Going Dark by Richard Fox depends on the band-of-brothers cliché

This is the third review of short story nominees for the 2019 Nebula Awards. You can see the full list of short story nominees here, and the previous reviews are here and here.

“Going Dark” by Richard Fox was published in the military science fiction anthology Backblast Area Clear, edited by Ellen Campbell. The plot is the thinnest of outlines of a war somewhere in the universe that looks a lot like earth (Maybe it is earth.) where human military leaders are supported by AIs that seem mentally stunted but have great physical attributes boosted by military technology.  They’re fighting some other intelligent species that seems intent on taking the planet for their own. It’s never quite clear whether the humans and their AI grunts are indigenous defenders of the planet or simply hired mercenaries. Problems with the “doughboys” (the AIs) ensue, and their human leader is tormented by the thought of having to leave his unit to their fates.

And that’s all I can say about that. The framing of this story’s conflict is so sketchy I had the feeling that I was not reading a short story, but a chapter perhaps of a longer work. The whole story depends on the band-of-brothers cliché we have all come to know and love, and sometimes reject as sentimental pap. Continue reading

A supermind and a super childish human rule in Utopia, LOL? by Jamie Wahls

This is fourth review of Nebula Award nominees for short fiction. You can find the other reviews here, here, and here

Somewhere and somewhen in the great unknown a supermind is sending humans out into space to explore the vastness it is forbidden to explore itself. To make the experience more palatable for the humans who are returned to life from the cryogenic ice, another human (of sorts) is assigned to guide them. This guide, Kit/dinaround (aka Kit), is the main character of Jamie Wahls’ Nebula Awards-nominated story “Utopia, LOL?“. Continue reading

What is sentience worth without purpose? Fandom for Robots by Vina Jie-Min Prasad / ¿Qué vale la consciencia sin propósito? Fandom for Robots de Vina Jie-Min Prasad

This is the third review of the short fiction nominated for a 2017 Nebula Award. You can see earlier reviews here and here.

Everything conspired to make me roll my eyes at the beginning of  “Fandom for Robots” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad. First of all, robots. And this one, Computron, is old and all boxy and awkward. Second, Vina’s too-cute outfit in her author photo. Okay, sorry, I judged. Third, I’m not a fan of fandom. But dang it, somebody’s got to review these Nebula nominees, so I soldiered on.

Our hero Computron is the first and only known sentient robot ever created, though Computron makes it clear that it has no emotions. Computron has been relegated to a computer museum–having been created in 1954 and designed in an outdated “box and claw” style–and it occasionally participates in live performances for a show about robotics to illustrate the early days of the field. A young person at the performance informs the robot about an anime TV series called Hyperdimension Warp Record (超次元 ワープ レコード) that it might enjoy. If Computron could enjoy. Which it cannot.  Continue reading

The nice AI theme continues in “Today I am Paul” by Martin L. Shoemaker / El tema de la Inteligencia Artificial buena continúa con “Today I am Paul” de Martin L. Shoemaker

This is the fourth review of the 2015 short story nominees for the Nebula Awards. Spanish translation below by Daniela Toulemonde.

“Today I am Paul” by Martin L. Shoemaker is the third Nebula nominated short story I’ve read this year where the main character is an AI and the story is told via first-person (ha!) narration by that AI. Who knows whether the popularity of this theme was mere chance or a reflection of the growing concern about the rise of the machines, but this AI story, like the other two, features a friendly, helpful intelligence.

In “Today I am Paul” we enter a near-future world where an embodied android provides medical support and care for an elderly woman who is losing her memory. The AI can change its appearance, depending on the degree of information downloaded about the person it’s trying to emulate. This is a comfort to the patient, Mildred, who is drifting in and out of the past and present, seeking out various loved ones to talk to. In the course of a day, the AI emulates Mildred’s son Paul, her deceased husband, her daughter in-law, and her granddaughter, but the number of people who could be emulated via the “emulation net” is limitless as long as data is available.

We are informed that this is a new feature for androids, as is this AI’s empathy subnet, which directs the AI to avoid upsetting Mildred and positively finding ways to comfort her. The two programming nets do not always calibrate. While the AI does a very convincing job of emulating her argumentative son, its empathy net warns the AI that Mildred’s anxiety is increasing, which requires the AI to resolve the competing directives. In this conflicted space, self awareness is born, and the android develops an understanding of its programming, analysis and actions that are separate from the roles it plays. Shoemaker does a good job in creating a character that is no character and any character, but what is specifically outstanding about the story is that it convincingly depicts how the AI’s consciousness seems to inevitably emerge from programming tension.  Continue reading