AI & Robots in film, TV and literature

ConFuse 2015 was also Swecon, taking place in Linköping in August. Since I missed several programme items I am very glad that Jonas Wissting has recorded them and Oskar Källner released the recordings at the web site Sweconpoddar.

Panel discussion at ConFuse 2015: AI & Robots in film, TV and literature

Report based on a sound recording from August 8 at 8.00 pm, posted here.

Participants: Tommy Persson, Thomas Padron-McCarthy, Madeline Ashby, and Oskar Källner. Moderator: Patrik Centerwall.

The panel was asked about favourite robots and the answers were quite varied: Data in Star Trek since he wanted to be human looks like a human whereas the Tachikoma robots from the manga Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex look more like spiders who talk in voices of little girls but are vicious. The “tin-can” butler robot in the movie Robot and Frank, the knife missile drones in Banks’ Culture universe and the thinking bomb no 20 in the movie Dark Star were also among the favourites.

For Madeline Ashby, the fascination with AI is based on her catholic upbringing. The AI or robots are created in our own image and thus expected to be good. Like in the Eden myth this did not work, and they can reflect the worst in us. Her own stories deal with reproduction and since the parents built you they could also screw it up. Thus her AI stories can be considered to be about families. Oskar Källner also thought that strong AI would be our children; they would be like us but different, and this raises the question “what is a human?”

For Tommy Persson the fascination is based on the idea that people want something magical in their brains that is completely different from the processes in an AI, which is “not real thinking”. Thomas Padron-MacCarthy stressed that we like strange creatures but we don’t seem to have any aliens or mermaids and instead we consider AIs and robots.

The panel considered the robots to have become much sexier with time. Frankenstein’s monster was a disfigured hodge-podge who had no companions and no normal life, whereas today the robots are intended to be attractive, which makes some stories to be about objectification. Tin-can robots have become humanoid robots, and from a threat they have sometimes become helpful like in the movie Interstellar. In Big Hero 6 there was a helpful medical robot and in Short Circuit (Nr 5 lever!) the robot was cute.

The more alien a robot is, the more Madeline Ashby believes in it. Oskar Källner points out that a strong AI would have a perception that would be very different from ours. If a robot behaves like a human it is not credible. On the other hand, in Asimov’s stories it is the humans which are unconvincing.

Asimov’s three laws were a good idea at the time and are a part of the sf legacy. The stories are human-computer interaction stories which are actually written in a fairy-tale mode where you can have a magic wish but have to be very cautious to wish exactly right. Today when military funds pay for AI development the three laws cannot be used, and when a company develops a robot the main law is that this must not cause the company to be sued.

The panel was sceptical towards the warnings from e g Stephen Hawkings about the threat that future AIs might pose against humanity, when they become too smart. Why would the AIs care and be against us? Why would they have any drive for survival?

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