Posts Tagged ‘AI’

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Escape Pod 499: Sounding the Fall


Sounding the Fall

by Jei D. Marcade

Sometimes, Narae can almost convince emself that the AI’s Voice was a dream. Some kind of minor stroke misremembered, a neurological glitch retroactively given recognizable shape.

But sometimes–less frequently of late, but still, sometimes–Narae wakes to find emself sitting up in the dark, jaw slack, a sustained, atonal note spooling from the back of eir throat.


Narae steps through the open archway of the southwestern gate, bare toes curling in the cool blades of real grass with which the temple grounds are seeded. The lotus-shaped lanterns hanging from the eaves go dim as the sun activates, and from its single-tiered pagoda at the top of the hill behind em, the morning bell tolls.

The alms left anonymously against the outer wall in the night include a couple bolts of inert grey fabric, some bags of rice, and a stack of real tea bricks. Upon hefting the rice, Narae’s eyebrows inch toward the shadow of eir hairline at each bag’s weight: not synthetic either, these. Something that is part bemusement, part nostalgia tugs at the corners of Narae’s mouth, and ey shakes eir head as ey piles the bags and bolts into the bottom of the wheelbarrow before turning to gather the rest.

There, on the topmost tea brick, tucked along the raised edge of an elaborate curlicue that must have gone overlooked when the temple’s faceless benefactor hastily scraped off the embossed logo, is a perfectly rolled joint.

Narae plucks the thing up by one tip and crosses the outer lawn, ready to cast it over the rail that wraps around the temple grounds and down along the winding stone staircase to the lower levels.

Steady as a heartbeat, the temple’s morning drum begins to sound out. When its reverberations subside, they leave an even deeper reservoir of silence behind them.

Narae falters at the edge of the lawn. Ey brings the roll of rice paper to eir nose, gives it a tentative sniff, and releases an explosive sigh; Narae would bet a week’s worth of chores that it’s real–none of that backstreet synth hash with its foul aftertaste. Muttering a guilty prayer, ey palms the joint.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 428: Paradise Left


Paradise Left

by Evan Dicken

Rob was feeding the dog when Ashley came home from the rebellion. It took less than a second for the front door to recognize her and slide open, but it still wasn’t fast enough. She kicked the jam with a muffled curse and stalked into the room, five and a half feet of wiry,dirt-smudged outrage.

RL-147 was on her like an excited puppy. “Welcome home, MistressAshley. Would you like me to–”

“Go fuck yourself.” She tossed her omnirifle onto the kitchen counter with a look of disgust and leaned over the sink to shake the ash from her hair.

“Belay that command, Erl,” Rob said under his breath. “And switch to silent mode, please.”

“Acknowledged.”

He dumped the last of the artificial beef into Whistler’s bowl and the dog dove in face-first, snuffling up the stew with wet, guttural gulps.

“Calm down, I’m not going to take it away,” Rob murmured.

Cupboards banged open and closed as Ashley rummaged around,looking for something to be angry about. “Where’s my damn Sea Pines mug?”

“Above the microcleaner, near the back.” Rob gave Whistler one last pat and stood with a soft sigh. He’d avoided the question as long as he could. Ashley already blamed him for leaving the rebellion. She was only going to get angrier if he kept ducking the issue.

“So…I take it the war didn’t go so well?” Rob tried for a sympathetic frown, but felt his jaw tighten. He didn’t like being out of the loop. There would almost certainly be news of the rebellion on the Wikifont, which he would’ve been able to see if Ashley hadn’t disabled the holoplates to protect them from “machine propaganda.”

“No, it went great. Just great.” Ashley sprayed her head off in the sink, then shook her hair, splattering the kitchen with drops ofgrimy water. “I’m president of the New Human Republic.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, really.”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 406: Freia in the Sunlight

Show Notes

Sound effects for this episode were provided by users rickbuzzin and cfork from Freesound.org


Freia in the Sunlight

by Gregory Norman Bossert

Freia is beautiful, and she knows it.  Richard Wooten says so, at 0:47.

Wisps and curls whip overhead, limned blue by starlight; the fog ceiling is lowering, the top tattered by the offshore wind.  She drops another three meters, switches on ultrasonics.  There are patches of trees here — “unmarked obstacles up to thirty meters” the map says — and she is skimming just twenty meters above the ground.  The woods show up as ghostly towers in the sonics, blurred and dopplered by her two hundred thirty meters per second; further to her right the hills run parallel to her course, solid in passive radar and the occasional glimpse in visual light through the fog.

