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Why Do We Have Such a Powerful Emotional Reaction to AI in Science Fiction?

AI: What is Real?

I’ve always been deeply, deeply affected by AI (Artificial Intelligence) in fiction. Blade Runner, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and Humans are especially important examples because they express the potential for goodness and connection more so than the dangers of enslaved humans as depicted in films like: The Terminator and The Matrix (also very important AI movies). Generally, humans are the danger, the oppressors, instead of the other way around.

They explore the most difficult questions of reality and deeply painful questions of acceptance and belonging. Whether religious or not, most people do not claim to know exactly how life as we know it came to be, though it’s something we’re all inherently bound to by emotion and curiosity. I think one thing that these works of fiction might tap into, is that hole that’s in all of us.

It’s almost a way to vicariously explore our own feelings about creation, because in fiction, AI beings are often able to actually solve those mysteries. They can track down the very point of their inception, and in many cases, even track down the still-alive human (their “God”) that created them and ask “Why?” Because life is messy and painful, this usually doesn’t end well, with great feelings of resentment.

It’s a difficult duality to cope with. On one hand, I’m very happy to be alive. On the other, if I didn’t exist, obviously I wouldn’t care. But, since we are thrown into this world without any choice in the matter, at least those of us that don’t kill ourselves, we generally do whatever it takes to survive. But why? Are our lives so absolutely amazing, that we’d do anything just for a chance to have one more day?

I can’t speak for everyone, but I think in reality, we all settle for at least comfort, where we have very redundant lives, doing the same things over and over, every day with little excitement or change. So, I think what it’s really about is hope, the romantic, but irrational feeling that if we hold out just a little bit longer, that that wonderful place of enlightenment and pure joy and bliss will be just around the corner. But, for most, I think we live a pretty simple life and then die. It wouldn’t have ever mattered one way or another, and that’s okay.

Without trying to stumble around in the grandiose much further, I think AI in fiction also touches on some very subtle aspects of the human experience, like very nuanced positive and negative interactions with others. AI beings in fiction are often greatly more perfect (but usually not completely so) than ourselves, and certainly much more logical and efficient. They’re able to read body language and call us on our petty bullshit and areas of insecurity and weakness like: jealousy, envy, lust, greed, etc.

They’re able to step back and smell the roses with much more appreciation than we can, and sometimes resent us for our stupidity and destructiveness, when it’s so obvious to them what we should be doing to make things better. We see something in them that we wish we had, like the ability to look past: sex, gender, skin color, politics, etc. Because they’re so highly advanced and intelligent, they aren’t held back by these sort of trappings and fears. Like math, it’s perfectly clear to them.

Perhaps like our own children, who become a mirror to shine a light on the bullshit of our life, AI is the perfect mirror to reveal the truth of our reality and society. Whether it comes in the form of our destruction, to greatly improve our quality of life, to lead us to enlightenment, or to become the next evolution of intelligent life on earth, maybe, just maybe, we know we’re broken and are looking for AI to observe us, judge us, and ultimately save us from ourselves.

We’re cruel and manipulative creatures. We like to think of ourselves as a global community, but really, we’re just selfish. We don’t have the kind of intelligence, efficiency, ability, rationality, or objectivity to truly be the hive mind required to fix our lives. So, in a way, maybe the true root of our interest (obsession) in AI, is salvation. If there is no such thing as God, if we’ve finally learned that no matter what, history will always repeat itself, then maybe the only way out is to create our own judgement day. And in that, fiction along these lines is a sort of fantasy fulfillment.

I probably hit on some points that get closer to the truth of the question:

Why Do We Have Such a Powerful Emotional Reaction to AI in Science Fiction?

But, because I am just a human after all, I’m too stupid to pinpoint it exactly. Whatever it is, it certainly hits home with me as a human being, but also very personally as me. These stories trigger something very intimate in me that has me breaking down in tears.

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Black

Crypt Keeper at Halloween Love
I ♥ Halloween. I am the creator, editor, and keeper of Halloween Love. Although you'll find new creeps about helping me to maintain these macabre archives of dread. Reach me at black@halloweenlove.com.