Ted Chiang became famous for his short philosophical stories. His début collection, “Stories of Your Life and Others” (2002), garnered multiple awards and included “Story of Your Life,” which reëxamined the phenomena of time and memory in terms of language.
In his second collection called "Exhalation", he addresses issues relating to bioethics, virtual reality, free will & determinism, time travel, and the uses of robotic forms of A.I.
A story about free will:
A message from the future warns the reader about the invention of Predictors, machines with one button and one LED that blinks 1s before the button is pressed. This invention proves people don't really have free will and some descend into akinetic mutism (not being able to move or talk).
The recommendation is to act as if free will exists. Will it make a difference? Not really.
The letter ends with the author observing his warning will have no effect on the future. "Why did I do it? Because I had no choice."
The story about the nature of consciousness follows Ana & Derek as they raise digital creatures (Jax, Marco & Polo) from pets to almost-human intelligent creatures.
The core idea is that consciousness can not be programmed but evolved: "it takes at least twenty years of steady effort to produce a useful person, & I see no reason that teaching an artificial being would go any faster." AI needs to be raised like children. Being a parent raises some heavy issues: what is love and how do we get it? Why does the world contain evil pain and loss? How can we discover dignity? Who is in power and why?
if we want to give an AI any responsibilities then it will need good answers to these questions. That's not going to happen by loading the works of Kant into the computer's memory.
Every quality that made a person more valuable than a database was a product of experience.
A story about the relationship between our interpretation of reality and written text:
In the future, a journalist observes how the world, his daughter, and he himself are affected by "Remem", a form of lifelogging which grants its users perfect memory through recording. He notices how his memories are inacurate when checked.
In a parallel narrative strand, a Tiv man is one of the first of his people to learn to read and write, and discovers that this technology not be compatible with oral tradition. As the oral version sustained the culture his people decides not to use it.
Words are not just pieces of speaking, they are pieces of thinking. Writing let you look at your thoug hits in a way you couldn't if you were just talking.
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