Thoughts on Artificial Intelligence, Androids, and the Robot Apocalypse

  • by Gitabushi

This is yet another slapped-together post, partly because I have some half-formed ideas I want to explore in public, and partly because I haven’t written anything for the blog for awhile and PCBushi is growing increasingly abusive in my DMs.

Assertion: Human-like androids are not science fiction, they are fantasy.

Science Fiction, whether Hard or Soft, requires at least a hand-wave explanation of what technology got us there.  Science Fiction is supposed to be an investigation of what could happen or what could have happened.  Fantasy is more the creation of a fully-impossible universe to explore some concepts.  Every Artificially-Intelligent and Indistinguishable-From-Humans android in fiction pretty much just appears on-stage, fully formed, without even much of a handwave.

Whoops!  Let me back up.

Assertion: The divisions between Fantasy, Hard Science Fiction, and Soft Science Fiction only matter if you read SFF to think.

If all you want is entertainment, or if the book is written only to entertain, then any classification or sorting attempt is likely to fail, is unnecessary, and probably a bad idea.

Okay, back to the narrative thread.

There are some works that sort of swerve close, at times, in trying to explain How We Got There.  “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” by Robert Heinlein posits a computer system that “became aware” due to the number of synapses reaching a critical point…but then just adds in a “and something else unknown must have happened” for a few plot reasons I won’t share.  The Terminator movie series did explain that the earlier Terminators were just rubber-skinned metal skeletons, but managed to make actual flesh-cloaked cyborgs to defeat detection.  Okay, maybe.

I’m fairly well-read, but there are plenty of holes in my reading. No one can read anything, and I haven’t been fond of nearly anything I’ve encountered that was written since, say, 2005.

The one exception to the preceding paragraph is also the best handling of human-like androids that I’ve seen, to date: Jill Domschot’s “The Minaverse” (which should have a mark (diacritic?) above the “a” that I don’t have the ability to add).  She spends more than a few pages explaining how her human-like, intelligent androids were developed.  It’s necessary to the plot, and well done.  It’s more than a handwave, too.

Okay, so I’ve got a strong exception to my assertion…but I maintain the assertion, because I don’t expect anyone else will treat human-like AI androids like science fiction.

The reason is because we *are* still so far away from human-like robots that it is still just magic.  Even the most scientifically-knowledgeable writer cannot look at current technology and chart a reasonable path of scientific development to get there.

Arthur C. Clarke stated that any sufficiently-advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. I think the reverse is exploited by human-like AI: any magic is indistinguishable from advanced technology.

Bonus Assertion: Climate Change/AGW and other Leftist Scientastic views exploit this by adding a veneer of scientific gobblydegook to their political articles of faith.

On the other hand, I don’t actually fault movies like AI, Ex Machina, Blade Runner, Terminator, and others I can’t think of right now: Each posits artificially-intelligent robots that are impossibly indistinguishable from humans…but they do it for a purpose: they want to explore the nature of humanity: what if there were alien intelligences that could walk among us, unknown. How would they be aware of us? What would they think of us?  Would we be able to notice?  What would our relationship be with them?  How would they treat us, and how would we treat them?

These are important questions, and I can understand they didn’t want to waste time explaining how we got there, or risk destroying the willing suspension of disbelief in the viewer with an explanation that may not work for everyone.

Assertion: The Turing Test does not actually indicate Artificial Intelligence. It actually indicates shortfalls in human intuition and skepticism.

The Turing Test is: can a computer or other artificial device mimic a human in interaction so well that a human will not recognize it is a machine?

Supposedly an artificial intelligence already passed the test…but only by pretending to be a young boy speaking English as a second language.  To me, that’s cheating enough to mean they didn’t pass.

Still, that’s a fascinating glimpse into how first and second language abilities impact our ability to communicate effectively, eh?

But that test says nothing about artificial intelligence. It’s all about the human perception of it.

To be artificially intelligent, a computer must be self-aware.  It must have an intent in communication, and possibly in survival of self, and almost certainly must have an ability to learn and synthesize new knowledge from various information inputs.

One book that handled this fairly well is “The Two Faces of Tomorrow”, by James P. Hogan.  Also a good read.

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What are your thoughts?  Am I wrong about indistinguishable-from-human robots? What books have you read that have handled artificial intelligence deftly?

