Monday, February 28, 2011

Artificial Intelligence

Following last week’s little adventures into the world of cyberspace and artificial intelligence, I thought that, this being a sci-fi blog and all, I would attempt to continue that conversation, first with a quick overview of AI as a fictional device and how it could relate to Christianity.

Artificial intelligence in sf started out as the pinnacle of transhuman evolution, notably in Isaac Asimov’s The Last Question, where the final evolution of the man-made multivac AIs ultimately becomes God – a concept which surely requires more attention at a later date.

On a somewhat smaller scale, computers are generally intended to be useful; in sf a good artificial intelligence can conveniently remove the problem of human error in, say, navigating a large space vessel (the Nostromo from Alien, or any number of ships in the Culture novels of Iain M Banks).

However, as the giant supercomputers of 50s and 60s pulp sf gave way to networks of far smaller machines, the combined processing power available led to the idea of such a network achieving consciousness (Skynet, anyone?) and leading a cybernetic revolt, such as led to the slavery of humankind in the world of The Matrix.

Another angle on artificial intelligence, and one which has interesting potential for Christian fiction, is the idea of downloading a human mind into a computer, usually for the purpose of prolonging ‘life’ indefinitely. There are a few alternative directions this could go off in, some of which have already been tackled from a Christian perspective; The Personifid Project allows for human minds to be uploaded into artificial bodies, less prone to the common cold and so on. Alternatively the prospect of a digital afterlife might allow for similar discussion around what happens to the soul of a digitised person, and is explored in Greg Egan’s Permutation City. Expose your digitised minds to a computer virus, on the other hand…

That is far from a comprehensive outline of Artificial Intelligence in fiction, but it’s a few of the ways it has featured, and I’ll come back to some of them and try and find some way of using them in Christian Fiction in future posts.

In the meantime, feel free to chip in with any questions, comments, suggested reading, or anything else you care to add. Especially if you’re a sentient computer program.

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