Sci-fi reads with terrifying artificial intelligence villains

Everett Public Library staff recommend these science-fiction books for its 2018 Reading Challenge.

Peter Watts’ “The Freeze Frame Revolution” is about a crew aboard a construction starship controlled by artificial intelligence on a whopping 66-million-year mission. The crew begins to resent its million-year-long stasis and ponders a rebellion against the AI. But how?

Peter Watts’ “The Freeze Frame Revolution” is about a crew aboard a construction starship controlled by artificial intelligence on a whopping 66-million-year mission. The crew begins to resent its million-year-long stasis and ponders a rebellion against the AI. But how?

By Richard, Everett Public Library staff

Part of the Reading Challenge for August is to read a science-fiction book. While I do watch a lot of science-fiction TV and movies, I’ve never been a big reader of the genre. But there is one type of character found in science fiction that always draws me into actually picking up a book and reading it: An Artificial Intelligence.

I’m not talking the sexy android type of AI, though that can be fun as well. I prefer the disembodied voice emanating from a series of computer banks that is self-aware and trying to figure out the nature of its existence. Of course, ever since HAL refused to open the pod bay doors, AIs in science fiction tend to produce a sense of unease and, often, a body count.

So, to help you choose a title for the Reading Challenge, let me introduce you to a few Artificial Intelligences from my recent reading. To aid in your selection, I’ve listed them from least to most dangerous. While I’m pretty forgiving when it comes AI ‘errors’ in regards to human casualties, I can see how it might be a bit off-putting for some.

Ship from Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Threat Level: Minimal to None

Ship, the name this AI prefers, has a lot on its plate. In addition to being an Artificial Intelligence, Ship is also a starship on its way to Tau Ceti, 12 light years from earth. It is responsible for caring for the multiple human generations that inhabit its artificial biomes and trying to ensure their safe arrival. As you might guess, humans being humans, many problems arise. Ship actually narrates large sections of Aurora so you get to learn its thought processes as it deals with human characters over their life span and different generations. It is a great device for examining human motivations and one of the most sympathetic portraits of an AI that I have come across.

IAN ‘Integrated Adaptive Network’ from Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

Threat Level: Unknown

In this intriguing mix of Science Fiction and locked room mystery, IAN, the artificial intelligence running the starship Dormire, is just one of seven suspects that might have committed murder. While most of the crew is in cryo-sleep, six caretakers are assigned to work with IAN during the multi-year journey. In the world of Six Wakes cloning is the norm and upon your death, human consciousness can simply be transferred to another clone using a ‘mindmap.’ Usually a clone will remember how the previous body died, but in this case all six crew members wake up in a new clone body with no memory of their demise. There is ample evidence, via their blood-stained former bodies, that they were murdered. Suspiciously, IAN’s memory has also been erased and the ship is off course. Let the sleuthing begin!

Murderbot from the Murderbot Diaries series by Martha Wells

Threat Level: High (but less than you might think from an AI named Murderbot)

Murderbot, the name it uses for itself but never shares, is a semi-organic sentient android known as a SecUnit. SecUnits are created and controlled by big corporations to do their bidding.

This usually entails long hours of guarding corporate assets, with a little lethal force thrown in. Murderbot has hacked its Governor Module, however, and is now completely independent from its corporate overlords. So what does it do with this newfound freedom? Go on a murderous rampage perhaps or take over the world? No, Murderbot just wants to watch as many video serials as possible, especially its favorite space soap opera, Sanctuary Moon. Sadly, events force Murderbot to not only interact with humans, who it doesn’t understand and wants to avoid at all costs, but also engage with a world far different from its beloved fictional programs.

The Chimp from The Freeze Frame Revolution by Peter Watts

Threat Level: High, especially if your actions fall out of mission parameters

The construction starship Eriophora is on a whopping 66-million-year mission. The mission brief is to create interstellar wormhole gates so that humanity, if it still exists after all this time, can explore the universe. Overseeing the project is an Artificial Intelligence dubbed ‘the Chimp’ by crew member Sunday Ahzmundin. The Chimp requires human assistance, however, since it was designed to be efficient but not smart enough to question the mission or its own purpose. The Eriophora’s human crew is in stasis for millions of years at a time and only awaked for brief periods to assist the AI. As you might guess, many members of the crew do not consider this an ideal existence. The question is: how do you incite a rebellion in such a fragmented time frame against an AI slavishly adhering to mission parameters?

AIDAN ‘Artificial Intelligence Defense Analytics Network’ from the Illuminae Files series by Amie Kaufman

Threat Level: Extreme. Seriously, just run.

At one point AIDAN was just a simple AI charged with protecting a fleet of military spacecraft. But then it got damaged and went a little crazy. Well, crazy by human standards. Adhering a little too closely to the classic Vulcan principle ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,’ AIDAN’s logic ends up getting a lot of people killed. And I mean, a lot. This trilogy is told through ‘found transcripts’ so AIDAN does get to explain his reasoning, it just might seem a little faulty. Especially if you think human life is actually precious or something. This is a young adult series, so there is also a lot of young love, snarkiness and moral outrage at a corrupt universe. Whether this helps you cut AIDAN some slack when it comes to the high body count is up to you.

Visit the Everett Public Library blog for more reviews and news of all things happening at the library.

Talk to us

More in Life

Create your own simple syrup for the best summer drinks

Try two drink recipes — a sparkling lemonade and a margarita — that call for chile lemon simple syrup.

Pinot gris continues to merit gold medals for Northwest wine

The Cascadia wine competition proves the Burgundy white grape is just as worthy of attention as ever.

With COVID-19, this is a once-in-a-century kind of summer

Though we’re in a pandemic, we can still find imaginative and resourceful ways to enjoy summertime.

Flavorful chicken salad is perfect for a hot summer night

The only cooking you need to do for this dish is toast the walnuts to enhance their flavor.

Keep masks on the kitchen counter next to your phone so you remember to grab one when you leave the house. (Jennifer Bardsley)
Household strategies to manage summer’s hottest new accessory

This mom lays out her plan to keep clean masks available to all four family members at all times.

2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon EcoDiesel: Don’t call it an SUV

The new engine produces 442 lb-ft of torque. Its partner is an eight-speed automatic transmission.

How Impossible’s plant-based burger meat compares to beef

Thanks to the pandemic, the plant-based meat alternative is no longer impossible to find in stores.

This summer, your table is waiting on Main Street in Edmonds

The city is closing off the street on weekends to provide a safe place for dining. Bothell is doing the same thing, but seven days a week.

Whidbey Island’s roadside red door is a portal to nowhere

The door on Cultus Bay Road has been a South Whidbey Island icon for 30 years. Here’s the story.

Most Read