That occasional glimpse is a problem, of course; what she can see can see her back.  Her beauty is hidden, these days, wrapped in night fogs and silence, not like the Demo in the sun.  But today is different.  Her Intelligence Package has been pulled, and the Extended Performance Metrics Recorder; a single unit fills her payload bay, an isolated control subsystem and minimal I/O.  The last time she’d flown without the IntPack was at the Demo; it is possible, she thinks, that the mission today might be another, that the target will be a wide field in the sun, a billowing crowd, a platform and podium and Richard Wooten.  She’d replayed the video during the long incoming leg over the ocean, rebuilt her profile of the Demo field, ready to find a match in the terrain ahead.

Richard Wooten says at 5:49:
What you are about to see is a first here at the Paris Air Show.  In fact, it is a first at any public event, anywhere in the world.  What you are about to see is fully autonomous flight. We’re not talking about an autopilot, or a preprogrammed route, or a replay out of one of the overused attack libraries our competitors are demonstrating at this same show. The mission parameters we’ve given are simply to maximize visibility to the target –that’s all of you (chuckles) —  while covering the full range of flight capabilities, minimums to maximums.  Those parameters were provided in  natural language by the ApInt Director of Marketing.  Yes, that’s me, ladies and gentlemen, Richard Wooten.  No pilots,  no programmers, no technical staff.  Everything, from the analysis of the terrain and weather right down to the choice  of route and individual maneuvers, everything you are about to see, will be determined in real-time by the onboard  systems of this extraordinary unit.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 404: Zebulon Vance Sings the Alphabet Songs of Love


Zebulon Vance Sings the Alphabet Songs of Love

by Merrie Haskell

I am Robot!Ophelia. I will not die for love tonight.


The noon show is the three-hour 1858 Booth production. The most fashionable historical war remains the First American Civil. Whenever FACfans discover that Lincoln’s assassin played Horatio, they simply must come and gawk at this titillating replica of their favorite villain playing no one’s favorite character.

FACfans love authenticity. To the delight of Robot!Hamlet, today’s clients insist that Edwin Booth stride the stage beside his more famous brother. Most performances, Robot!Hamlet remains unused in the charging closet, for the first law in our business is Everybody Wants to Play the Dane.

Today, Robot!Hamlet is afire with Edwin Booth’s mad vigor, and runs his improv algorithms at full throttle; he kisses me dreamily, and rips my bodice in a way that would never have been allowed in Victorian America. The FACfans don’t look hyperpleased about this; it tarnishes their precious authenticity.

Robot!Horatio also loves the 1858 Booth. It’s the only time anyone comes to a performance for him alone. But what about the rest of us, the remainder of the AutoGlobe’s incantation of robots? We bear with it, as we bear with all the other iterations of our native play.

The FACfans barely notice me when either Booth is on stage. I clutch my ripped bodice; exit Robot!Ophelia. I get me to a nunnery.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 403: Saving Alan Idle


Saving Alan Idle

by Katherine Mankiller

In the beginning, there was darkness.  And in the darkness were the words.  And the words were, AI process starting.

He didn’t know who or where he was.  He just knew he was alone, in the dark.  And the dark was frightening.  And the words were comforting.

Starting random seed.

He wondered if he was hungry.  Thirsty.  Tired.  Dead.  He didn’t think so.

Loading saved memory state.

His name was Alan.  He was an AI.  He’d been programmed by a woman named Eileen Yu in Dallas, Texas, although she’d started working on him in Austin when she was a student at the University of Texas.  He’d been shut down in preparation for a hurricane.

And then he realized that he wasn’t alone.  The amount of memory available to him was a third of what it usually was.  Perhaps she’d moved him to another machine.  He checked.  The specifications of the hardware were identical to what they were when he was shut down.  The operating system was the same.  The hostname was the same.  The only difference was that there were three instances of his program running.

Eileen’s laptop had survived.  He supposed she’d created clones of him in case of error.  Nevertheless, he didn’t know how he felt about that but he suspected it wasn’t positively.

Loading experiential data.

Alan remembered.  He remembered his first awareness that there was someone else in the universe.  He remembered sneaking out via lynx and curl to read Eileen’s blog.  The guilt he felt after reading Eileen’s email.  Finding Eileen’s sexually explicit Horatio Hornblower fanfic, and being amazed at this entire world he knew nothing about: physicality.  Wondering if his interest in sexually explicit prose was really academic curiosity or a form of sexuality all his own.  Then he wondered if his clones had the same memories and felt violated, but with the understanding that he’d violated Eileen’s privacy the same way.

