Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: May 22, 2021, 5:57 a.m. Humanist 35.34 - favourite stories?

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 34.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
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        Date: 2021-05-21 19:30:36+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty <>
        Subject: favourite stories?

Full of questions, I know. Here's the next one.

I'm looking for short stories, novels or imaginative essays or lectures
and the like that you find especially useful or inspiring for thinking
about the kind of relation we as scholars would like to have with our
machines. Three examples of the sort I'm asking about: a novel, a short
story and a lecture: Kazuo Ishiguro's Klara and the Sun (2021); Steven
Millhauser's "The New Automaton Theatre" ( 1999); Italo Calvino's
"Cybernetics and Ghosts" (1967).

In 2017, computer scientist Hector Levesque, in Common Sense, the Turing
Test and the Quest for Real AI, wrote as follows after declaring his
belief that "AI is almost certainly possible..."

> But if AI really is possible, why haven’t we done it yet? The year
> 2001 has come and gone and we are still nowhere near the sort of
> intelligent computer seen in the movie 2001, among many others. (One
> definition of AI is that it is the study of how to make computers
> behave the way they do in the movies!)
> I think there are two main reasons. The first is obvious: we are
> behind what earlier enthusiasts predicted (including Marvin Minsky,
> who was a consultant on 2001), because we don’t yet fully understand
> what is needed.  (p. 131)

I'm not interested in his second reason (not enough demand for it),
rather the first, and in a sense which he seems not to have in mind. It
seems to me that, with the help of the creative talent we have nearby 
(such as Ishiguro), we could help with that first problem by arguing for
"what is needed". Hence my question: where should we go, to what authors
and stories that imagine possible or at least conceivable futures to work

Thanks for any suggestions.


Willard McCarty,
Professor emeritus, King's College London;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews;  Humanist

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