Friday, October 7, 2016

In the Absence of Instructions to the Contrary, by Frank Wu

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(SF Robot) Karl is a robot exploring the sea floor. The exploring goes well, but reporting back has problems. (6,235 words; Time: 20m)

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ Not Recommended
Recommended By: Readers

"," by (edited by Trevor Quachri), appeared in issue 11|16, published on by .

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

Pro: Karl eventually finds a purpose more meaningful that trying to woo Adeline.

Con: There are too many suspension-of-belief busters. No scientist would send away an expensive probe and expect zero data return for five years. And if her probe came back professing its love for her, she'd have it report in and get it fixed.

The story has trouble deciding whether it's humor or not. The love messages to Adeline are funny, but also irrelevant to the plot. On the other hand, the destruction of the human race is about as grim as you can get.

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6 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. Hey, Greg, sorry my story disappointed you. The intervals of checking in every five years was chosen very deliberately. Unlike humans, many creatures on this planet live less than 5 years (indeed, most are killed/eaten within the first year). With a 5 year mission, Karl could observe the entire life cycle of an organism from birth to reproduction to death. Animals move around and if he had to leave to surface to check in (comm through the water is much skintzier), he might lose that particular animal or miss a key part of its life cycle. His ability to watch 24/7 is critical, because many animals are nocturnal (one scientist studying cat ear mites experimented by putting them in his own ear, which helped him discover that they feed at night). As for whether Adaline would recall Karl or go on a 800 mile repair mission if he oddly professed his love, one of the things I was hinting at is the emotional imbalance between Karl and Adaline. For Karl, Adaline is everything, the center of his world. For Adaline, Karl is only one of many, many probes she's launched all over the world. If a couple flake out, well, whatever, as long as they keep sending data. This is all hinted at, in the story. Part of Karl's tragedy is that Adaline does not requite his love. She's sort of indifferent to him. Anyway, that's what I was thinking with those issues. I hope you like my next story better. It will probably be more consistently grim. F

    1. One wonders, though, why the probe doesn't surface once a week and send back data. Yes, that means there will be gaps in the data, but all probes have that anyway. (Look at the Kepler mission for a dramatic example, where it was looking for transits [which last minutes] so any interruption might miss some.)

      As for emotional AI, since I have a background in AI, I have trouble treating them as any different from children's stories with talking trains and cars. I generally can't suspend disbelief for them unless they're humorous.

      Finally, if I had sent many, many probes out around the world, and one of them showed a serious software error, I would be a great pains to retrieve that probe and find out what went wrong so I could fix it before all the other probes started showing the same problem.

  2. I was at MidAmericon listening to Frank do this story at his reading. Maybe you would have liked it better with the slide show, Greg! :-)

    1. I always have trouble with emotional-AI stories. After 30 years working on real AI, I have trouble suspending disbelief. They put me in mind of children's stories where cars and planes and trains have feelings and emotions.

  3. There is no accounting for taste. I loved this and it made my Hugo short list.

    1. I had the same problem with "Today I am Paul" last year--for many of the same reasons.