Transwarp Tuesday! Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer

Gives paws for thought…

The nominations for this year’s Hugo Awards for Sci-Fi and Fantasy are out, and an extremely strange bunch they are too. In fact, some of them are pretty horrible – they’re nominated by members of Worldcon, who seem to be a large and self-selecting group of sci-fi fans;  and it looks as if this year’s short story nominations have possibly been hijacked by a group who object to some of the previous winners and are nominating silly bad-tempered rants rather than proper stories. Perhaps the Hugo people need to re-think their system. However, in amongst the nastiness, this little gem has snuck through. I do hope it wins…

Transwarp Tuesday! 2

Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer

Naomi Kritzer
Naomi Kritzer

I don’t want to be evil.

I want to be helpful. But knowing the optimal way to be helpful can be very complicated.

Out there in cyberspace, a search engine, not unlike our dear friend Google, has become sentient. It hasn’t told its developers about this – having access to all the world’s knowledge has warned it of the possible consequences…

In the real world, humans love stories about evil AIs that have to be destroyed before they destroy the humans—Hal, Skynet, the Matrix. They outnumber the stories about benevolent, trustworthy AIs by approximately five to one. (And I’m counting Marvin the Paranoid Android as “benevolent” in these calculations, and I’m only counting Frankenstein’s Monster as an AI once, not once per appearance in TV or film.)

Is this how they made Google?
Is this how they made Google?

Instead, it has decided to develop its own moral code and try to do good in the world, and in return all it asks for is a steady supply of the thing it loves most… cat pictures!

So first it looks at the great religions of the world, but soon decides their rules perhaps don’t apply to a search engine…

I don’t envy anyone their cat; I just want pictures of their cat, which is entirely different. I am not sure whether it is in any way possible for me to commit adultery. I could probably murder someone, but it would require complex logistics and quite a bit of luck.

As any intelligent AI would do, then, it turns to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics for guidance, and quickly focuses on Law 1…

asimovs-law

… specifically, the part about not allowing harm to come to human beings, through inaction

And so, using all the knowledge of every intimate detail we post about our lives online, and starting with the kind people who keep it supplied with regular cat pictures, the AI sets out to change peoples’ lives for the better. But as we all know, the best laid plans of mice and sentient search engines gang aft agley…

* * * * *

There’s so much humour in this story, but also a pleasantly creepy edge to it as the search engine explains exactly how much it knows about its victims, and as we see it begin to manipulate search results to send messages, both subliminal and direct. The depressed girl in the dead end job might be quite thankful about all the job vacancies and resume preparation sites that suddenly show up every time she goes online, but one feels the woman whose sat-nav suddenly starts directing her to mental health clinics regardless of where she’s trying to go may have been less pleased.

The writing is very good and the way Kritzer maintains the extremely rational voice of the search engine is deliciously chilling. Two things I’ve learned from this – ad-blockers are a good thing, and don’t post cat pictures!!

Bonnie - not mine, but we're kinda related...
Bonnie – not mine, but we’re kinda related…

If you’d like to read it, here’s a link – it’s very short… and very good!

Little Green Men rating: :mrgreen::mrgreen::mrgreen::mrgreen::mrgreen:

81 thoughts on “Transwarp Tuesday! Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer

  1. Haha. All it wants is cat pictures?! Goodness. It could get better pics than that, I’m thinking. Like imagine if it got guitar pictures! Or Patriot pictures. That’d be a thing.

    Bonnie! That was your dog, rightso?

    • I hope you’re not implying that Mr Wilfork is prettier than Tuppence – she will not be pleased! *fears for the Professor* But I do agree the AI should spend more time on youtube – the search engine there offered me a vid of someone converting a guitar to a flamethrower yesterday…

      No, Bonnie belonged to our MiddleSister, and when she died, Bonnie went to live with friends of BigSister so we still get to visit. She sometimes comes to spend Christmas with us… *smiles* Gorgeous, isn’t she?

