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

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Reading during the winter quiet

This time of year, nearly done and begun, is generally one of my favorite seasons. It’s the time of mystery and wonder, and best of all, quiet, so one can read in peace.  If you are looking for something to read this week while you enjoy the deep quiet, here are a few short stories  I found particularly satisfying this year:

The Sixth Day by Sylvia Anna Hivén

Loving Grace by Erica L. Satifka

So Much Cooking by Naomi Kritzer

In Loco Parentis by Andrea Phillips

And here’s one more story — If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Xia Jia, translated by Ken Liu–which is a somewhat strange story, yet it somehow beautifully captures the feeling of reading in winter.

Reading Chinese futures

In this age of communications and information technology, we take for granted that we have greatly expanded abilities to discover what other human beings are thinking and writing about the human journey. Often, however, a veil remains between continents and cultures. Too little translation is definitely an issue, but that may be just a symptom of too little listening to others outside our own comforting traditions.

I’m trying to break these habits, and I’m especially interested in reading more speculative fiction (SF) by female writers outside of the United States and Britain. What new visions and worlds do they reflect? What new solutions to problems or warnings or worries or hopes? I’d like to learn from their insights on the human condition, but I think the more interesting questions are out there on the far horizon. If we have more translations and access to SF works from other cultures, how will we influence each other and what perspectives will we hold in common regarding the shape of the future? Continue reading