This past year, I’ve been inspired to write about artificial intelligence more realistically. Whether or not AI becomes sentient, or becomes advanced enough that people think it’s sentient, is an interesting line of thought, and makes for fascinating stories and movies. However, I’m focusing more on bringing other issues about AI into what I’m writing, based on facts about what AI is and isn't, and I’m finding that angle quite stimulating.
One of the influences that has taken me in this direction is The Age of AI And Our Human Future by Henry Kissinger, Eric Schmidt and Daniel Huttenlocher (2021). Note to boomers: yes, that Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State in the 1970s. And yes, the Security and World Order chapter is straight from Kissinger’s mind, and provides the reader with sometimes disquieting insights into the nation v. nation perspective.
Back to AI, though. The book details some fascinating accomplishments of AI to date. Discovering antibiotics in completely unexpected places. Winning chess games with outlandish modes of play that confounded the best players. These accomplishments were possible due to a fact I find completely fascinating: AI perceives and processes reality differently from us. We've developed, and continue to refine, a tool that is inherently alien.
The implications of this one fact inspired my novella, Live Update (Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 192 published in September 2022). It’s about people who've uploaded their minds into computers, and are experiencing the utter weirdness of AI as they troubleshoot their way into a new existence. This month, I finished revisions to a novel that explores another issue with AI (it’s pending a last look by my critique group before I go on the agent hunt next year). Rest assured my science fiction still takes a leap from the science of AI to the fantastic. That’s what makes it fun.
Maybe it’s wrong of me to state so boldly at the start of this post, that the idea of a sentient AI is unrealistic. Certainly, if we develop an Artificial General Intelligence, one that is not built to complete a specific task but is capable of completing any intellectual task as humans are, then we might be seeing AI move toward becoming something we can call sentient. Yet as another science fiction writer, Stanislaw Lem, put it in a different decade, why would AI even want to be human?