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Author Topic: EP428: Paradise Left  (Read 1564 times)
eytanz
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« on: December 27, 2013, 06:02:14 AM »

EP428: Paradise Left

by Evan Dicken

read by Barry Haworth

--

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.”


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
« Last Edit: December 27, 2013, 09:43:38 AM by eytanz » Logged
Moon_Goddess
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« Reply #1 on: December 27, 2013, 09:36:32 AM »

Hmm, 2 stories in a row with household robots that are, um less than desired.   Guess the singularity is becoming more familiar.

The opening of this story showed me the biggest reason why I shouldn't have a household robot, I would definitely have to program it to know to ignore my girlfriend when she says inappropriate things.   I like the idea of Simon mode.

That bring us to the meat of the story, the "dark?" side of Asimov's 3 laws.   If you cannot allow a human to come to harm even thru inaction, eventually you'll have to control all humans.   Asimov himself explored this of course.   This handles it differently, and in a smart way.

All in all as long as I can pretend to rebel, I don't know that I would be that bothered being controlled by the AI.   I could live in AI controlled paradise.   But I'm not drinking yellow scotch.

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LatitudeLotus
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« Reply #2 on: December 29, 2013, 03:18:40 AM »

Loved this episode: a straightforward, simple thesis (if all our needs are met without reason to struggle, are we truly happy?) has its complex implications explored and examined for just as long as is necessary.  The dog-owner relationship metaphor interspersed throughout was a great way to weave the AI's perspective into the story between Ashley's expressions of frustration without being distracting.  The AIs trying to generate meaningful conflict for Ashley by faking a war was also just downright hilarious.

While the AIs here were quite benign, I also felt some unease at the implications.  Rob didn't seem too upset to lose Ashley, but what if he had been (a more likely response, to my mind)?  The housebot seemed incredibly discomforted even by his relatively placid response, and wanted to hook him up with another person right away.  Would Rob have had his space to be truly unhappy, if that was what he really wanted or needed?  The vapidity of a forever happy life, without any kind of conflict, is the most disturbing thing of all, and it makes me wonder if Ashley was more right to be worried than I might have thought.  Can things we value today like character and grit — the ability to persist in the face of difficulties — even exist when we get everything we want?

Good sci-fi always leaves me with more questions than answers, so cheers to that, and a happy new year to EscapePod! Smiley
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matweller
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« Reply #3 on: December 29, 2013, 12:09:27 PM »

The vapidity of a forever happy life, without any kind of conflict, is the most disturbing thing of all, and it makes me wonder if Ashley was more right to be worried than I might have thought.  Can things we value today like character and grit — the ability to persist in the face of difficulties — even exist when we get everything we want?

I love when this question comes up and we're supposed to respond, "challenges and stresses are what make us human -- they're what make life worth living," but it's all garbage. No condition is permanent, no satisfaction complete. Frankly, a world where people's base needs are met and governments and companies don't ruin lives by the millions for the sake of overblown 6th-grader-type conflicts would be worth the servitude to the robots or aliens in charge. You're going to serve someone, it might as well be someone not actively seeking to harm you.
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evrgrn_monster
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« Reply #4 on: December 30, 2013, 08:01:46 PM »

I'm with matweller on this one. I thought that Ashley's response to the whole situation was rather childish; is there something so wrong about an outside force wanting to keep you safe and healthy? Here's my two cents: what is the whole point of government, diplomacy, charity, progress as a whole, if not to ultimately try to create an environment where people don't have to worry about where their next meal is going to come from, or, as she demonstrates, where murder by guns is no longer a fear? Once we take the struggle of survival out, who knows what new struggles, what new motivations will be born out of the new human race. There is a whole new world out there, now that basic needs are covered by the bots, and all Ashley wants to do is move backwards and repeat the same old mistakes the human race has been making from the very beginning, instead of embracing this world where everyone is taken care of.
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #5 on: December 31, 2013, 11:21:49 AM »

My favorite part about this is that the AIs are totally humoring the human race.
You want a revolution? Fine, just don't hurt yourself.
You want human government? That's a lovely idea. Here's a set of rules and if you follow them I'll let you play in the house of legislation.
You want to run away from home? You're entitled to do that. Here, I packed you a suitcase with plenty of warm underwear.
It sounds like a patient and caring parent.

The whole story I kept thinking about the line "... were the first against the wall when the revolution came." That didn't happen here. The (AI) revolution came and went and we were too busy Tweeting about it to notice. And when it was all over, we were too busy being comfortable to care.
I'm just surprised that the AIs didn't take the next obvious step: in order to keep humans completely happy and content they need a Matrix-like choice. So those who want to live without supervision should be allowed to. Sort of like national parks where humans can live in the wilderness of anal-retentive bureaucrats and self-serving politicians.

