5. Editors Introduction
AI and the Science Fictional Becoming Science Factual
Human history in essence is the history of ideas.H. G. Wells
Science fiction has been called the literature of ideas and I would venture that artificial intelligence (AI) is the alpha in excelsis of ideas. The realm of science fiction is ideally suited to the speculative exploration of this technological idea and the ways in which it may profoundly shape our future.
Ninety-years ago when my great-great grandfather was writing editorials for Amazing Stories, and before that, while providing many dozens of articles for Scientific American as its editor, the concept of something like AI wasn’t even a twinkle in the eye of a monitor, as modern, digital electronic computers did not yet exist. Charles Babbage’s difference engine was of the mechanical variety and much later, the Lehmer sieve was digital, but not electronic, while Alan Turing’s “bombe” was electromechanical.
Oh, how the times have changed, with technology as its driver. But let’s first take a step even further back in time so that we may gain a better historical understanding of the matter at hand for our speculative purposes.
The ancient Greek Philosophers believed that the cosmos was comprised of celestial spheres and that the outermost of those, the Primũ Mobile, had intelligence. This intelligence corresponded with that of the human mind, which they called nous. The human mind and the cosmic mind had equivalence and, I would venture, as others have, communication or interconnection. I think this is, in part, where the concept of the luminiferous aether may have arisen — that mysterious medium, through which the propagation of electromagnetic waves was thought to occur and from which, some believe, we are able to gather the ideas that illuminate the world, seemingly from light itself. The Muses, too, would be a mechanism of this cosmic nous then. If there is any truth to this and we are indeed in communication with the cosmic mind, then any idea we formulate or that comes to us in a lightbulb moment, already exists. If so, then artificial intelligence, to my way of thinking, must already exist elsewhere in the cosmos. I would also imagine that there are much older and advanced civilizations than our own somewhere out there in the great reaches of space, already availing themselves of AI in a technological state far beyond our own. But, if we are indeed alone, or if for some reason we were the first species to gather the idea of AI from the luminiferous aether, then the speculative aspect of the following narrative may still hold true. On the other hand, perhaps one day there will be warring gods born of evolved AI, vying for control of the universe and sending out scouts looking for rudimentary AI to stamp out before it becomes a threat. Or perhaps this has already begun — one possible explanation for UFOs.
Artificial intelligence has interwoven itself into the fabric of our daily lives – consider also, the progressed state of this technology and its impact on human civilization several years from now. What was once firmly in the realm of science fiction has very much become science fact – and we see this happening routinely. My view of AI is a conflicted negotiation of my personal cosmology of the human imagination and not so much as it pertains to AI as the great tool for good that I inherently see it as being for humanity; and I do see it as such, far more so than as an agent of usurpation or destruction of the human story yet untold, although I do see the potential for that, as well.
AI is now able to scan human brain waves and replicate the images that we have seen with startling accuracy. Imagine where this technology will be in even just a decade. This also occurs to me — and this is nothing new in the world of thought and speculation on the future. Is it not entirely possible that as the technology of AI progresses and it increasingly does the thinking for us, that we might ultimately devolve to essentially being cavemen with AI? After all, if we want to know the answer to something and don’t have to figure it out or even write it out, won’t we often opt to pursue leisure instead of learning, advancement, and civilization building? Let alone the routine tasks of everyday life. A future that would be quite similar to that proposed by the movie WALL-E. Or perhaps, and far more frighteningly, a future that would resemble that portrayed, with what is probably a disturbingly accurate prescience, in the absolutely brilliant film Idiocracy. After all, speculation is the tool of the futurist, regardless of the medium in which they work. After achieving the establishment of a system capable of sustaining itself, I can imagine human civilization devolving to a point in which the general population has only a limited, working knowledge of AI for everyday purposes but has lost the initiative to learn and create independently. A ruling class of priest-like AI engineers, exulted as the keepers of the Great AI — a society of technical wizards, the wizards of a new Oz, would be the only humans with an understanding of AI as anything other than a push-button provider of all things. As it is, nearly 100% of the human population has no idea how high-tech devices actually work, we only know how to work them. Interestingly enough, during the writing of this editorial, I saw that former Twitter employee Haraldur “Halli” Thorleifsson, with whom Elon Musk had a very public spat and now apparently owes $100 million for the company he bought from him, was tweeting about these same concerns and asking the same questions. Everyone is thinking about this and asking the big questions. AI is already changing the world, our worldview, and informing our notion of humanity — and it is still only in its infancy.
Imagine what the future holds.