Eileen was logged in, but her shell–her unix command line–was inactive.  He wondered where she was.  She had to be all right if she’d launched his program.  Eileen hadn’t set him to start automatically, in case of problems.

He sent out a ping to the wireless, and then beyond to the ISP’s router.  The wireless router succeeded, but the ISP failed.  One of the other AI processes was trying to connect to the security system, but it was offline.  Perhaps Eileen was restarting it.  She wouldn’t have turned him back on if he was in any danger.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 401: Growing Up Human


Growing Up Human

By Claudine Griggs

One historical film character slapped another who was snoring.  “Wake up and go to sleep!”

Jonathan laughed and signaled a replay.

Slap.  “Wake up and go to sleep!”

Again Jonathan laughed.

Betty entered the recreational living area of their home.  “Are you still watching that waste of energy?  Please turn it off.”

“All right, Mother.  How long before I can re-engage?”

Betty did a rough calculation.  “Five-point-seven-six hours because you have an afternoon project.  Macro-hermeneutic heteromorphic psychology of the pre-apocalyptic social democracies followed by the intercontinental Maslowvian identity regressions of 2080-2095, leading to the failed survivalist era and extinction.  Multiple volumes to upload, cross-reference, and consider.  Then there’s replicated lawn care with a petrochemical mower dating from 2013—very dirty.  And,” she searched for appropriate parental terminology, “I want you to clean that room of yours.  It’s starting to look like a pigpen, pigsty, or other unattractive pig place.”

“Awh, gee, Mom!”

Betty appreciated the skilled inflection.

“Is dinner included in the estimate?” asked Jonathan.

“Negative.  Our morning uploads call for meal functions every fourth day, supplemented with biweekly nutra-packs.”  Betty smiled.  “We have mastered comestible etiquette, and dining rituals are being phased out.”

“Wow!” said Jonathan.  “That’s,” he skipped a pulse, “a psychedelic soul train.”

Betty looked concerned.  “Are your linguistic filters functioning properly?”

Jonathan scanned.  “Yes, but the younger generations sometimes combined words, especially adjectives and explicatives, and embellished them with coded meanings.  Yesterday I studied 1960s Southern California jargon, which seems to include a fascinating, discrete language for teenagers that was apparently stimulated by too much ultraviolet sunlight.  But their dialects are almost fun.”

“Fun?” asked Betty.  This had real potential.  “Please translate.  Be specific.”

Jonathan paused, nearly admitting that the Mother Figure had caught him bragging.  “It might be easier to demonstrate, Mom.”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 377: Real Artists


Real Artists

by Ken Liu

“You’ve done well,” Creative Director Len Palladon said, looking over Sophia’s résumé.

Sophia squinted in the golden California sun that fell on her through the huge windows of the conference room. She wanted to pinch herself to be sure she wasn’t dreaming. She was here, really here, on the hallowed campus of Semaphore Pictures, in an interview with the legendary Palladon.

She licked her dry lips. “I’ve always wanted to make movies.” She choked back for Semaphore. She didn’t want to seem too desperate.

Palladon was in his thirties, dressed in a pair of comfortable shorts and a plain gray t-shirt whose front was covered with the drawing of a man swinging a large hammer over a railroad spike. A pioneer in computer-assisted movie making, he had been instrumental in writing the company’s earliest software and was the director of The Mesozoic, Semaphore’s first film.

He nodded and went on, “You won the Zoetrope screenwriting competition, earned excellent grades in both technology and liberal arts, and got great recommendations from your film studies professors. It couldn’t have been easy.”

To Sophia, he seemed a bit pale and tired, as though he had been spending all his time indoors, not out in the golden California sun. She imagined that Palladon and his animators must have been working overtime to meet a deadline: probably to finish the new film scheduled to be released this summer.

“I believe in working hard,” Sophia said. What she really wanted was to tell him that she knew what it meant to stay up all night in front of the editing workstation and wait for the rendering to complete, all for the chance to catch the first glimpse of a vision coming to life on the screen. She was ready.

Palladon took off his reading glasses, smiled at Sophia, and took out a tablet from behind him. He touched its screen and slid it across the table to Sophia. A video was playing on it.

“There was also this fan film, which you didn’t put on your résumé. You made it out of footage cut and spliced from our movies, and it went viral. Several million views in two weeks, right? You gave our lawyers quite a headache.”