If I ever learn to write a novel, I do plan on writing a multi-work path of how the separate paths of artificial intelligence and human-like robots develop and merge, as part of a Future History of a Robot Apocalypse.  Maybe.  I have a lot of plans.

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8 thoughts on “Thoughts on Artificial Intelligence, Androids, and the Robot Apocalypse

  1. It’s an interesting thought, but I’m not sold. If you impose this standard across the board, that the science has to be concretely explained, you’re going to eliminate a whole lot from the genre. Degrees of “hardness” and technicality vary, but my conceptualization of scifi has always been something like “speculative fiction focusing on or including heavy elements of scientific/technological advancement.”

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  2. Interesting thoughts, and I admit I don’t think about AI very often too deeply so I enjoyed this. I will say upfront that I am not very interested in super techy sci-fi. Brave New World’s opening chapter was bad enough and that was 1935 :P I’m not really concerned about how some futuristic device works, but I am concerned how we use it. If someone really wants technicaly sci-fi regarding AI then this comment is irrelevant.

    I don’t know if it’s necessary for the author to explain how we got AI, for a variety of reasons:
    1) most successful authors are not AI engineers, and so lack the detailed, cutting-edge knowldge to make it realistic (like you said)
    2) science marches on and the book could become dated very quickly
    3) if it’s not necessary to the plot, don’t include it
    4) the implications for artificial life and intelligence are the same regardless of how we get there and consequently: 5) lots of complicated techy jargon is boring and can feel like intellectual grandstanding (related to #3)

    This applies to lots of sci-fi technologies. Another way of looking at it: in the end, the developmental history of smart phones is irrelevant compared to the massive social, philosophical, and cultural issues they have introduced. Those issues would be the same regardless of the trajectory it took (granted that the possible trajectories landed us basically where we are today).

    That being said, writing a work that handles the philoshophical issues of AI *development* is also totally relevant. I just don’t think the fictional history of one author would be that interesting without philosophical underpinnings.

    I do agree that our tests for AI is basically anthropocentric, but that’s fine because we created it and cannot really judge it independently like you would judge sentience in an organic lifeform.

    Star Trek: The Next Generation, with an artificial lifeform serving as a senior officer, handled the topic a LOT and very well. The developmental history of Data is that Dr. Soong created/trailblazed the positronic brain that enabled Data to basically pass the Turing Test (by our standards), but they leave it at that. Philosophically, “The Measure of a Man” probed Data’s humanity in one of Star Trek’s finest hours. Would an episode delving into the nitty-gritty of the positronic brain have rivaled “The Measure of a Man”? No.

    Lots more thoughts. Have to cut off for now but good post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I, personally, believe that the difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy is purely cosmetic. If you write about things that don’t exist in the real world, then you are writing Fantasy. A Hard SF writer can say that faster than light travel could exist some time in the future, well, I can say that magic spells could also exist some time in the future. Both violate the laws of physics as they are currently understood.

    That having been said, I have more than the usual resistance to the concept of robots as any real threat to human beings. They are machines, and while a poorly designed machine can injure or kill human beings (or even a well designed machine that is operated poorly, as in a car wreck) in the end human beings design and build machines, and human beings can figure out how to deactivate and dismantle them. Taking apart malfunctioning machines and making them do what they are supposed to do is how I’ve made my living for the past thirty years or so.

    I can imagine scenarios in which a systemic failure of a large network could result in significant loss of human life. I wrote about one–my story “In The Driving Lane” details how the navigation system for self-driving cars could fail. But in any protracted conflict between human beings and machines, the machines will lose fairly quickly.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. “To be artificially intelligent, a computer must be self-aware”
    Being self-aware is irrelevant to intelligence and Vice Versa. The most powerful, widespread, and relevant thing we have ever discovered in the universe is radiation. Our brains work off of it, our thoughts are made of it and everywhere we look we see it. Most of it shows no sign of intelligence or of being self-aware but it does, in fact, show purpose.

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  5. It’s a strange thing to observe or become aware of but waveform is actually radiation. When we observe wave it becomes immediately clear that they are organized, focused, and active. In their highest form they are brain waves and in their mid form they are every form of communication used on eath and in the lowest form they are the connection of every living thing on Earth via sun light.

    It would seem that radiation is attempting to become more advanced every chance it gets but there doesn’t seem to be a reason why.

    If you really want to get technical about it think of it this way, we are all made of atoms which in fact is only a more stable form of wave energy at the particle level.

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