AI: Friends or Enemies

The term ‘robot’ was first used in R.U.R. or Rossum’s Universal Robots by writer Karel Čapek—robota means “forced labour” in Czech. In their very first outing in science fiction, robots—in this case, semi-organic, intelligent, manufactured creatures—don’t behave very well. They rise up, overthrow their human overlords, and set fire to civilization. Not a great start.

AI have fascinated us since their possibility entered into our consciousness. The more we learn about ourselves, the more it seems we question whether or not we could be manufactured and eventually replaced.

Yet AI seem to be the cure for so many of our ills. Intelligence in a durable, replaceable body can carry us into space, into radiation zones, and many places that would kill a human. AI can be our companions, our servants, our ever-neutral keepers of justice. They seem to be the perfect solution to our problems. But the closer they get to being able to replace us, the more we fear they’re like us in the worst ways.

That’s likely why AI are a popular enemy in science fiction: human but not human. The gynoid from Metropolis is famous for her form and for her deceit, for the way that she can seamlessly replace a genuine human and no one is the wiser. How many times does the hero shoot the villain only to see not a gaping wound but a broken, sparking piece of machinery behind a mask? Blade Runner, one of the most famous science fiction movies of the modern era, focuses on the question of whether or not AI can ever be truly human. How close to us does something have to get to be considered one of us?

We haven’t got any AI in the Pandora Project series—not yet. But we love the idea of AI as more than servants but something other than enemies. In a future in which it appears we will be more and more entwined with machines, computers, and things that think—or something close to it—we’d love encourage the spirit of cooperation.

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4 comments

  1. I’m currently watching _Almost Human_ and liking the questions they tackle on the show. It does have the formulaic ‘criminal of the week’ to push the episode through but the partnership between the two main characters is the hook for me. The question of what makes humanity human and if only humans possess that quality is a recurrent theme in this show. I won’t go into detail here–there wouldn’t be enough words or room to do it justice–but it’s enough to say that it’s thoughtful and entertaining and there are a couple of long-term arcs that promise some good storytelling if the show doesn’t get cancelled.

    1. I’m hoping Almost Human doesn’t get cancelled. I haven’t had a chance to start watching it yet (it’s building up on my DVR) but it looks like something I’m really going to love. The best shows are the ones that have big, overarching questions to dig into with every episode.

      1. taimdala · ·

        I’m hoping it doesn’t get cancelled too. However, my track record for picking shows that last is inversely proportional to the shows I think are any good. In other words, what I like almost invariably gets cancelled after one season … if I’m lucky. Ever since Firefly, most shows I like get cancelled well before they reach the first season mark.

        Exceptions to that curse are: Castle, Person of Interest, Elementary.
        Too soon to tell: Almost Human, Intelligence
        Most likely to continue on (but no longer watched by me): Sleepy Hollow, Agents of Shield

        Obviously, my genre biases are showing. I think it’s interesting to note that there isn’t a single straight up sf show in that list. Almost Human comes close, but I consider that to be more a dystopia genre than science fiction. Again, it’s a bias of mine: show needs space and/or spaceships to *feel like* science fiction to me, even though in truth it doesn’t need those things to fall into that category.

  2. John Scalzi just let it be known that his book Redshirts is going to be made into a TV show in the next few years, so maybe that’ll fall into the “feel like SF” for you, unless the comedy throws you off. 🙂

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