NYCC 2017: Sci-Fi Authors Sketch Out Our Future With Robots and AI

Saturday, 07 October 2017 - 10:25AM
Convention News
Saturday, 07 October 2017 - 10:25AM
NYCC 2017: Sci-Fi Authors Sketch Out Our Future With Robots and AI
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Image credit: Pixabay
The first panel we hit this year was a collection of sci-fi authors talking about robots, robot rights, artificial intelligence, and what a robotic future would look like, titled It's Technical: Our Future with Robots and More. Here's the line-up:

Moderator: Maryelizabeth Yturralde, Co-Owner, Mysterious Galaxy Books
  • Adam Christopher, author of Empire State, Made to Kill, and contributor to From a Certain Point of View
  • Annalee Newitz, tech/culture editor at Ars Technica, founder of io9, author of Autonomous
  • Kirsten Miller, author of Otherworld
  • Nathan Hale, New York Times Bestseller, comic book artist, author of One-Trick Pony
  • Sylvain Neuvel, linguist and author of Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods

Here are some of the highlights from the panel!

What themes do your most recent works explore?

In Made to Kill, the main character, Raymond Electromatic, is the 'last robot left in working order.' Instead of being a servant or manual laborer, however, he's a noir private eye-turned-hitman, complete with fedora and trench coat. The book takes place in a retro-futuristic version of the 1960s, and reimagines the traditional detective story.

In Autonomous, Annalee Newitz tells the story of a robot named Paladin, who lives in a world where robots are recognized as equal to humans, but indentured to their makers until they can pay off the cost of their manufacture (which usually takes about 19 years). Since robots are recognized to be pretty much the same as humans, humans are also allowed to become indentured or enslaved-in fact, the ability to become enslaved is framed as a human right.
In Kirsten Miller's Otherworld, humans can plug into a VR world that can stimulate all five of their senses. However, this VR experience is created with the idea that no one would ever want to leave. The key questions Miller wanted to explore were "What would happen? What would the ramifications be?"

"What if people left their bodies behind to live in a virtual place?" Miller asked. "Who would take care of nourishment and waste removal?" When speaking more broadly about technology, Miller was interested less in utopias and more in thinking about the unintended consequences of tech. Modern technology has the "potential to go into dark places," she says.
In Nathan Hale's graphic novel One-Trick Pony, his challenge was creating a realistic look and feel for the future. "It's all visual, you have to imagine what the future looks like…What would robots in the future look like? Would it be feasible?" He's not a fan of the normal method of portraying sci-fi futures: "Star Wars robots would be garbage, none of it is practical," he says.

In Hale's mind, the robots that will become the face of the future won't have faces at all: according to him, "Robots won't have a human face, they'll have an iPad face." This will be partly to dodge the Uncanny Valley, he thinks.
In Neuvel's Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods, the human race finds "undeniable proof that we're not alone in the universe," and then meets those other beings. Both books "explore what it means to be human."

What technology have you encountered in your stories or others' stories that you'd like to be available right now?

Neuvel brought up Todd Rider's work at MIT, which targets cells affected by viruses and can cure viral infections of any kind (in theory). The real issue, however, is what to do with it: "Do you give it to everyone, or just rich people?" he asks. Giving the technology to everyone might cause a population boom and actually create famines. If restricted to the rich, it would mean condemning thousands to die.

For Newitz, it's self-driving cars. She speculates that by the time autonomous cars reach widespread adoption, we'll have sufficiently advanced machine learning to create even more advanced AI and algorithms, but the real boon is going to happen in congested cities like San Francisco, where these cars can act as "really granular public transportation." 

Is technology changing the way we perceive what it means to be human? What impact does it have on AI as persons?

According to Newitz: "I don't think we'll ever have human-equivalent AI, but there are creatures that could have human-equivalent intelligence, like chimps, elephants, corvids, [and] cephalopods..." Newitz goes on to say that you can be a person without having humanity-meaning that non-human beings can have the same rights as humans.

For Neuvel, "The good of the future has always outweighed the bad-the future is not a big scary thing where technology will kill us all."
According to Adam Christopher, 71% of school-age children in the UK wish that social media didn't exist, due in part to the loss of anonymity. In Christopher's estimation, social media will either plateau and diminish, or it will split into an elite and underclass, with different features being offered for each. 

Stay tuned for more coverage from New York Comic-Con!
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