Maureen F. McHugh's short story collection After the Apocalypse was merely prescient when published in 2011, but it appears positively prophetic a decade later with its narratives about respiratory virus pandemics, frayed social connections, and increased political violence. Few of her tales, however, are as haunting as "The Kingdom of the Blind," which will perhaps prove to be the most visionary of McHugh's stories. "The Kingdom of the Blind" takes as its subject artificial intelligence, grappling with the possibility that any consciousness which arises from soldering board and circuitry may be so alien that it's scarcely recognizable to us as a consciousness in the first place. The emergent process of consciousness as it develops in this AI is inscrutable and totally different from anything which resembles human thinking, posing a difficulty for the computer scientists who attempt to communicate with it. In sparse, elegant, and beautiful prose, McHugh's story describes how a massive interconnected computer program evolves a quality that could be described as "consciousness," and yet how to describe the thought which animates this being is impossible.
There is something reassuring about Mary Oliver's words. Especially in an era of rapid change, there is comfort to be had in those things that move slowly. But oceans rise and mountains fall; nothing stays the same. Not even the way poetry is made. The disappearance of the author in 20th-century literary criticism can perhaps be traced back to the surrealist movement and its game of "exquisite corpse." The surrealists believed that a poem can emerge not only from the unconscious mind of an individual, but from the collective mind of many individuals working in consort -- even, or perhaps especially, if each individual has minimal knowledge of what the others are doing. Soon the idea of making art from recycled objects emerged.
It's really no big shock that J.K. Rowling went on to write crime fiction. Some people -- including me -- were a bit surprised at first with the route she took after finishing the Harry Potter series, but in hindsight it makes beautiful sense. Each and every Harry Potter book has a mystery at its core. Despite the fantasy backdrop and the themes of adventure and coming-of-age that run through the series, every individual story is packed with the elements you might normally find in a crime tale: there are red herrings, countless clues, detective work, and normally at least one major twist or revelation at the conclusion. SEE ALSO: The'Fantastic Beasts' sequel announcement just marked the end of endings With the exception of the Cursed Child play, it's been about 10 years since I read any Harry Potter books.
Why do we mistake computer generated poems as the work of humans? From Wordsworth's "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" to Eavan Boland's "figure in which secret things confide," poetry is often defined by -- and extolled for -- its ability to convey human emotion. What, then, does it mean that we can not distinguish poems penned by humans from those generated by machine? Indeed, researchers Nils Köbis and Luca D.Mossink at the University of Amsterdam have found that humans cannot tell AI-generated poems from those written by amateur poets, or by well known professionals, provided a human selects the best poem from a set of machine-generated verses to compare. Have machines become as talented as our poets?