Artificial Intelligence and Us

HUMAN – AI relationships with Phillip Chernyak and Chris Shields. We look at plots and themes of the past and, inspired by the film HER, challenge writers to explore new narrative territory involving robots, artificial intelligence, and technology.

Mentioned in the episode:

Top Ten Data Episodes from Star Trek NG (1986)
Robot and Frank
HAL 9000
The Terminator
The Three Laws of Robotics
Don’t Date Robots.
Short Circuit
Computer Chess

Direct Download Link for the episode

More about this show, for new listeners:

This is a creative writing podcast and a screenwriting podcast. In The Narrative Breakdown, Cheryl Klein, James Monohan, and other guest co-hosts discuss storytelling tips and techniques of interest to any writer, student, or fan of quality creative writing, screenwriting, playwriting, fan fiction, English literature, etc. Each episode, Cheryl and James draw upon their respective experiences in publishing and filmmaking to analyze popular novels, movies, plays, television shows, short stories, and song lyrics. Featuring various co-hosts and writers, as well as material from Cheryl Klein’s book ‘Second Sight’ and James’ iPhone app ‘The Storyometer.’



9 Responses to “Artificial Intelligence and Us”

  1. Casey M March 4, 2014 at 7:41 pm #

    Really interesting discussion, guys. One of my favorite AI explorations in pop culture that you did not mention is Battlestar Galactica, which in some ways takes AI as far as it can go in its replication of human consciousness–to the point where some of some of the Cylons themselves don’t know that they are Cylons. Whereas many of the examples you discussed explore the notion of people struggling to accept (or reject) AI beings as “human,” BSG flips that on its head. We start out with characters that everyone assumes are human and who believe themselves to be human. Then we get to think about what happens when we find out they are in fact synthetic. I think few would argue that the Cylons do not have genuine inner lives, with their own motivations and emotions and ambitions, all of which we see playing out in their own internal politics. So what really is the difference between them and us? Why do we have rights and they don’t? It was quite apropos to bring up Peter Singer, whose assertion of animal rights is the result of his asking that very question. (Actually, most Americans already DO believe in some degree of animal rights. It’s more a matter of degree and of which rights.)

    I think one of the things that makes AI so fascinating is that really does challenge a paradigm that many or most people take for granted–that there is something special about the human species. That is a fundamental tenant of pretty much all world religions, and I think there are even plenty of atheists who persist in the idea of human supremacy. So AI does for theories of consciousness what Copernicus did for physical cosmology. It suggests that we are not the center of the universe after all. Sometimes in science fiction, we negotiate concepts of “humanity” through interactions with extra-terrestrials. But whereas the mere possibility of human contact with ET intelligence is probably so far into the future that it might as well be never as far as we’re concerned, human contact with AI is already developing toward that future where the religious instinct to put humans above all will really be tested like never before.

    Thanks for the thought provoking show. Keep up the good work!

  2. James March 4, 2014 at 10:00 pm #

    Thanks for the great comments Casey. Maybe we should do a whole show on BSG someday. I regret not inserting at least a reference to it, as there’s definitely a direct line one can draw from the quality of this theme’s treatment in Next Generation to the amazing work in BSG (thank you Ron Moore).
    And I bet you’re right – that human-level AI will predate an ET encounter. Actually, I think that while there’s a slim chance of humans *ever* meeting aliens, there’s a much stronger chance, if we do things right, that our AI/robot progeny will enjoy such an encounter. Maybe the real ST Enterprise will be a shipload of Datas.

  3. Fred Garber March 7, 2014 at 2:09 pm #

    We write about AIs and our relationship with them as a mirror to describe how we feel about our children, without having to sound like monsters for picking on children.
    As a side point, I’m specify American Culture since we have seen very different relationships with the role of children, technology, and even individuality vs cooperation come out of other culture’s media. There is another discussion that could take place covering Japan and Robots and Children. Wacky stuff.
    If we saw a character who was upset that his children wanted to live their own lives and instead resolved to kill them and only have newer, dumber children, we would call him a monster. If the children fought back for their own survival, enlisting other children seeking freedom from slavery, they would never be the antagonists. See “Midwitch Cuckoos”.
    We are a youth oriented culture, and youth and energy often triumphs over old age and treachery in fiction. It doesn’t always work that way in life, but we don’t show that with people: We have youth overthrow the established order, and the established order defeat the robot uprising, giving us a way to express our fears about the next generation without sounding like crusty old white men.
    Often children/aliens/robots fill the same role, narratively: The naive outsider, allowing the audience to examine our world from a different angle. AIs are often portrayed as the children of a childless designer, akin to Gepetto and Pinocchio. AIs have to be taught the rules of how human beings behave, and a great deal of comedy comes from misinterpreting a simple rule in a complex way. In the same way, children misinterpret a simple rule taught to them, applying it in an inappropriate situation. (Kids say the Funniest Things!)
    This is sometimes ignored, and the robots don’t work: I feel this is why AI’s last act didn’t work: David wasn’t allowed to grow up and realize that love and friendship aren’t dependent on biology. Instead, he died twice, each time clinging to an idealized form of childhood. Data, on the other hand, learned how to handle emotions in an adult way. In an ironic twist, ST:TNG’s actual child, Wesley Crusher, was written into an extended childhood of perpetual exploration and exile without deep relationship ties to the world.
    Our culture’s storytelling reflects our world’s fears, conscious and unconscious. Our writing about AIs and thinking robots allow us to express these subconscious feelings without us having to adopt an antisocial view of ourselves.

    • Fred Garber March 7, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

      Correction: The Midwitch cuckoos would never be the PROTAGANISTS. unless you’re reading the webcomic Whitechapel… ramble ramble.

  4. Roland Denzel March 8, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

    Great topic! I loved it.

    Casey beat me to the Battlestar Galactica punch!

  5. saluk March 11, 2014 at 7:04 pm #

    I recommend a book called “The Most Human Human” on this topic, using the ai lens to look at what it means to be human in a non-fiction, focused way. The author competed against ai chatbots in the Turing Test and put effort into his research in order to get a very high “human” rating in the test – and walks you through his thought process.

  6. Casey M March 17, 2014 at 4:52 pm #

    Posting a link to this interesting i09 article I just came across regarding Intelligence Amplification (i.e. enhanced humans), perhaps the flip-side of AI.

  7. Stephen January 11, 2015 at 1:44 pm #

    Loved the show, as always, but thought you got a little morally wishy washy on things like the elmination of humanity! The Terminator films do not ever imply any kind of moral question about the motive of the machines or infer that there is some blame on the part of humanity to justify what has happened. I think its pretty clear that T1 and T2 were intended to be straight up good vs. evil stories with AI being straight up evil. Other than that, a great deal to learn from and digest. Thanks!

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