2017 as a year has had it’s ups and downs. On the one hand, we’ve lived through some apparently backwards technological steps and on the other, we’ve seen some unprecedented technological strides forward. One of the biggest of those has certainly been the government of Saudi Arabia being the first in the world to grant citizenship to a manufactured intelligence. When I first heard about “Sophia,” and started to follow the talk around the decision, it occurred to me I’d seen something similar before…
Whilst Jeph Jacques’ Questionable Content might have shifted it’s focus in recent years from the indie rock scene to the nuances of AI/human interpersonal relations, it’s hardly the first or only place in webcomics to explore life with emergent AI. In fact, there’s a wide variety of comics on the web that take place in a post-singularity world. So does the uplifting of Sophia indicate we’re on the path to one of these futures? And how can examination of the topic in webcomics prepare us to best welcome our new robot overlords?Like in all media, AI in the world of webcomics generally leans on the ‘fiction’ half of the term “science fiction.” In the aforementioned Questionable Content, for example, you have AI that is fully realised and which integrate into our own society so smoothly that they are almost not there at all. AI have human-like emotions (and even go to therapy); they work in retail, in business and in the military; they can exist across multiple platforms such as human-like bodies, “AnthroPC’s,” large networked installations or living on the cloud. And if they mess up…
Other webcomics, such as the long-running Diesel Sweeties by Rich Stevens, also explore the idea of sentient robots living closely with humans – sometimes, like, really close.
In Diesel Sweeties, a lot of the interaction between AI and humanity is focused on… erm… interpersonal relationships. This, it seems, is not all that far from what some analysts predict our first interactions with human-like AI might really be. In fact, the BBC ran an entire (fictional) series only a couple years ago where that use of AI was a prominent factor throughout. And honestly, human carnal desire has a long history of driving innovation in the technological field, such as the development of home entertainment systems like VHS and DVD and the capacity for streaming high-quality video on the internet.
Oh! And there’s another way the AI of Diesel Sweeties interacts with humans. Murder!
The propensity for AI to go rampant on humanity is a popular theme in fiction – from the early days of science fiction and writers such as Asimov, through many iterations of The Terminator and into modern stories – like webcomics! Some notable examples include the AI from Remus Shepherd’s Genocide Man, which are more dangerous the more intelligent they are (and thus, the shorter lived before they go murder-crazy) and the controlling AI that work behind the scenes in comics like The Fighting Stranger by Adam Monetta and Juan Romera. But possibly the most notorious example of this comes from Tim Buckley and his use of the robot apocalypse to end the ten-year arc of Ethan and Lucas in Ctrl+Alt+Del.
So, what can we learn about survival in these terrible, terrible futures? Should we fear the machine? Should we hoard our water and anti-mutagens? Should we start memorising logic puzzles?
Well, probably not. AI like Sophia are still a long way from being clever enough to take over the world. Even putting aside the difficulties of programming independent intelligent thought, fears of a Terminator/Zeke-style uprising also rely on the killer robots being agile enough to come after us. And while some impressive gains have been made in that area, robots like Big Dog and Atlas are still not quite at the “hunt down and kill all humans” level. And according to robotocist Kent Massey, they won’t be getting there any time soon (this interview with him is definitely worth the 68 minutes).
So, it seems we don’t have to worry too much about our impending doom at the hands of the mechanical menace – and that means we can spend more time relaxing and reading webcomics! If only my computer wouldn’t keep calling me a sicko every time I try to read Oglaf…
Do you know of any other webcomics that deal with the aftermath of the Robopocalypse? We’d love to hear about your favourites – let us know in the comments below or on Twitter, and until next time remember – don’t eat the clickbait!
P.S. Boy, was it hard not doing this article on the Patreon debacle over the past week instead – but others have covered the topic pretty well (and from all angles), and we here at Digital Strips always strive to bring you something a bit different. That said, if there’s ever any news items you’d like us to cover in the blog let us know over on Twitter or on the Facebook page!