Nature Future Conditional

The story behind the story: Chocolate chicken cheesecake

This week, Futures has been enticed into the world of gastronomy, courtesy of M. J. Pettit’s story Chocolate chicken cheesecake. Now, that may sound like an unusual combination, but there’s s good reason for the recipe. When not dreaming up culinary delights, M. J. is an academic and writer who divides his time between Toronto, Canada, and Manchester, UK. Here, he reveals the origins of his latest tale — as ever, it pays to read the story first.

Writing Chocolate chicken cheesecake

This story began with a dinnertime conversation (of course). A friend mentioned a recent attempt to train a neural network on the recipes found on food blogs and the inedible concoctions it subsequently devised. The plot pretty much came to me whole at that moment as I contemplated the ‘what next’.

In much of my writing, both historical and fictional, I tend towards the absurd, tracing the unanticipated afterlives of science and technology. As I wrote the story, an insight from literary critic Frederic Jameson kept recurring: “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. We can now revise that and witness the attempt to imagine capitalism by way of imagining the end of the world.”

A number of prominent technologists have revived concerns about the existential threat posed by artificial intelligence. These anxieties about automation are hardly new, but in this story, I wanted to read them against a newer set of concerns. I sympathize with social critics who argue that the technologists’ vision of an AI apocalypse is misplaced. The more imminent and invisible danger, according to these critics, is how Silicon Valley transmits many of its shared biases onto our posthuman brethren. We are producing AI that replicates and often enhances our prejudices and inequalities.

That the end of the world comes from the narcissistic tendencies of a reality TV star speaks more to the power of the unconscious over my writerly imagination than to the predictive capacities of the historian.

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