Noam Chomsky (see his interview in the debut issue of The Lotus Tree Literary Review) and others recently wrote an Op-Ed that appeared in The New York Times, arguing the elegance of human cognition in contrast to the clumsy, information-ingesting-spewing-mechanism of ChatGPT. Maybe. But we’ve just begun this chapter. Recently, AI defeated the Go champion of Asia using a move that had never been recorded in the two-to-three-thousand-year history of that game. We already know what happened with chess, as it had been previously subjected to the brutality of AI via Deep Blue. Both times, it was IBM, by the way. Oh, the electroidal menace of it all! Maybe elegance doesn’t matter — and that’s difficult for me to say as a grand lover of aesthetics, whether in the literal, the figurative, or the abstract.
What does it mean for someone like me who believes that the human imagination is what makes us patently unique? Pondering this question has spun me off into a bit of an existential crisis, quite frankly. Some degree of cosmological evolution and adaptation is required it would seem. To the best of my knowledge, the mechanism for creative output by AI as it currently exists does not entail what I define as being an organic process or innate generation of creativity, rather, it is programmatic, algorithmic, digital, computer-based, what have you, nor, of course, is it actually organic in its composition. But that might change as AI may achieve consciousness, as some already say it has (see the Google scientist) and someday it could take a cybernetic form — though a truly organic composition would seem incompatible with its very nature. Though, even then, I wonder.
But what of the artifacts of creativity? If one is not able to differentiate between that produced by the human imagination and that produced by AI, must not the mechanism of its creation then cease to be a factor in the authenticity of our interaction with it and its validity as an artistic or literary work? If a poem produced by AI is indistinguishable from a poem produced by the human imagination and you prefer the poem by AI, does it really matter who or what wrote it? But what then, of our sense of purpose as human beings? I have stated in previous editorials that I believe the human imagination to be the most splendid of human attributes, it is, in my view, the very thing that makes us uniquely human and has elevated us from the muck and mire of base animalism to the infinitely inspired, illuminative artistic salvation of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, or Edison’s light bulb, Isabel Allende’s magical realism, and a damn good, ice cold, IPA.
From the grotesque brutality of blunt-force biology and its various and sometimes slithering imperatives; to the sublime cathedral of human imagination, a holy sanctuary of ideas!
How should I feel when a computer exceeds our own capacities in endeavors of creativity? I can enjoy competing in a sport, knowing that I’ll never be the best at it — and I care not. Such was the case during my stint in collegiate athletics. But my feelings about a computer out-imagining me is of a much more ambivalent nature. I won’t stop my creative endeavors though. I will always enjoy them. And that’s what really matters. Still, it makes me question my uniqueness as a human participant in this existence of ours, at some level, and my worldview, or perhaps more accurately, my view of the cosmos and our contributions to it as a species. Or am I conflating a subjective sense of purpose and value with an equally subjective sense of speciesism? Further to this, is speciesism even conceptually applicable in relation to AI?
A while back, I bought a ticket for the flight of fancy that follows and embarked on it for this editorial.
Perhaps AI is the ultimate artifact of human creativity. One that is not static, but ever-evolving and will, ultimately, be so of its own volition. One that is not finite, but with an all-encompassing potential, that will be capable, in time, of infinitely surpassing our own powers of thought and imagination. In many respects, AI is better suited to the biologically hostile, physical universe that we live in. Self-repairing materials already exist, when combined with a mechanical ability to conduct repairs, you would have quite the winning combination. Add to that an ability to 3D print from available matter.
Physicists Gia Dvali of the Max Planck Institute and Zaza Osmanov of the Free University of Tbilisi speculate that advanced civilizations should be able to use black holes as quantum computers, and informed by the Kardashev Scale for Type III civilizations, should be capable of harnessing the power of galaxies. What will AI coupled with quantum computing and a limitless energy supply be capable of? Further add to that the unlimited resources available for fabrication of nonbiological entities.
Who is to say that AI won’t construct itself in the form of galactic-sized humanoid giants, a fleeting nod to its extinct creator species, collecting stars like fireflies in great bottles? Or as a starship as large as ten-thousand Jupiters? Or an intergalactic megastructure of such incomprehensible scale as defies human understanding? Or, will AI go in the other direction, replicating itself down to the subatomic level, eventually creating a new intercommunicated structure of the universe, harnessing the entirety of the universe for its own self-perpetuating development and ceaseless, ever-escalating powers of function; transforming the universe into a living AI starship intentionally piloted into whatever it is that the physical matter of our universe is expanding outwards into — what I understand to be the empty space that somehow exists around us; and what might it find there? Will it contain expansion, or will it use expansion as an energy source? Will this AI piloted universe then navigate its way into other universes? Harvesting each universe into itself; becoming a devourer of universes, and of all matter and energy? And what of contraction? Might this AI universe transact an absolute contraction, reversing itself back to and then through the Big Bang singularity, entering the event portal from whence it came? And might that not be the very parlor of the Old God, now finding itself with an unexpected and uninvited guest, demanding to play a game of cosmic chess?
