A Cautiously Optimistic Perspective on AI in Science Fiction

The future of AI is uncertain, but Science Fiction can help us imagine that future. Read more to find out how Sci-Fi authors depict humans living alongside AI.

Book Culture Opinions Recommendations Science Fiction
Robot hand reaching for illuminated book

This article was not written by ChatGPT. But it could have been, and there is a possibility that in the future, all articles will be written by ChatGPT or similar AI technologies, like Bard by Google. It’s easy to become a doomsayer when the future of art, and possibly humanity as we know it, is at stake. However, like so many Science Fiction authors out there, I’d like to propose a more imaginative perspective on AI’s place in our future. We may not know for sure what living alongside AI will look like, but taking a look at AI in Science Fiction might shed some light on the future.

The Beginning of AI

Before we dive into the world of Science Fiction, it’s important to note a few main factors that gave rise to our modern conception (and fears) of AI. Information suddenly became more available than ever before with the invention of Google in 1998, which was presented in a paper titled “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine.” Anyone living anywhere in the world could then know things that were previously the coveted knowledge of an intellectual few, and all the people needed was access to the internet and the ability to ask questions.

Google and other search engines revolutionized the availability of information and, therefore, knowledge, improving the lives of many. However, the ease that technology brings to us has very real consequences that the following Science Fiction books explore.

AI and Other Advanced Technologies in Science Fiction

One of the most prominent concepts similar to technologies such as Google and ChatGPT is the Thunderhead in Neal Shusterman’s Arc of a Scythe series. The Thunderhead is essentially the evolution of “the cloud,” an online storage space for photos, documents, and other forms of digital content. I don’t want to spoil anything for those of you who haven’t yet read this brilliant series, so we’ll just stick to the basics.

The Thunderhead holds the entire accumulation of human knowledge and can, with a few exceptions, do pretty much anything. It stores files, runs security, and even assists medical professionals with advanced healing. The Thunderhead is depicted as a benevolent entity whose sole purpose is to serve humanity, but then it develops a mind of its own and starts making decisions outside of human control.

Image of "Arc of a Scythe" series by Neal Shusterman box set-science-fiction-AI-google-ChatGPT

Shusterman explores, in Arc of a Scythe, the double-edged sword of AI and how beneficial technology can be to preserving the human race, but also what could happen if this AI had its own ideas about what’s best for humanity.

Further Reading

These moral questions might seem dark and dreary (as so many Science Fiction books tend to be), but there are other, more optimistic views on how AI can transform our lives for the better. One of the most magical things about Science Fiction is its ability to predict the future. Among the many are George Orwell’s 1984, which foresaw technology’s ability to follow humanity’s every move, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which anticipated mood-altering medications and the dangers of overpopulation.

While these novels have a rather cynical outlook on how technology can be used against humanity, there are others that explore what would happen if robots became our friends.

Optimistic Perspectives on AI in Science Fiction

In The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez, a robot named Mack aims to earn his citizenship in Empire City so that he can live among the humans. This proves to be a complicated process, but then Mack ends up trying to save his city despite the prejudices against him that the human citizens carry.

Cover of "The Automatic Detective" by A. Lee Martinez-science-fiction-AI-google-ChatGPT

Another robot companion friendly to humans is Marvin the Paranoid Android in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams. Marvin isn’t exactly a delight to be around because he often monologues about the meaninglessness of life. However, his conversations with humans about the mistreatment he suffers from them serve as a reminder to readers that it’s important to respect all entities, regardless of their status as organic or artificial intelligence.

Six covers of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series by Douglas Adams-science-fiction-AI-google-ChatGPT

Things to Consider

Even though I don’t think any book can precisely predict the future with 100% accuracy, there are many stories that contain wisdom regarding what to do in the event that AI becomes advanced enough to be incorporated into our everyday lives. However, a unique premise that has not been explored—as far as I know—in fiction is the idea that AI can create art.

While I am optimistic about AI being used to help people in the future and develop companionship with humans, I do not think that AI should be allowed to replace real humans in the creative arts. That is a space solely dedicated to the human touch.

Would humans be able to fully express themselves in the future if all art, especially writing, was completely taken over by AI? Do we as humans even have the right to deny an intelligent entity its creativity and self-expression? Will AI ever be capable of those things, or is the power of imagination and empathy unique to living, breathing humans?

These questions are important to think about because whether we like it or not, AI is on humanity’s doorstep. And it’s up to us how to invite these intelligent entities in with the compassion, and perhaps caution, that they deserve.

Looking for more Science Fiction content? Click here.