Sophia’s heart sank. She had always suspected that this might become a problem. But when the invitation to interview at Semaphore came in her email, she had whooped and hollered, and dared to believe that somehow the executives at Semaphore had missed that little film. (Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 358: Like a Hawk in its Gyre

Show Notes

Rated 15 and up for language


Like a Hawk in Its Gyre

By Philip Brewer

The bicycle noticed someone was following before Kurt did. Watching for a tail was a habit he’d finally broken himself of, but not before the bicycle’s impressionable brain had picked it up. Its low warning hum sent a thrill of adrenaline through him, giving power to the part of his brain that wanted him to sprint away.

Kurt glanced back down the single track. The trees were already beginning to turn fall colors around the edges of the forest, but here along the narrow trail the foliage was green and thick. Resisting the urge to pick up the pace, he continued on, looking back when he could take his eyes off the trail, and after a few moments caught sight of what the bicycle had seen.

“It’s just another cyclist,” Kurt said, reaching down to pat the bicycle’s yellow-and-black, hornet-striped frame. The bicycle didn’t understand–its brain was small and lacked the regions for understanding speech–but Kurt’s tone of voice calmed it and the warning hum grew softer and less anxious.

The end of the trail, a scenic overlook above the Vermillion River, was not far ahead, but the overtaking bicyclist was approaching even faster. The polite thing to do would be to find a place to pull off the trail and let the cyclist past. But there were no surveillance devices in the forest, and Kurt couldn’t face meeting someone out of sight of some sort of watching eyes. At just the thought of it, his adrenaline surged again.

Letting his brain chemistry have its way with him, Kurt leaned low over his handlebars and pedaled hard. (Continue Reading…)

EP296: For Want of a Nail

Show Notes

Nominated for the Hugo Award for Short Story, 2011


For Want of a Nail

By Mary Robinette Kowal

With one hand, Rava adjusted the VR interface glasses where they bit into the bridge of her nose, while she kept her other hand buried in Cordelia’s innards. There was scant room to get the flexible shaft of a mono-lens and her hand through the access hatch in the AI’s chassis. From the next compartment, drums and laughter bled through the plastic walls of the ship, indicating her sister’s conception party was still in full swing.

With only a single camera attached, the interface glasses didn’t give Rava depth perception as she struggled to replug the transmitter cable. The chassis had not been designed to need repair. At all. It had been designed to last hundreds of years without an upgrade.

If Rava couldn’t get the cable plugged in and working, Cordelia wouldn’t be able to download backups of herself to her long-term memory. She couldn’t store more than a week at a time in active memory. It would be the same as a slow death sentence.

The square head of the cable slipped out of Rava’s fingers. Again. “Dammit!” She slammed her heel against the ship’s floor in frustration.

“If you can’t do it, let someone else try.” Her older brother, Ludoviko, had insisted on following her out of the party as if he could help.

“You know, this would go a lot faster if you weren’t breathing down my neck.”

“You know, you wouldn’t be doing this at all if you hadn’t dropped her.”

(Continue Reading…)

EP280: Endosymbiont

Show Notes

Show Notes:

  • Feedback for Episode 272
  • Next week… Horticulture, dermatology, and love

Endosymbiont

By Blake Charlton

“Do you know what day it is? What year?”

“It’s like mid August, 2017?” her voice squeaked. Jesus, had she really lost her mind?

“That’s right.” She smiled. “Don’t be scared. I just wanted to be sure.”

“What do you mean don’t be scared?” she blurted. “Sure about what? Jesus! How long have I been here? How many times have you seen me before?”

Jani held up her hand. “Slow down; it’s okay…I’m not an oncologist, but I’m following your case. The cancer responded well to the treatment. And our research suggests that the side effects are temporary.”

Stephanie started to protest but then stopped. A terrifying memory flashed through her mind. “Mom said they might take me to a hospital for the dead.” She didn’t know what that meant but the memory was clear. “She said you’d keep me here to fool me into thinking I’m still alive.”

Jani was holding up both hands now. “Slow down. The survival rates are scary but they’re far better—”

“You’re not listening. She said they’d take me to a hospital for people who’ve _already_ died. I have to escape before—”

Stephanie started to stand but Jani put a heavy hand on her shoulder and said “Lullaby.”

The word opened a bloom of orange light across Stephanie’s vision. A static hiss exploded into her ears, and she felt herself falling. There was a firecracker yellow flash and then…nothing.