Tuesday, August 10, 2010

We Think, Therefore We Are

Edited by: Peter Crowther
Publisher: DAW Books (Penguin Group)
Released: January 2009
Genre: Science Fiction Short Stories

First of all, I love the title. It introduces exactly what question the book is supposed to explore - how far does Artificial Intelligence go? And as the cover says, what is the nature of Artificial Intelligence? These are 15 stories with very different tones and approaches to exploring the limits and capabilities and possible future situations of AI.

My favorite story was The Highway Code, by Brian Stableford. This one, I think, combined a real, down-to-earth tone with a complete execution of the task, which was to examine how AI might appear in the world and what ramifications it might have. The story is told from the point of view of a sentient truck, which is programmed to want to follow the three rules of the Highway Code, but winds up facing a choice in a time of emergency which would violate all three at once. I found it interesting to have an object which is so clearly a computer end up blurring the boundaries between a program and a thinking being.

On the whole, I have to say, I was somewhat disappointed with the book. I expected the stories to all be like The Highway Code, examining the boundaries between computers and sentient beings, but most of the stories just touched on that and didn't explore it the way this and a few others did. Besides, though it's great to have different tones, the styles of these stories were so different that I doubt one person would enjoy every story in the book. Someone who likes what I think of as the "science fiction" tone, where complex sentence structures and obscure vocabulary are used, would dismiss half the stories, and vice versa.

Still, there are a lot of interesting situations discussed in these stories: Could an AI choose to disobey its creator (Adam Robots)? Could AIs have power struggles (Tempest 43)? Could AIs, millions of years after humankind ceased to exist, create humans in their turn (The New Cyberiad)? These are the stories that attempt to predict what a world where Artificial Intelligence is finally invented would look like.

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