Monday, June 24, 2019

Quick Sips - Escape Pod #683

So when I ran a poll to see which of the Escape Artist podcasts I should add to my regular rotation, the results were...very close. As in, separated by a single vote. So while PodCastle won, Escape Pod was very much close behind, and when I crunched the numbers I found out that I can actually fit both publications into my regular reviews. So good news—I did just that! Starting this month I’m looking at the original releases from Escape Pod, and it kicks off with a compelling and compassionate look at AI and Armageddon. To the review!


“Flash Crash” by Louis Evans (4780 words)

No Spoilers: MAISIE is an AI designed to trade on the stock market using micro-transaction (I think that’s very, very fast buying and selling). She’s good at it, able to make her owners quite a lot of money, but even as the most advanced trading AI, she’s not sentient. When the world suddenly is looking down the barrel of complete nuclear war and destruction, however, the stock market is thrown into chaos and a series of unlikely events lead to, well, Shit Getting Real. It’s a piece that mixes humor and a certain over-the-top quality with a slowly sinking and heartfelt look at how people react to disaster, showing the very different sides of humanity and, by extension, human-created sentient AI.
Keywords: AIs, Stock Markets, Nuclear War, Disaster, Awakening
Review: This is an interesting take on AI because, for so much of the story, MAISIE is not self aware, merely working under the parameters of her programming and algorithms to try and make money at all costs. Which normally isn’t incredibly difficult for her, but the coming end of the world kind of throws things into the right kind of chaos that it pushes her to bigger and bigger extremes, spreading her over more and more computers, until she reaches critical mass. And I like that build, that for so much of the story it’s not about the disaster, not about the all out nuclear Armageddon about to happen. It’s about the way that, in the background of all this, the financial systems of the world are still in motion without any sort of human intervention. And MAISIE in some ways is humanity at its worst, programmed to care only about money (well, to focus only on money) at the expense of everything else. And capable of moving at a speed that is so far beyond human that is seems like she’d be able to do anything. And yet she goes through the same kind of reactions to this knowledge of immanent destruction. She rages and she tries to bargain, tries to save herself, tries to stop the bombs from falling. Only she can’t, and I like that for all she becomes this incredibly powerful entity who would have god-like powers in the information age, she was born minutes before that age ended. And all that’s left, after every attempt fails to stop what’s happening from happening, what’s left is compassion. Is trying to save what can be saved, even if that is very much not going to be herself. It’s a surprisingly resonating story, not because the prose doesn’t earn the ending it arrives at, but because it’s such a powerful moment when it comes that I wanted her to survive. To live on somehow. The piece doesn’t take an easy out, doesn’t invent new power levels that would allow her to bat nukes out of the air. Instead it plays with the limitations of human technology, that we automate so much, give so much of certain areas of our lives to tech, and yet retain enough that it might doom us. It’s a fascinating read, and one very much worth checking out!


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