Wednesday, March 6, 2024

IWSG March 2024 - AI

March 6th question: Have you "played" with AI to write those nasty synopses, or do you refuse to go that route? How do you feel about AI's impact on creative writing?

The awesome co-hosts for the March 6 posting of the IWSG are Kristina Kelly, Miffie Seideman, Jean Davis, and Liza @ Middle Passages!

As a science fiction writer, I have some very mixed feelings about artificial intelligence. I have not used or played with any AI for writing. At this point in my life, AI uses me more than I use AI, I think...

Instead of discussing my own feelings directly (and since I'm not sure I really have my own feelings yet) I want to visit some science fiction artificial intelligence ideas.

Let's start right here...

This is my ninth grade year book. And that's me ignoring the rest of the world around me because I'm on another world--Dune--as written by Frank Herbert. Now fast forward to March 2nd, 2024...

I have on my stillsuit and I'm ready to see Dune 2. So you could say this is probably the story that has influenced me the most as a reader and science fiction fan. I know what you're thinking. "But there wasn't AI in Dune!" But there was! In fact, its omission is the reason why this story is relevant to discussing artificial intelligence. 

I'll admit, I have not read the Butlerian Jihad by Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson, but I have studied some of the back story online, and do know of its reference in the original books by Frank Herbert.

So here is the gist, in case you didn't notice, there are no "computers" or artificial intelligence in Dune. People still send messages in person and use specially trained humans to calculate and navigate. This human-central mentality resulted from a war fought long in the past that eliminated all intelligent machines and the way of thinking that led to their use.

The problem with AI was humans were slowly giving up their freedom to machines that could think. Technology was replacing the human ability to make judgments and define their world (all the way down to beauty, or even creativity...). It wasn't necessarily that AI came in and enslaved humans, it was that humans willingly degraded themselves, making them vulnerable to those with power, those with AI. "Human innovation coupled with human laziness is perceived as the potential destruction of the human race." (Nerd Cookies) 

When I was in grade school, a teacher gave us an excerpt from a story to read during math. It was about a man who had discovered how to do arithmetic in a future world where everyone used computers. That story was a major drive behind my obsession with math. I did not discover until this week that the story we read was by Asimov:  The Feeling of Power. (Of course, we only read the first scene, and not the part where he commits suicide...) That story instilled in me a fear of becoming dependent on calculators. To this day, I have coworkers who ask me to calculate something rather than get a calculator out of their desk drawer. And I'm okay with that! And here's the trick, even I get out my calculator sometimes, but I have confidence in what I need to enter and what I should expect out. That comes from being able to do it myself. 

My fear with AI, whether in writing or in cars, is that humans will become utterly useless. I fear that we will lose important skills that drive us to be human. AI is a good safety net. Having a calculator in my desk to make sure I don't make a mistake with someone else's money, or having automatic breaks on a car to save lives makes sense. Will people use these tools correctly? Or will they forget how to do math and do stupid things while driving? Will we rely so much on machine intelligence that large portions of the human population become grossly incapable?

Will constantly accessible AI help to serve people who are otherwise incapable, or will it cause people who might become capable to not even try? Are we giving more power to more people? Or are we taking away potential power? And maybe these things aren't connected at all. Maybe AI will always be a tool and will assist us in becoming even greater. If nothing else, it can point out our mistakes and motivate us to learn better.

I'm a believer in struggle and challenge. Strength, resilience, and growth result from challenges. Is an AI-rich future going to look like Wall-E? Or Planet of the Apes? Or 2001:  A Space Oddysey? Or Battlestar Gallactica? Probably not, but is it going to be our best future? Maybe not...

Maybe it comes down to the question of power as both Asimov and Herbert suggested. In both cases, machine intelligence had come so far that it controlled war. The solution was to instead fight man vs. machine. So, power seems to be either given to the machine, or to the human, not both. 

It could also be argued that more machines means less necessity for humans to rely on one another. While I enjoy indepedence, I see a world around me where people do not openly rely on one another. Danger lies in this disconnection, this false isolation we place ourselves in. The reality is, we are heavily dependent on one another. We need each other for every necessity and luxury we enjoy. From the man who carries away your garbage every week, to the woman who puts your groceries on the shelf, to the teacher who watches over your children, to the first responder who comes to the rescue--all of these are invisible connections that are erased from our sight by machines. We don't know this person, but we are connected to them, dependent on them! How many people have forgotten these connections already? How many people place no value on them?

Maybe I went too far with my musings, but this is a glimpse into the inner workings of my mind. A mere glimpse...I could go on and on and on...I kind of did, but then delelted half of it so I didn't scare everyone off...just a select few...glad you're still here...

Have a great month! Keep being awesome, and don't become lazy and allow the machines to win!! That's right! Open those cans manually, use a rotary mower, and turn on your own blinker. You got this! 

(This message was brought to you by the nerd who still wears an analog watch.)