This month in Nature Physics, Futures wrestles with the problem of artificial intelligence in the shape of the story Daega’s test by Jeremy Szal. When he’s not writing for Futures, Jeremy can be found on the podcast StarShipSofa and on his blog. He kindly took a moment out of his hectic schedule to explain what inspired his latest story — as ever, it’s best to read the tale first before diving into the backstory.
Writing Daega’s test
I’m fascinated with a lot of things, but when it comes to gritty science fiction, two things take centre stage: artificial intelligence and exotic locations. So sitting down at my desk one lazy afternoon during the summer holidays, I decided to combine the two.
Living in Australia, so close to southeast Asia (and seeing a lot of influence from those nations), I’ve visited that region of the world many times. I even stayed in Bangkok for a period of eight weeks. So setting my story in that sector of the globe just came naturally. Kuala Lumpur provided that gritty and engaging aesthetic that I was going for. I’ve always enjoyed the time I’ve spent in the city, so being able to make it the birth-place of artificial intelligence was a real pleasure.
As for the AI angle, the element of self-awareness is a real drive for me. It stems from the god complex, really. God and man, then man and machine. And the lines only start to blur from there. It’s a given that machines would possess a certain degree of humanity, if not more humanity than their creators. It’s not hard to imagine the impact this will have on people — seeing their creations start to mimic and supersede them. Awe, terror and panic. But I don’t imagine it could possibly measure up to the emotions experienced by AIs/machines at seeing this. Rage, bitterness, disappointment, shame, fear, the list goes on. I can’t imagine they’d want to be human, only to be treated like ones. Perhaps it’s a little cynical, but a world in which advanced AI models are hunted down and destroyed came across as far too realistic to me. The Turing test came as a natural answer — albeit a different one that the Malays conjured up themselves. It gave it that extra sprinkle of grittiness that I was shooting for, and I think the result turned out quite nicely.