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[personal profile] kate_nepveu
I have a little bit more notes for this! Still not a ton, though.

Jeffrey A. Carver (leader), Glenn Grant, Kate Nepveu, Sonya Taaffe, Sheila Williams
Robots, golems, and other living machines appear human but can never become human, which makes them perfect vehicles for exploring concepts of sentience, emotion, and human nature. Many robots long to be human; it's much more rare to see one that loves being what it is. Far more fictional robots have gender identities than national or ethnic identities. They are often programmed to feel sexual desire but rarely designed to eat a meal or sniff a flower. How do our depictions of robots reflect our changing understandings of what it means to be alive?

I said in my intro that I'm fairly sure my signup for this was just "Murderbot!" and then a bunch of heart symbols, and rather that recap my rec from the panel, I wrote it up for booklog.

Jeffrey asked about favorite robots we had written or edited. Glenn was the only one who had anything, a story "Burning Day" which features "cogents," androids that reproduce via merging algorithms, and forced an international agreement giving them rights. Sheila mentioned Mary Robinette Kowal's Kiss Me Twice.

Sonya and I then gave our favorites, since we hadn't written or edited any. I said Murderbot, of course, and also mentioned A Closed and Common Orbit, which is a very interesting paired reading with it. (At the end of the panel, I realized I should also have mentioned Janet from The Good Place!) Sonya mentioned Phyllis Gotlieb's "Tauf Aleph", in which the last (human) Jew in the universe inadvertently converts a robot. (The comment about robots liking the legalistic aspects of Judaism makes me want to know where the Muslim robots are.) Also the servitors in [personal profile] yhlee's series, which are partly a collective.

We talked a bit about gender. I mentioned that I liked that Murderbot is explicitly agender and asexual; Breq (from Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch series) is asexual (and also poly!), putting aside the question of gender. Sheila mentioned Sandra McDonald's "Sexy Robot Mom" (summary), which deliberately takes the ridiculousness of assigning gender to robots to an extreme (since it makes zero sense to make a robot instead of a uterine replicator), and commented that it was a really welcome trend to see robots being portrayed separate from male or female (though Sonya noted that genderqueerness ought not be relegated to the province of robots only, or SFF generally).

(Edit: seeing the tab open on my phone reminded me that Sonya recommended the story "Sex with Ghosts" regarding sexbots and an asexual narrator.)

On broader topics of how robots would have different priorities, I mentioned this Tumblr post and also the comment from someone on ToastieSlack that they appreciated the pettiness of Banks' AIs, because it's too easy to fall into emotions = human and therefore non-emotional = non-human.

We also talked about the trope of human-robot conflict, regarding which I cited this extremely relevant and timely Tor.com article (running out of steam, cannot summarize, sorry). An audience member mentioned The Animatrix as being explicitly about this.

We added a bit of comment about some other motivations: fears of automation as replacement and also being contagious (Metropolis; every YA dystopia where your role is assigned to you by The Machine); that lousy ableist fear of prosthetics and assistive tech; and something else that I can't think of now.

Somewhere in here, Sheila mentioned a story--maybe by Michael Swanwick?--about planned obsolescence and how the assumption tends to be that robots/AI will be longer-lived than humans, but maintenance is still required.

Glenn said in his story, robots who want to be human are thought to need therapy for Pinocchio Syndrome. We generally agreed that we liked the trend for robots to explore being robots, not humans.

Someone in the audience mentioned the question of limiting (censoring?) data sets given in machine learning.

Somehow we never got to Discworld, and talked about the Imperial Radch much less than I expected, considering how relevant it is. But it's a big topic.

March 2019

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