Hi, I saw your opinions on the Technocore in the Hyperion books which reminds me of my own troubles of including AI in my worlds.

In my sci-fi setting, I have a faction of robots that evolved from sufficiently complex ship computers and run a healthcare/coexistence-institute. While I want my robots to be awesome, I want my flesh-and-blood beings to still be useful instead of having the robots be good at everything. How can I solve this?

Fredrik ”Tektalox” Hansing

Hey Fredrik, thanks for writing in!

This is a really tough problem that most scifi suffers with, though Hyperion is a particularly extreme example. Simmons wasn’t under any obligation to give his AI future-sight; he did that all on his own. 

But discounting edge cases like that, sapient AI is still a conceptual problem for scifi writers. Existing computers can perform calculations much faster than any human, and with sufficient hard-drive space, they can store vast quantities of information with perfect fidelity. Plus, information moves around a computer at the speed of light, where human brains have to rely on chemical reactions. It’s really not fair. 

When we know all that, it’s only natural to assume that sapient AI will simply be better at everything than humans could ever be. They can already think faster, and once they master abstract reasoning, they’ll be unstoppable! If they ever need a body, they can just control a robot that’s much more capable than a squishy human. 

Of course, real AI may not ever turn out that way, but it’s the basic assumption for most AI in science fiction. Heck, you don’t even need fully sapient AI before automation becomes a problem in stories. We’ve all agreed not to question why humans still pilot ships in The Expanse, as AI would be way better at it, because we want there to be fun battles with humans in them! 

When we’re talking about sapient AI, you have two basic options: either limit your AI or enhance your humans. 

The first option is generally easier. While we tend to assume AI would be like a supercomputer with abstract reasoning, there’s no reason they have to be. Instead, they might only have the same capabilities as a human mind, except that they’re directly integrated into various electronic tools rather than having to carry them around like we do. If the AI wanted to crunch numbers on a black hole, they would need to buy supercomputer time like anyone else. If they’re asked to do complex math, they need to open a calculator app. 

The specifics can vary a lot, of course. Your AI might be super good at math but not any better at predicting market trends than a standard human. Or, they might be super easily distracted, making it difficult or impossible to focus their immense processing power on a single problem. The key is that they are not simply better at solving problems than your human characters. 

Option two is a lot more difficult, but still possible. You can always add in bio-engineering tech that makes your humans super-capable as well, allowing them to match or exceed the AI. The difficulty with that plan is that it’s really hard to write super-smart characters. It’s hard enough to write normal-smart characters! If your heroes can think much faster than a standard human, you may struggle to create problems for them, but it can still work for a determined writer. 

Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your story!

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