Followings are two unique tales about artificial intelligence:
Tomorrow is Waiting
Jim Henson’s Muppets have been an integral part of pop culture since 1955, when they first debuted on television, making appearances in everything from the Emmy Awards to Late Night. The Muppets, as lifelike as they seem on screen, are puppets — given voice and motion by human puppeteers.
But, what if they weren’t?
Holli Mintzer’s Tomorrow is Waiting is a taut, hopeful exploration of what it means to be alive. It begins with a programmer named Anjali who is tasked with creating an A.I. for her finals. She decides to model her project on Kermit the Frog, concluding the abundance of available footage would make her labor a breeze. From there, events take a turn for the unusual. Anjali’s Kermit acquires a body courtesy of Anjali’s friend Brian, and then a sense of genial autonomy that both bewilders and enchants his creator. When Anjali claims to be tone-deaf, he warmly replies:
Aw, I wouldn’t say tone-deaf, Anji,” Kermit said. “I’ve heard you humming along a few times. Tone-confused, maybe, but I bet with a little practice you could get better.”
Though Mintzer doesn’t waste words on long descriptions, the story is nonetheless festooned with charm and a surprising amount of heart. Its greatest triumph, perhaps, is that it is a refreshingly uplifting read about artificial intelligence, a rarity in this time of dystopian universes and post-apocalyptic mayhem.
Silently and Very Fast
Strange, surreal, and utterly sublime, Silently, and Very Fast takes an unusual route into well-trodden country. The story is told from a first person perspective by an artificial intelligence named Elefsis, who begins life as a labyrinthine house designed by a cryptic woman. Through its rambling soliloquy, we learn about the children that ran rampant through its veins, and how Elefsis evolved from reactive domestic automata to the singular lifeform capable of cogitating on the validity of its own existence.
All she hears is the line from the old folktales: a machine cannot have feelings. But that is not what I am saying, while I dance in my fool’s uniform. I am saying: Is there a difference between having been coded to present a vast set of standardized responses to certain human facial, vocal, and linguistic states and having evolved to exhibit response b to input a in order to bring about a desired social result?
Silently and Very Fast is rich with phantasmagorical imagery, a fact most vividly illustrated in Elefsis’s interactions with Neva, a human girl who conveys her emotions with physical metamorphosis. Nothing is ever concretely explained. Elefsis tells us that it is responsible for monitoring Neva’s “air and moisture and vital signs,” but we’re never instructed on why. We know that there’s a dreamscape called the Interior in which Elefsis lives, but not whether it is something universal among artificial intelligences in this world.
That said, Silently and Very Fast never loses sight of its emotional core, which is built on concepts of identity. Can something artificial ever be made into something real? Where do we draw the line between sapience and sentience And most crucially, what is the definition of being human?