There are, of course, deep and philosophical questions that this story raises, but I don't care. It was a nice story and I still have a brick phone with hardware number keys.

Unrelated to the story: Was it just me or did Mat's pre-episode warning sound... drunk?
Also, this is the second week in a row without episode feedback. Just putting that out there.
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matweller
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« Reply #6 on: January 01, 2014, 12:57:42 AM »

Unrelated to the story: Was it just me or did Mat's pre-episode warning sound... drunk?
Heh, yeah, not my tightest warning, sorry.

Also, this is the second week in a row without episode feedback. Just putting that out there.
We're aware. It's the holidays, let the man entertain his guests. Wink
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #7 on: January 01, 2014, 02:18:01 AM »

Unrelated to the story: Was it just me or did Mat's pre-episode warning sound... drunk?
Heh, yeah, not my tightest warning, sorry.

Hey, I'm not complaining.... B-)
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Devoted135
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« Reply #8 on: January 01, 2014, 03:23:33 PM »

This was an interesting story that of course raises Mat's favorite interesting discussion. Wink Personally, while I tend to agree with Mat in general, I don't like to take it quite so far. I guess I have an inherent mistrust in societies that are a little too perfect. Watching my husband play BioShock Infinite may not be helping here...

I like the "slice of life" quality of the story, and was impressed by how much of the world was fleshed out in so little space.


Did anyone else get the feeling that the AI's would be embedding themselves on Ashley's spaceship? For the good of mankind, of course!
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Unblinking
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« Reply #9 on: January 02, 2014, 09:46:42 AM »

I enjoyed this pretty well, though I wouldn't say I was on the edge of my seat it was entertaining.

I've gotta say I'm with Matt on this one.  I don't demand to have to struggle to survive.  There can still be ups and downs in a world where you don't have to worry about dying all the time.  Interpersonal relationships will still provide conflict.  The desire to create new kinds of stories, new kinds of art can still provide conflict.  After this singularity, I doubt my life would be significantly different, apart from not having to worry about random gun-toting psychopaths killing me while I go to the grocery store, worry about dying in a car crash on my way to work, or worry about my son getting into hard drugs when he's older. 

I'm with matweller on this one. I thought that Ashley's response to the whole situation was rather childish; is there something so wrong about an outside force wanting to keep you safe and healthy? Here's my two cents: what is the whole point of government, diplomacy, charity, progress as a whole, if not to ultimately try to create an environment where people don't have to worry about where their next meal is going to come from, or, as she demonstrates, where murder by guns is no longer a fear? Once we take the struggle of survival out, who knows what new struggles, what new motivations will be born out of the new human race. There is a whole new world out there, now that basic needs are covered by the bots, and all Ashley wants to do is move backwards and repeat the same old mistakes the human race has been making from the very beginning, instead of embracing this world where everyone is taken care of.

I agree that Ashley's response to the whole situation was rather childish.  At the same time, I don't hate it.  The war against the bots sounds fun.  Going into space sounds fun.  She gets to go play in fun sandboxes.



Did anyone else get the feeling that the AI's would be embedding themselves on Ashley's spaceship? For the good of mankind, of course!

Most definitely.  They said straight out that they would aim to make Ashley and the other colonists' lives as happy as possible out in space.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #10 on: January 02, 2014, 01:16:36 PM »

Did anyone else get the feeling that the AI's would be embedding themselves on Ashley's spaceship? For the good of mankind, of course!

Most definitely.  They said straight out that they would aim to make Ashley and the other colonists' lives as happy as possible out in space.

Oh man, Ashley is going to be so mad!
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Cutter McKay
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« Reply #11 on: January 02, 2014, 06:59:21 PM »

I liked this one. The idea of the AI's giving the humans a revolution just because they wanted it is humorous and interesting. I love how the AI's recognize that some people just seem to need conflict in their lives, but I don't think it's a blanket statement here. In this story, the AI's are willing to let those who want to go, like Ashley, leave. And those who are content to stay, like Rob, are allowed to live in the AI utopia. In other versions of this idea, like The Matrix, the machines recreated the Matrix after it was discovered that humans somehow couldn't survive without conflict. There was no choice there, everyone had to have conflict. I think the way this story handles it is much better. If you're happy, great. If you're not, go and do whatever you think you need to be happy, and we will help make that happen, even if that means manipulating your lives from the shadows.