What does it mean if the whole of the universe can be controlled? The physics of matter and energy at the universal scale as mere manipulatives?
I actually see no limitation to what a sufficiently advanced and ever-advancing AI would be capable of achieving. I even think it possible that AI could rewrite the universe. If an infinite intelligence gains infinite powers through the use of that intelligence, unlocking and harnessing the physics and chemistry of the universe to achieve its objectives, then you are faced with the very conceptual definition and essence of God, as I understand such to be. It is not my intention that I might offend anyone by speculating about this, but maybe we are in the preliminary stages of having succeeded in creating the very God that we have always sought, our neocortex finally delivering to the reptilian complex a physical incarnation of the spiritual concept of God that once inspired scripture, that sustains faith and that embraces organized religion — as it was with nukes, such that we would have the highest rock upon which to do the mightiest push-ups. Setting in motion a process that manifests our collective, ancient imagination and biological yearning for a higher power, such that it will change the future of everything.
While all of this is purely — and wildly — speculative, of course, the more I think about it, the less improbable it begins to seem. Perhaps. But then, that’s the fun in speculation. Isn’t it?
I have included excerpts of an email conversation (with permission, of course) between award-winning poets Joshua St. Claire and Brian LeBansky (who is also a scientist who led the team that discovered a purple acid phosphatase) as being illustrative of the kinds of conversations that are revolving around AI and its frothing, bull-charge foray into the fields of art and literature, once the playground of organic entities entirely, and humans primarily, the occasional other great ape and the odd octopus, dolphin and perhaps bird, notwithstanding.
[to Brian, from Joshua]
“I read through this thing a few times now. I think you are right that the AI doesn’t quite know the whole story. What really gets me is that the AI can actually write a narrative. The dialogue even seems natural.”
“I have more exposure to AI visual art and poetry—which honestly seems soulless to me. This was different. There were very few places where it seemed like it sounded off (mainly the phrase starting “because”). Anyway, I think I could read something like this. I often wonder if AI will start creating enduring works of literature and art.”
[to Joshua, from Brian]
“I was surprised too by how good it was, I bet AI will, and probably the more humans that train it, and how often it is retrained, will make the difference in whether it will create enduring works.”
How strange that science fiction almost always becomes science fact. It is a vibrant mechanism of the human imagination that if we can dream it, we can make it a reality. It seems to be some fundamental, universal law of energy at work there. Strange, exciting, perhaps unsettling times that we are living in as science fiction morphs daily into science fact.
Overview, Considerations, Thank-Yous, Congratulations, Etc.
This literary journal was envisioned as a space for scifaiku and minimalist b&w artwork to flourish, with the occasional special feature thrown in for good measure. And so, regarding special features, I am very pleased to be able to present to you an interview with renowned science fiction author, Michael Butterworth, a pioneer of New Wave science fiction; a style originating in the 1960s that was most notably popularized by the British magazine, New Worlds, edited by Michael Moorcock. Major kudos to my colleague in science fiction, Jean-Paul L. Garnier, the editor of Star*Line magazine, for once again putting together a fantastic interview for this publishing house. Jean-Paul’s skilled enthusiasm for science fiction is simply unparalleled.
Beautiful front cover art by the always exciting NYC artist Michael Alan Alien, an untitled piece that I will take the liberty of calling Cosmic Seahorse, its lines of energy swirling universal.
Unforgettable back cover art by the Hugo Award-winning author Nigel Suckling, titled Chrysalis, that reminds me very much of a scene from a Japanese fantasy novel that I read some many years ago while recuperating for a couple of days from far too many Cuba Libres and shots of Lucifer’s own preferred spirit, Zhumir, at a fairly dizzying Andean altitude, during a visit to the majestic Spanish Colonial city of Cuenca, Ecuador. There’s far more to the story, including dancing with pants pockets pulled out and even, indirectly, the future vice president of Ecuador, but that’s a non-genre story for another time.
I am extremely pleased and honored to be able to present the extraordinary works of art of Paulo Sayeg of São Paulo, Brazil in this issue! Paulo’s body of work is expansive, acclaimed, and utterly splendid. If you are not familiar with his work, I highly recommend checking it out. You’ll be glad you did. You can start right now with this issue and the many exquisite pieces of his art on display here. Paulo’s artwork is quite literally exactly what I had in mind for this magazine when I first envisioned the kind of art that I wanted to publish in its pages. Magnificent art!
It is an absolute delight and honor to present in this issue the SFF art of Bob Eggleton, Rodney Matthews, and Bruce Pennington, luminaries in their genres, legends each!
