Nature Future Conditional

The story behind the story: System reboot

This week, Futures returns to the theme of robot intelligence with Jeremy Szal’s story System reboot. Jeremy first appeared in Futures earlier this year with his story Daega’s test. You can usually find him on his blog page or on Twitter. Here he reveals what inspired his latest tale — as ever, it pays to read the story first.

Writing System reboot

This piece came about as more of an experiment than anything. I wanted to try something outside of the usual fare, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. I wanted to write a story where the experimentation was justified — that wasn’t just trying to look smart.  I wanted something that made sense on a thematic level.

And then, as one naturally does, I thought about robots. More specifically, machines. All machines have programs. The computer I’m writing this on has thousands of them, segmented off into more tiny little fragments that make up the program that’s a component of the system. All tiny building blocks making up giant building blocks that form a tower.

So why not with a robot? Sure, a robot could be constructed out of a singular program, but that would leave it at a very basic level, equivalent to the ones we see handling items on conveyor belts in factories. The more higher-level programs a machine possesses, the more complicated actions it can perform. The rather short-sighted scientists in this story decide to build a robot that’s not only fashioned out of thousands of programs, but capable of producing more at will. As you might expect, this doesn’t quite go as expected, and as the programs accelerate beyond their control the robot is able to pick out what’s going on. Eventually it’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of the human scientists.

Although this wasn’t the reason why I wrote this story in the first place, I sat back and considered this. As our technology increases, so do the things we are capable of achieving. But in doing so, do we risk technology superseding us or jumping out of our grasp? What if we create something so advanced it starts to wonder why it has to listen to us little humans?

And when that happens, we’d better hope the robots are feeling merciful.


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