I’ve recently started a new series of speculative posts, in which I pose a What If question and try to investigate its potential. This is an open discussion and you’re all very welcome to participate. Or just teleport the discussion to your own blog. Or to the far reaches of outer space where it can radiate in all its glory, and make all nearby stars go supernova. Explosions are so much FUN! Blaze, you nifty little idea gremlins, blaze in galactic fire! Mwahaha!!
*I really shouldn’t drink Red Bull in the morning*
What If… AIs are better storytellers than us?
Just thinking of the machines in The Matrix and their ability to create a perfect simulation of reality, makes me green with envy. Isn’t that the ultimate goal of all writers? To create fictional worlds that feel so real, so compelling that our audience gets completely lost inside of them? What if the artificial intelligences we will inevitably create one day (or fail to prevent from emerging) will be so masterful in creating false realities that they’ll completely outstrip us?
And what if our crazed paranoia about the death of the publishing industry is, in fact, the ultimate doomsday prophecy? *dun-dun-duunn*
Robots that write books have already been designed, and are fairly successful too. From Plotto the master book of all plots that was turned into a veritable plot-churning machine, and software that writes online articles, to Lambert M. Surhone who (or should I say that?) apparently produced over 150,000 books, machines have proved their potential for mastery of the written word time and again. One even wrote a poem that I must admit [expand title=”left me wondering…”]
To truth I offer this thanks,
when needing something like reality
When I’m writing and drawing blanks,
I almost settle using actuality
I am in search of more,
trying to sing your praise!
It’s you I very much adore,
lacking in so many ways.
But robots are still very far away from being truly creative the way we scribblers understand creativity. They don’t incorporate life-experiences into fictional characters in new and enlightening ways, and don’t offer us a wider, deeper understanding of ourselves.
“I couldn’t think of anything more pointless than reading a piece of fiction written by a robot. […] You might find a lot of regurgitated platitudes but I can’t imagine a piece of software being capable of producing something that would stop you in your tracks. Not until we get truly intelligent computers.” ~Alastair Reynolds
Yeah… so what about AIs?
What if AIs with their human-like or uber-human intelligence will write better stories than us? Speculative fiction that makes our imagination look positively obtuse? Literary novels that exceed our understanding of our own humanity? Poetry, discovery novels, movie scripts and animations, adaptive games and trans-media storyworlds that take the very concept of storytelling to a whole new level?
It makes sense that artificial intelligences will be able to grasp the concept of fiction and distinguish it from fact (after all, one can be cross-checked with several other types of information sources, one cannot). Creating fiction is the next logical step. And why wouldn’t they try to do it? If they have the computing capacities to run an autonomous intelligence, they also have the capacity to run a representation of the world — and fiction takes the same amount of resources as reality. It’s all just data, but fiction has the added bonus of keeping humans happily engaged in a world they can’t control, while the AIs slowly take over the real world. Or something like that.
But let’s say they’re not out to annihilate us (that speculative concept has somewhat gotten old over the years anyway). What would their stories be like? Will their science-fiction be as conflicted about the path we’re taking as a species as ours is, swaying from enthusiasm to apprehensions and back again? Will their fantasy be just as fascinated with myths and folklore as ours? Would their horror be equally preoccupied with unnatural mutations of either mind or body? Would their romances be about beating impossible odds for the one true love? Would their crime be as ruthless in exposing the dark side of society?
Or would they not write about human concerns at all?
They might write about their own fears and hopes instead. Maybe their novels will be about an existence without physical limitation, or about having an eternal consciousness that will only know continuous growth but no end? What might love be to them, and hope? And what in the world would they be most afraid of, being shut down or becoming limited? Will they have a muse, a creative process? Will they need drafts, or would they write perfectly from the start (or not even think there’s a need for perfection)?
Maybe they will write about the hardship of putting up with our limited minds and our idiosyncrasies. Will they speculate about how our minds and emotions work, just like we speculate about theirs? “Do Bipeds Dream Of Organic Sheep?”
I think there’s something intrinsically self-reflective and philosophical in the need to create art and fictive realities. It’s one of the most effective ways to understand ourselves, and give our lives meaning. If AIs are as fascinated with fiction and creating their version of it as we are… I believe we couldn’t ask for a clearer sign of a higher intelligence.
What do you think? Will AIs play with words? And will they do it for us, about us, or despite of us?