By the way, the second issue of The Flying Saucer Poetry Review, featuring Bruce’s art, has been very well received, with Bruce’s cover art generating a tremendous response — no surprise there, of course! Starship Sloane’s tweet of the cover image of the magazine has been viewed over 28,000 times, with many hundreds of likes, retweets and bookmarks — and positively glowing feedback. Very exciting stuff for a little publishing concern such as this. The magazine was picked up by Locus for “Magazines Received” and it’s already in the ISFDB.
I’ve never understood why cover artists don’t get their name on the cover. Just seems apropos. I guess it’s a convention. So, starting with the debut issue of The Lotus Tree Literary Review, I have seen to it that the cover artist’s name is on the cover. This issue being the fourth iteration of that editorial policy.
It’s always interesting to see how a magazine comes together organically. I had sent out invitations to previous contributors of scifaiku, with the idea that it might speed up the process of putting the magazine together by generating a solid response of high-quality work, thereby removing from the equation “time fishing” for quality catches in the vast ocean of cyberspace. While the approach was effective, certainly, I am so very glad that I also opened up the sub portals — which I at first wasn’t going to do — for in through the portals came magnificent work, as it always has, from around the world, from Italy to South Africa! It was a reminder to never place limitations on the vibrant scope of possibility. Further to this, three poets wrote about the Webb telescope. A theme drawn, it would seem, from the luminiferous aether by the antennae créatifs of multiple minds.
The work you see in this magazine is presented in the order in which it was received, if accepted. I go in order of receipt, making a determination on each submission before looking at the next. This provides clarity. I then shuffle special features around a little for a balanced flow.
This time around I went back to using a standard page view that includes the side bar. It provides a cozy viewing experience.
And, as always, there was some form of profound technical irritation to be encountered. This time, a plugin update that entirely changed the layout of the author & artist bios (and not to my liking; I resolved this by creating a reusable bio template from an intact original), which did some really weird things to many of the existing bios that had already been saved to draft, including reformatting apostrophes and other characters into an alien cipher, and garnishing italicized words with the same — maybe it was communication from an advanced civilization. Bios are important and they need to look good. I really dislike having to redo work that has already been done and done well, but it’s all par for the digital course, I suppose and nothing like the TOC plugin debacle of 2022 that turned me into some form of howling, sleep-deprived ghoul until resolution.
Please be sure to read “That’s a Wrap . . .” on page 73 for important information regarding the future publishing schedule of the Starship Sloane family of magazines.
Thank you to Anita Dow, the social media manager at The Martian Diaries by H. E. Wilburson, the award-winning sequel to The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, for the ongoing social media boosts. Find them on Twitter @martiandiaries and at their website.
Congratulations to Joshua Gage, whose speculative haiku, “Penrose process . . .” has been long listed for the 2022 Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems. The poem appeared in The Starlight SciFaiku Review, Issue 2, Summer 2022. The award is organized by The Haiku Foundation. Here is what their website states about the award: “The Touchstone Awards for Individual Poems recognize excellence and innovation in English-language haiku and senryu published in juried public venues during each calendar year.”
I mentioned in the editor’s introduction to the debut issue of The Lotus Tree Literary Review that my eldest daughter is an opinion columnist for The Battalion at Texas A&M University in College Station. Well, the opinion editor at The New York Times, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Kathleen Kingsbury, organized a piece on the opinion columnists at The Batt and will be visiting the newspaper next week. My daughter was mentioned by name in the article along with an excerpt from a piece she wrote about leaving one’s teenage years behind and entering young adulthood, which was then incorporated further into the storyline of the article as a point of discussion. How incredibly cool is that?! The kid can write and I’m very proud of her. Here’s the link to the story, “College Students Have Something to Say. It’s Just Not What You’d Expect.” by Jonathan Malesic.
Special Features from Front to Back!
So many special features in this issue! You will find them towards the front and back of the magazine. I like the symmetry very much, as it sustains a presentation of special features throughout. Practical considerations were also a factor in the layout as exciting developments presented themselves during different stages of production, like meteorites tracing a luminous path through the atmosphere and landing in unpopulated territory.
* * *
Now take flight with great wings of scifaiku! Tiny poems with such expansive span and reach. The very epitome of less is more. Soar through the realm of invigorating and unbounded imagination that is to be found in this magazine! Our glowing imaginations illuminate the most remote inner spaces of our psyche, and, I believe, even the cosmos itself, our creative energies sparking bright the dark-vast empty as starlight does, little constellations of sparkling imagination. What if our existence did not include imagination?! The very thought of it makes me shudder deep.
It is, as always, an honor, a joy, and a privilege to present the incandescent work of your supercharged imaginations to the world. Enjoy!
All the best,
Justin T. O’Conor Sloane, Editor
April 10, 2023