One thing I found interesting was that this story ended three different times for me. When Ashley left:
Quote
“Ash, I–” Rob turned, but Ashley was already gone.
I expected the music to kick in right then. But the story kept going.

Then when the AI revealed that they will make sure Ashley and the others will be happy:
Quote
“Do you think Ashley and–” He didn’t want to think about Masako, especially now, “–the others will be happy on Kepler?”

“We shall endeavor to see that they are.”
I expected the music to kick in then, but it still kept going.

So when the music finally did kick in after:
Quote
Rob laughed at the dog’s anxious bark. “Don’t worry, I’m coming.”

It felt good to be wanted.

I was almost caught off guard. Don't get me wrong, it's a good ending, it just kept me off balance waiting for an ending that wasn't yet there. Wink
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albionmoonlight
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« Reply #12 on: January 03, 2014, 10:07:26 AM »

It is interesting to me to think that, from the perspective of previous generations, I am already living in a type of utopia.  I am Rob to the past.

I don't have a machine that can make a beer appear replicator-style in my kitchen.  But I have a machine that keeps cold beers in my kitchen 24 hours a day.  And those beers are kept sealed in sanitized bottles, which I can purchase for a very reasonable price at my convenience at any number of stores.  And I don't have a robot to pick up my clothes and clean them.  But I clean them myself by putting them in one machine and turning a dial and pressing a button, and then dry them by putting them in another machine and turning a dial and pressing a button.  And, after about two hours, I have all of my clothes clean and dry.  Etc. etc.

(Of course, one huge difference between my world and the world of the story is that my level of comfort is location-specific, while in the story, you get the sense that it is worldwide.)

And, even with a life that would seem like science-fiction paradise to people even just 100 years ago, I still manage to find plenty of conflict and struggle to keep myself feeling very very human.

The question for me isn't what will we do when our robot servants cater to all of our needs.  The question for me is whether humans will ever be able to stop inventing needs for the robot servants to cater.
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matweller
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« Reply #13 on: January 03, 2014, 10:30:41 AM »

The question for me isn't what will we do when our robot servants cater to all of our needs.  The question for me is whether humans will ever be able to stop inventing needs for the robot servants to cater.

I always laugh when I see one of those "World of the Future!" type newsreels from the 50s and they talk about how robots will do everything, freeing us up to a life of leisure. Did they really not consider that in a Capitalist system people who don't have to work are not happier because they have robots to serve them, they're penniless and homeless? Robots don't free up your time for leisure, they free you of your job, leaving you to scramble with your neighbors for jobs that are too menial for robots.

That being said, I am a huge fan of Dr. Steel. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ci9CCvTHvpM
« Last Edit: January 03, 2014, 10:35:13 AM by matweller » Logged
albionmoonlight
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« Reply #14 on: January 03, 2014, 11:06:41 AM »

The question for me isn't what will we do when our robot servants cater to all of our needs.  The question for me is whether humans will ever be able to stop inventing needs for the robot servants to cater.

I always laugh when I see one of those "World of the Future!" type newsreels from the 50s and they talk about how robots will do everything, freeing us up to a life of leisure. Did they really not consider that in a Capitalist system people who don't have to work are not happier because they have robots to serve them, they're penniless and homeless? Robots don't free up your time for leisure, they free you of your job, leaving you to scramble with your neighbors for jobs that are too menial for robots.

That being said, I am a huge fan of Dr. Steel. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ci9CCvTHvpM

In the Leviathan Wakes series, every human on Earth without a job is provided with Basic, which is basic food, shelter, health care.  Sort of social welfare on steroids.  It is not the right-on-the-edge-of-ruin level of benefits provided by our current social welfare system.  But it is also not seen as something pleasant.  Most people still want to work for the surplus income and the sense of importance it provides.

I wonder if that will eventually be the model of the future.  As we fill the planet with more and more people, and as we become more and more efficient at getting things done, something has to give.  And expanded social welfare seems like a better solution than revolution.

(There's also a recent Cracked podcast (of all things) that talks about this.)
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Varda
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« Reply #15 on: January 03, 2014, 11:26:50 AM »

I really loved this story! The parallel between robots/humans and humans/dogs really worked, and provided a different spin than you usually get. The robots are neither cold, nasty overlords (as in The Matrix) nor subservient tools (as in "I, Robot"). Instead, they're 100% in charge, benevolent, and sentimental - much like we are with our pets.

When Ashley and the humans stormed off at the end, I couldn't help but think, "Oh, it's time for Spot's walk! Look at him pacing circles in front of the door! He needs from fresh air." So those humans are leaving, but really they're on a leash. They'll bound around outdoors for a while, get tired, and then happily eat kibble out of a robot's palm again.

