Our A.I. love/fright affair

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UltronEver stop to think about humans’ state of affairs with artificial intelligence (A.I.)?  It’s a lot like a girl who’s fallen in love with a charming, attractive man who is also a serial killer: She is aware that he is dangerous, maybe even lethal; but she forces herself to love him anyway, trusting that her faith in his inner goodness will win out in the end and not leave her in a shallow grave in little, hacked-up pieces.

Or, rather, that’s how our relationship with A.I. could be; in actual fact, we stay with A.I. because we need its help, but we expect it’s going to turn and hack us up any second now. Continue reading

Ex Machina: Humans vs A.I… of course

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Ava in Ex Machina

Ava, the robot featured in Ex Machina

I had the chance to see the new movie Ex Machina (pronounced: Ex Ma-Khi-na) in a sort of “boutique” theater, the ArcLight Theater in Bethesda.  The ArcLight presents a more upscale theater-going experience, which turned out to be perfect for Ex Machina, as it’s an upscale telling of the “humans vs A.I.” theme that is usually represented (crudely) by the Terminator franchise, (genocidally) by Galactica or (lightly) by Star Trek.

And for “upscale,” how did it do?  Masterfully.  Overall, a five-star experience—if you’re okay with science fiction movies that don’t feature space ships and ‘splosions and ask you to use more than five brain cells at a time.  (Oh, yeah, there’s a bit of sexual language and nudity, so leave the kids at home.)

Read on; no spoilers ahead.

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Robots as female fetishes and voodoo dolls

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Eva_Ex_Machina01In a Den of Geek article, filmmaker Alex Garland discussed his latest film, Ex Machina.  He had some interesting things to say about the story and the robotic main character, Ava, that caught my attention:

It’s partly an argument about the objectification of women in a particular way. In this sense, it’s a literal objectification.

Ava’s not actually a woman. She’s a machine that does not have a gender. So the question is, why is she presented as a girl in her early 20s? It’s because we fetishise girls in their early 20s. In a particular kind of way. Sometimes you read about that being shunted onto the media: advertising does it, film does it. It’s bullshit. It’s passing the buck. We all do it. Men do it and women do it. Right?

The reasons we do that are complicated, and I could make guesses as to why it is. But what seems to be beyond debate is that it does actually happen.

Women (in many countries, like the US) intentionally dress, use makeup and style their hair to fetishize themselves, even in socially- and politically-non-sexual situations (like office environments)—even as they demand to be seen as something more than fetish objects—and men, claiming to indeed see women as more than fetish objects, don’t actively discourage women from fetishizing themselves.  And science fiction goes the extra mile:  Objectifying women by robotizing them, as shown in Ex Machina, is as old as the first movies, and has become a rather tired trope of the genre that we cannot get away from, even today. Continue reading

Have a look at Gabe Ibáñez’s Automata

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This is the first I’ve heard about this movie (coming in October), but it looks like a movie to see: Gabe Ibáñez’s Automata, A serious look at the ethics of creating independent intelligence.

Self-driving cars: Where does the real resistance come from?

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Google self-driving car prototypeGoogle’s recent announcement that they would be unveiling a self-driving vehicle prototype soon spawned a lot of the reactions you’d expect from such an announcement, mostly split between “cold, dead hands”-type comments to outrageous hazard-challenges that would give Mario Andretti pause.

I’d hate to chalk it all up to just plain technophobia; however, we have seen this kind of denial about new technologies before—for instance, when the Horseless Carriage was first introduced—and the song seems to be the same, note for note, but with the addition of synthesizer quaver and a bit of traffic sound sampling to remind us that it’s 2014.

But we’ve seen automated cars in movies like Minority Report.  I’ve written about them in my novels Sarcology and Chasing the Light.  And although they’re not depicted as death machines in popular media, they are still thought of that way by the public.  Why?

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Robots and sentience

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iStock Photo

iStock Photo

Robot. Sentience.  They are two words that, when considered at the surface, don’t seem to be able to go together.  After all, a robot is a mechanical creation, generally considered incapable of sentience, or full self-awareness.  We specifically use the word “robot” to imply that the machine cannot have sentience; a robot is a clockwork thing.

When we try to suggest that a mechanical creation has sentience, we tend to immediately rename it.  Cyborg.  Android.  Replicant.  Synthezoid.  We distance ourselves from the word “robot,” and seek to redefine the creation to stand for something beyond its mechanical parts.

Is it because we want to keep the concept of “robots” as simple things?  Or is it because we see sentience as being beyond mechanical creations?  Do we see sentience as requiring some special spark that robots are incapable of? Continue reading

AIs taking over? What the heck for?

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CybermenOne of the favorite discussions amongst sci-fi fans, scientists, computer experts and roboticists is the idea that artificial intelligence, or AI, will someday become so smart that it will “kill all the humans” and take over the world.  The trope has led to innumerable books, movies, papers, games and debates, and keeps everyone looking sideways at their computers whenever they do something unexpected.  It has arguably become the largest source of mass paranoia in the industrialized world, now surpassing our distrust of government.

And it’s fun to talk about, whether we expect it to happen or not. Continue reading

Sarcology is now on sale

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sarcology cover 2014Sarcology, my sixteenth novel, is now available at my site, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. (There is a $1.00 discount when ordering through my site.)

On its surface, Sarcology is a futurist detective adventure: A husband-and-wife detective agency must help a scientist who has been blackmailed, forced to regularly submit to her blackmailer’s sexual appetites in order to keep her past indiscretions secret; but the blackmailer has suddenly moved up from sex to corporate secrets, and now he must be stopped.

But the heart of the story is in the relationship between Allen and Jessica Teal, the detective couple… and, later, between Jessica and a robot prototype that enters her life, carrying the memories of her husband. Jessica must soon try to decide whether the robot is simply mimicking her husband, or if her husband is trapped inside a robotic body… and whether that should make a difference.

A Press Kit providing more details about the novel is now available through RightBrane.com.

Drones in the USA: Should we worry?

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surveillance droneThe use of flying surveillance drones is beginning to move from the battlefield to our domestic shores.  Not surprisingly, it is stirring up plenty of controversy.

Some of the concern reflects the present use of drones in battle areas.  Equipped with sophisticated surveillance equipment and lethal munitions, military drones are sent on reconnaissance and surgical kill missions against military targets, leaders and terrorists.  Which all sounds fine in a battle situation (even if they still result in some collateral damage); but what about in the USA?  Some citizens are concerned that Americans in the US would be singled out as targets for military-grade drones to attack, and they question whether an American citizen determined to be a threat against other Americans should be surgically killed on American soil.

Okay… that’s not entirely true.  The real concern American citizens have is that our government, not being infallible, will be told by some anonymous or insane source that one of us law-abiding citizens is a terrorist; and that the government, not questioning or investigating said information, will fire off a drone to take us out on our way to Burger King. Continue reading

Sex and the robotics trade

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You know you would.

Robotics has always had a very real dichotomy, a chasm separating the vision and the reality.  Where imagination has given us human-like robots like Parody, the Terminator, Data and Gigolo Joe… reality has given us auto factory welding machines.

Yet, as technology surges inexorably forward, and companies have taken to animatronicizing mannequins for tech and auto shows, the supposed likelihood of achieving robots that can substitute for humans remains just around that imaginary corner.

If we do turn that corner… will we find a red light district there? Continue reading