Mother of Invention

A Twelfth Planet Press anthology

Category: Essays

AI as the Other, AI as Family

By Aliette de Bodard

I wrote my first original AI by accident.

Before that, I’d made a few clumsy attempts to merge my writing and my day job (as a computer programmer specialising in machine learning, one of the foundational techniques of programming AIs). My AIs were, for the most part, derivative and unconvincing: vague, unformed ideas of programs giving birth to one another, of parallel consciousnesses I couldn’t properly describe or make into characters that felt real.

Then I wrote a story called “The Shipmaker” (later published in Interzone), about a maker of spaceships who met the woman incubating the organic intelligence meant to be a ship’s brain. I wrote it about motherhood and pregnancy and loss – and the AI in it was dead, or more accurately stillborn, never breathing or animating any circuits. Continue reading

The Gender in the Machine

By Katherine Cross

Would a true artificial intelligence, a sapient artificial lifeform, have a gender identity? Ask this of almost anyone and, regardless of their politics or background, they’ll give a firm “no”. Why should an AI have a gender at all? Surely, it’s regressive to suggest such a thing. To some, it goes against the biological purpose of gender.

On Quora, that font of crowdsourced hearsay and supposition, two men answered the question: “Would a truly artificial intelligent entity be genderless?” with repeated references to biology.

“Gender comes from a biological need for two organisms of different gender to have a sexual relationship to reproduce and sustain their species. When a species uses sex to reproduce, that species will have 2 genders,” wrote the first.

“Male and female are defined by what’s sticking out, or not. The only reason that part exists is because we need to reproduce. That’s why bacteria don’t have genders because they don’t need to reproduce,” added the second.

Neither seems to understand that the reason bacteria doesn’t have gender is because bacteria doesn’t think. (Each fellow could certainly stand to meditate on this fundamental kinship they share with our microscopic friends, but I digress.) Aside from the elementary error of confounding sex and gender—crudely, sex is biology, gender is the meaning we assign to that biology and to certain cultural practices—they also believe that gender exists only for facilitating reproduction. If AI can’t boink (yet another assumption, by the by), then it has no need for gender. Continue reading

Androids and Allegory

By K. Tempest Bradford

Dirty ComputerThe science fiction genre digs its allegories. Scratch the surface of any piece of literature, movie, or TV show that features alien races, advanced or mutant humans, robots, androids, or other forms of technology-based intelligence, and you will find a parallel or three to real-world marginalisation, oppression, and bigotry. SF writers love to create characters and entities that stand in for ‘the Other’ and craft scenarios that allow them to explore hatred and hierarchical attitudes a step or two removed from reality. As a speculative literary device, allegory has the power to open minds and change culture if done well. However, narratives that use robots and androids to represent the Other often don’t interrogate the assumptions about humanity at their core because they fail to answer one question: Why are so many androids white?

In books, movies, and television—from 1927’s Metropolis on down to 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War—most androids depicted visually have facial features that code as Caucasian (Bicentennial Man, 1999; I, Robot, 2004) or straight-up look like humans of European descent (Blade Runner, 1982; the Alien franchise, 1979–2017). There are a handful of exceptions to this which serve to highlight the problem and do little to alleviate it. Too often, when science fiction creators imagine artificial beings made in the image of humans, Human means white. So what happens when androids get to be Black? Allegory gets much less allegorical. Continue reading

Reflecting on Indigenous Worlds, Indigenous Futurisms and Artificial Intelligence

Here’s a special Mother of Invention preview: an essay by Ambelin Kwaymullina.  Ambelin is an Aboriginal writer and illustrator from the Palyku people. The homeland of her people is located in the dry, vivid beauty of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Ambelin has written and illustrated a number of award-winning picture books as well as writing a dystopian series – The Tribe – for young adults. When not writing or illustrating, Ambelin teaches law and spends time with her family and her dogs. 

I am a Palyku author of Indigenous Futurisms, a term coined by Anishinaabe academic Grace Dillon to describe a form of storytelling whereby Indigenous peoples use the speculative fiction genre to challenge colonialism and imagine Indigenous futures.[1] Indigenous Futurist writers draw from worldviews shaped by our ancient cultures, from our inheritance of the multigenerational trauma of colonialism, and from the sophisticated understandings of systems of oppression that are part of the knowledge base of all oppressed peoples. Because of this, we share similarities that shape our works and provide a fruitful base for cross-textual analysis.[2] But because we are many individuals from many Indigenous nations, each with our own homelands, cultures, and identities, there is also great diversity between us all. As such, my viewpoint is one among many Indigenous viewpoints. Continue reading

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