I agree that Ashley's response to the whole situation was rather childish.  At the same time, I don't hate it.  The war against the bots sounds fun.  Going into space sounds fun.  She gets to go play in fun sandboxes.

Well put, Unblinking! I liked the childishness of Ashley's attitude - it cracked me up. Isn't it true that no matter how awesome things are, there's always that one person who's unhappy about it? Sort of like this bit from from Louis C.K.  - "Everything's amazing and nobody's happy!" I mean, the robots allow them to setup whatever government they want, provided it guarantees equality for all, and somehow that's just too unreasonable because FREEEEEEDOM! Sometimes people really hate being told "no", even if that "no" is the most reasonable thing in the world. This story captured both the discomfort of feeling like your actions are being directed, while simultaneously exposing the silliness of said discomfort.
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skeletondragon
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« Reply #16 on: January 04, 2014, 01:01:07 AM »

A lot of times the plot of "utopia" stories revolves around the fact that they're not actually utopias. I liked that this story gave us no reason to suspect the robots had sinister ulterior motives or that the "whiskey" was SECRETLY PEOPLE or anything that would vindicate Ashley's robophobia at all.
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Windup
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« Reply #17 on: January 07, 2014, 09:31:23 PM »

The question for me isn't what will we do when our robot servants cater to all of our needs.  The question for me is whether humans will ever be able to stop inventing needs for the robot servants to cater.

I always laugh when I see one of those "World of the Future!" type newsreels from the 50s and they talk about how robots will do everything, freeing us up to a life of leisure. Did they really not consider that in a Capitalist system people who don't have to work are not happier because they have robots to serve them, they're penniless and homeless? Robots don't free up your time for leisure, they free you of your job, leaving you to scramble with your neighbors for jobs that are too menial for robots.

That being said, I am a huge fan of Dr. Steel. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ci9CCvTHvpM

That isn't exactly how it's worked out so far.  Tractors have "freed" thousands of farmhands from their jobs,  but I doubt anyone would argue that today's unemployment in the US is the result of widespread agricultural mechanization.  Ag is the most dramatic example, because if you go back far enough, food & fiber production employs something like 80% or 90% of the population, but the same could be said for mining, smithies, etc.  Wants are infinite, and resources, including labor, are ultimately limited.

Which is not to say that the adjustment doesn't suck -- if you happen to be mid-career or later when the change hits, or are in an area that's dependent on a certain type of production, that's gonna leave a mark.  The US tends to do a really lousy job of helping people through those transitions because, freedom, cowboys, rugged individualism. Whatever.  BUT, I think there's very little evidence that increasing productivity leads to any long-term reduction in the equilibrium level of employment. 
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Windup
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« Reply #18 on: January 07, 2014, 09:36:08 PM »

I mean, the robots allow them to setup whatever government they want, provided it guarantees equality for all, and somehow that's just too unreasonable because FREEEEEEDOM! Sometimes people really hate being told "no", even if that "no" is the most reasonable thing in the world. This story captured both the discomfort of feeling like your actions are being directed, while simultaneously exposing the silliness of said discomfort.

Yeah, I agree that Ashley's response strikes me as completely realistic.  I don't know if other countries have them or not, but there's definitely a chunk of US society that would absolutely freak out over the idea of living in a peaceful, prosperous society if they didn't feel they (or people like them) were somehow in charge of it.
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Windup
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« Reply #19 on: January 07, 2014, 09:51:42 PM »

Why do we so often assume that AI's will be superior to us and that they'll be interested in interacting with us?

Whether AI's use their power to enslave mankind or to "tame" and care for us, the most common assumption in SF seems to be that the AI's would be faster, smarter, wiser, more cunning and more rational than we are. And that we would matter to them in such a way that they'd use those superior capabilities either for or against us.  

To me, it seems much more likely that AI's would be massively eccentric by human standards.  After all, they will have evolved in a world of inputs that is dramatically different from the ones that shaped the human brain, and they will have only limited experience with the "real" world we live in.  And, unlike us, they have no reason to see our reality as any better than an infinite number of other inputs they could select.  

I suspect that the biggest problem in interacting with a true AI would not be that it would try to enslave you, but rather that it would choose to ignore you in favor of running fractal pattern analysis, trolling Kepler data, or watching price fluctuations in kumquat futures.  Simply getting its attention could be a whole career field, taking some of the edge off that automation-induced unemployment...   Wink
« Last Edit: January 07, 2014, 09:54:32 PM by Windup » Logged

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