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a very it-tech-looking image full of blue lights and the letters AI in pink at the forefront

Yesterday, we unwrapped a little bit of sci-fi with Matt’s reimagined story, Belisarius, which placed a Byzantine general in a futuristic space setting. Today, we continue with something that feels very sci-fi to me: Artificial Intelligence. I think we can see a narrative thread here – a celebration of the kind of whatiffery that inspires authors to write fiction that reflects and reshapes reality.

Did you know that a lot of the things we take for granted today began with a writer who thought, “What if…?” I am not well-versed in sci-fi, but I find it fascinating to look at examples of how the genre has inspired real-world inventions and technological advancements. Especially things that, at the time of writing, seemed fantastical. Don’t believe me? Well, there are plenty of examples out there, but let’s take a look at a small sample:

  • In “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” from 1870, Jule Verne wrote about the submarine Nautilus. While we have records of underwater vessels that date all the way back to antiquity, within 11 years of Verne’s book modern subs began being constructed and we’ve seen regular enhancements since including the modern nuclear submarine.
  • Edward Bellamy had a moment of whatiffery that gave us the concept of a cashless society, with citizens using credit cards, in “Looking Backward” from 1888. It preceded the first Diner’s Club card by a good 60 years and even then it would take a few more decades before we got anywhere near a cashless society.
  • In 1968, Arthur C. Clarke wrote “2001: A Space Odyssey,” where the astronauts were using a kind of gadget that, essentially, was an iPad. Or a tablet computer, to be off-brand. I could be wrong, it happens, but I believe GRidPad released the first handheld devices in the late 80s or early 90s.
  • As someone who is largely dependent on assistive technologies, I’m a little impressed with Isaac Asimov whose whatifferies have developed a number of voice-activated devices for his stories. And that started long before Alexa, Siri and Bixby were introduced into our daily lives.
  • I think it was our Doug, aka author D.G. Barnes, who told me that video calls were a thing in “Star Trek,” a TV-series from the 60’s that enjoys something of a cult status to this day. Now they are so common many of us have retired our old landlines.

There are, of course, numerous sci-fi inventions that never came to pass – or maybe it would be a safer bet to say they have yet to come to pass. No matter how you look at it, or how much of a sci-fi phobic you may be, it’s hard to deny that this genre has sparked the imagination of inventors and innovators, which in turn has caused them to have their own whatiffery moments. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to suggest that this is a testament to the power of storytelling.

So, how does any of this relate to AI? Well, if you dig around a little, you’ll see how the concept of Artificial Intelligence also has its roots in the sci-fi genre. Long before ChatGPT and MidJourney became a reality we all need to contend with, and position ourselves for or against, sci-fi authors were writing about machines endowed with human-like intelligence and various degrees of self-awareness. And yes, I brought receipts.

  • First up, the word ‘robot’ was introduced by Czech author Karel Čapek in his play “R.U.R.” from 1920. The robots in this play are artificial beings created to serve humans, but they eventually rebel against their creators. The word robota actually means forced labour in Czech.
  • William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” from 1984 is considered a seminal work in the cyberpunk genre. It explores the fusion of humanity with technology and features a powerful AI named Wintermute. The novel delves into the implications of a vast and interconnected digital landscape not entirely unlike our own.
  • “I, Robot” by Isaac Asimov is a collection of short stories from 1950. Here, Asimov introduces the now famous Three Laws of Robotics that govern the behaviour of intelligent robots. This has been referred to as the groundwork for ethical considerations in AI development.
  • The relationship between a self-aware computer and the human inhabitants of the moon is explored in Robert A. Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” from 1966. In this novel, we find a “Lunar Central Computer Complex,” commonly called Mike, and the story deals with themes of freedom, rebellion, and the potential risks of AI.
  • In his 1968 novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,” Philip K. Dick examined the nature of humanity and empathy in a world where androids are virtually indistinguishable from humans. The narrative that was the basis for the film “Blade Runner,” raised important questions regarding the ethical treatment of artificial beings.

The authors of these literary works didn’t just anticipate the development of Artificial Intelligence, they also brought ethical, social, and existential implications of creating these machines into the narratives. These questions are still at the heart of all AI discussions and considerations today.

We now live in a world that is much closer to those I’ve listed above. Regardless of what feelings it invokes in you, AI has become an integral part of our existence. In some ways, it has already been there under the surface for years. We just didn’t see it. Or maybe we chose to stay ignorant. Now it’s in our face, and it is already such a divisive subject that many online forums and interest groups have had to add it to their list of banned topics.

Here on the Resilience, we don’t believe in banning topics. We have decided to approach AI with a healthy dose of apprehension, but we also believe that you need to understand the beast you have concerns about. To that end, we have formulated an AI Policy and we have been using AI on a weekly basis to see what it can and can’t do. We have a series of articles where we talk about this, but the tl/dr version is that Leto is working with image generation in MidJourney and looking into the legal aspects and implications, while Linn is trialling ChatGPT and using it to handle the mundane tasks that hamper productivity.

On both sides, the creative process is pretty much like an intricate dance of ideas, iterations, and re-iterations. It truly is something of a digital marvel and, as a writer at least, it is hard to use the technology without considering the many moments of creative whatiffery that have gone into making this sci-fi world a reality.

No matter where you find yourself on the AI spectrum, we hope you’ll join us on our journey and we welcome your input on the subject.

//Linn & Leto 🤖


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