The Robot Other

I was on a panel at Philcon this weekend called “The Robot Other,” which asked why we are so attracted to stories written about sympathetic AI characters, especially those written from the AI’s perspective. A question from someone in the audience prompted what I thought was the best insight from the conversation: In our cultural dialogue, we are moving more and more toward the consensus that humans are essentially machines — evolved biological machines that execute our programming on the data that comes in through our senses. The logical conclusion, if we are nothing more than material bodies, is that our sense of conscious agency is an illusion. After all, each neuron in our brains that fires was directly caused by a previous neuron that fired, which was caused by another, or by some external stimulus. It’s all deterministic, or at least probabilistic at the quantum level. This belief creates a certain amount of angst, however, because it flies in the face of our most basic human experience — that we make real choices that matter. To come to grips with this unsettling notion that we are nothing but machines, we eagerly devour stories about AIs — machines that we suddenly fear we have a lot more in common with that we might previously have thought.


David is a science fiction and fantasy author, which gives him the freedom to explore far beyond the limits of real life and the everyday. His books explores themes that skirt the edges of science and religion, such as human origins, the nature of truth, the certainty of death, and the nature of the soul. He does all his writing at home, where he lives with his wife and seven children. It’s a lively and clamorous place, full of fun, love, and chaos. His latest novel is SUPERPOSITION, a quantum physics murder mystery with the same mind-bending, breathless action as films like INCEPTION and MINORITY REPORT. His other works include the Philip K. Dick Award-winning novel TERMINAL MIND, the historical fantasy QUINTESSENCE (Tor, 2013) and its sequel, QUINTESSENCE SKY.

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