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The story behind the story: A perfect medium for unrequited love

Futures this week welcome back Alex Shvartsman with his tale A perfect medium for unrequited love. Regular readers will have seen plenty of Alex’s previous stories (there’s a full list at the end of this post), and if you want to know more about his work, you should check out his website and his Twitter feed. Here Alex takes us behind the scenes of his latest tale — as ever it pays to read the story first.

Writing A perfect medium for unrequited love

Humans have always been afraid of their creations.

From the golem to Frankenstein’s monster, from the Cylons of Battlestar Galactica to the warring AIs of Person of Interest, the message remains: if we create intelligent beings we may not be able to control them and there’s a chance they will turn against us.

Real scientists seem to share this concern. Stephen Hawking recently spoke of dangers of advanced AI. This very journal published an editorial on this subject earlier this year.

And although those concerns are not to be discounted, as a science-fiction writer I was interested in exploring possibilities of AI interacting with humans as neither nemesis nor a benevolent overlord. I wanted to portray such an intelligence as an independent being with its own concerns and desires, and one that showed neither a deep interest in humans nor utterly ignored them.

Jinkochi (which is a loose transliteration of 人工知能 or Jinkō chino, Japanese for artificial intelligence) is capable of filial piety but isn’t consumed with humanity or its problems. And although its goal of “fixing” the planet may coincide with our needs, who is to say that it won’t plant its wildflowers on Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue or London’s Downing Street?

So you see, even in my attempt to write a different tale I have not entirely succeeded in escaping the trope of AI running wild.

Perhaps the most fun concept of the story for me to write was envisioning different media the AIs could use to encode information. I figured databases like actuarial tables and metro schedules would be pretty easy, but what might the limit be for a super intelligence? They could certainly influence crop planting patterns and city traffic would be as simple as controlling the lights at intersections. But could they also figure out a way to influence, say, the migratory patterns of birds? These, dear reader, are exactly the sort of things I enjoy most about being a science-fiction writer, and I hope that some of the examples I’ve come up with will amuse you.

More Futures stories by Alex Shvartsman

Ravages of timeThe tell-tale earThe epistolary historyCoffee in end timesThe rumination on what isn’t A one-sided argumentGrains of wheatStaff meeting, as seen by the spam filter


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