ties in their story, the emotional hook and the interesting tech. This one has all three…

So enjoy.

Veronica Sicoe posited the question on her blog  What if the Internet became self aware?

This was interesting because it appears that the fear of an aware internet lies in the elusiveness of its existence. A supercomputer that has boundaries can be overcome.

“I can’t do that, Dave.”

And next you know Hal is singing “Daisy, Daisy.”

“War Games” was an interesting movie that had an aware computer using real missiles for his “game.” That was frightening, but checkers proved the solution.

But an aware internet has no central core, no rack to unload, no central hub to disengage, no trick game to occupy it and consequently, is unassailable. There may be no solution if a self aware internet goes rogue.

And who wouldn’t with the crap that humans often put on it?

You can start with the porn.

Do you think that we will, sometime in the future, have an aware supercomputer, and will it be friend or foe?

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Filed under artificial intelligence, artificial nature, Best selling science fiction, Book reviews, Classic science fiction, Cutting Edge Science ideas, downloaded personalities, ebook science fiction, Hard science fiction, Political Science Fiction, science fiction series, space ship, space travel, super computer, The moon in science fiction, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Artificial Intelligence in Science Fiction

  1. I haven’t gotten that far down my to-read list to reach Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”, but by what you described, it sounds very interesting. Though, I think I’m gonna have a tough time with the accent…

    I’ve always loved reading about rogue, self-aware computers and ships, and my favorite story about one is by far Frank Herbert’s “Destination: Void”. It’s about humanity’s attempt to colonize other star systems, by sending out a ship filled with hybernating colonists, operated by a small crew of clones and a super-computer that uses human brains as hardware — called Organic Mental Core. They become stranded beyond the solar system after three subsequent OMC’s go insane. With no more spare OMC’s, the crew decides to rewire the computer and create an artificial intelligence that can help them complete the journey to Tau Ceti and save their lives. But the computer becomes self-aware, with unexpected and horrible consequences. Usually deemed “hard science-fiction” because of the many technical details, it’s most definitely also a very potent thriller, if not horror novel. Almost like a book a Stephen King with an engineering degree might have written. 🙂

    I’m always going to be fascinated by the idea of self-aware artificial intelligences in fiction, especially since they offer the same diversity as human characters — they can be helpful, friendly, and genuinely curious about human nature, or unemotional monstrosities who seek to eliminate the human nuisance. But the most terrifying version of an AI, in my opinion, remains one that is disembodied and utterly alien in its personality.

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    • Herbert’s Destination Void is going on my “to read list”. Sounds intriguing.

      I agree, the fright factor for artificial intelligence is the disembodied super smart machine who feels no emotion and thus thinks nothing of eradicating all humans.
      There was a program that was called acceptable risks. It described a machine that was the number one killer in the U.S.(gave statistics) After everyone said it should be eliminated, they revealed that it was the car. At what point do we consider artificial intelligence not an acceptable risk. Probably never.

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