Thursday, November 19, 2015

Looking for Gordo, by Robert J. Sawyer

Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Inspired by Microsoft, 2015; ~8,300 words
Rating: 3, Good, ordinary, story

After mankind receives the first message from another civilization, there is a huge debate about whether to send our own messages. A mock trial is held to hear both sides. Entertaining exploration of alien languages, machine learning, and dialogue systems.

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: There really is a story here. Emily comes to the trial to argue for METI only to see it defeated in the end. The conclusion can be read as supporting either side in the argument.

The notion of building an AI to allow easy querying of the Alien database is fascinating. The descriptions of the Fermi paradox and of data mining are very reasonable.

Although the story contains a lot of infodumps about the aliens, the author cleverly introduces the aliens first, leaving us eager for explanations. Then each explanation raises its own set of questions, such that only at the end of the story do we realize just how much of it was pure info. The result is actually fun to read.

Con: There isn't much of a story here. Emily is a passive character through most of the story.

The AI in the story is far beyond anything we know how to do. The nets used for data mining are reasonable, with the caveat that they appeared to require almost none of the laborious training that modern neural nets require.

And the idea that Ursula's people never, ever conceived of the idea that any race could journey in space beggars belief. It's also hard to believe the AI hadn't already learned all of this itself from its contact with other people--or even with the lawyers preparing their cases.

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