NYCC 2017: Sci-Fi Authors Sketch Out Our Future With Robots and AI
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 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.
"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 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.
What technology have you encountered in your stories or others' stories that you'd like to be available right now?
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."
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