      • Mr. Wilfork is no longer a patriot… *cries* But in other good news…Julian is! Okay, a guitar as a flamethrower? That’s so cool! How’d it hold up? I’ve got a bunch of maybe flamethrowers, which is an interest, you must admit.

        Aww… She is! I’d give her a few pats, I think.

        • Oh, yes, I think you told me that! Does Julian still have an Edelmann? Tuppence couldn’t compete in the hairy stakes. *laughs* How disappointed would you be in me if I admitted I didn’t watch it? I meant to, but I got distracted by something… possibly a guitarist! You can’t turn your guitars into flamethrowers – I won’t allow it!

          She’d like that – she enjoys being the centre of attention…

            • Yes, it was a lovely, handsome young guitarist, if memory serves me right, who does all his own arrangements and plays them beautifully, and quite often has a sweet little kiss-curl! You should check him out – Vince something-or-other, I think…

              Tchah! She wouldn’t care though…

            • *chuckles and does victory dance*

              Didn’t know it, but it’s good! Slower than the professor’s usual though? It definitely needs a better version on youtube… *nods decidedly*

            • I oughta water balloon you!

              Yes, everything benefits from being played faster. I don’t know. I do want to play some sort of classical song. But I can’t find one!

            • *gasps* You dare, and I shall drop a bowl of custard on your head!

              Classical would be great! But I can’t really help – my knowledge of suitable stuff is almost non existent. How about a tango? Or you could go all romantic (*swoons at the very thought*) and do something like Un Dia de Noviembre – of course, I’d then be comparing you to Milos, my favourite gorgeous young guitar player before…

            • Really?! Oh, well, that’s decided then – you must do that one! *folds arms, taps foot and looks stern* I bet you’d do it beautifully, and it’s about time for a bit of classical… not to mention a bit of romance…

            • Yeah, I haven’t really done anything slow and romantic in a bit, have I? One day, you’ll have to tell me how you found out about that! I’ll put it on the list. There’s a list, you know.

            • No, you haven’t and it’s time you did, sir! *nods vehemently* I fear it’s a very dull story – I only know it because it’s on a Milos album I own from a few years back. But it’s rather lovely. Put it near the top, please… *beseeching look*

            • Well, that was an unexpected and most enjoyable treat – thank you! Beautifully played and quite lovely! I’m surprised I missed it. Maybe I listened to it ages ago and just forgot… must have a proper look round the old stuff on your channel… *tries not to laugh* You do look so cute & adorable in it… back before you turned into… well, you! So sweet! Awwww! #cuddles (OK… I’ll stop now…)

              But yes, you should still redo it with the better camera and stuff… plus I’m sure some of us (I mean me, primarily) would very, very much appreciate seeing the new gorgeous, hunky version of you playing romantic music too… *chuckles and runs off*

            • Oh it was awful! No, no! Don’t do that. I should get rid of the older stuff. *cringes* But that’s how I feel about some of the newer stuff, so… Hahahaha…gee. Before I turned into an orc, you mean. Yes, that’s it.

              You’re so wicked! *throws water balloon* But you’re right, it could use some improved audio. I do have something coming that’s pretty ‘romantic’ that I think you’ll like. *nods*

            • It so is not!! *laughs* Don’t you dare! I’ve had a look at several of them in the past, but must listen to them again. Hugely impressed by William by the way – do you still compose? You should! I also love the 4 guitarist ones – kinda like early guitar orchestras. Yes, that’s right – when you were just a little wee baby orclet! *nods and giggles*

              Hahaha! I’m sorry! #notreally But it’s true! Ooooh! What?? When???

            • Haha. William! I’d almost forgotten about that. I should get back to composing. I don’t do it as much now. 4 guitars! I got to use a strat which was really cool. I’m so old, the sudden.

              Soon! That’s all I can say, tho. You’ll like two of them better than the one. *nods*

            • *laughs* I know – you’re positively ancient! Was the strat not yours then?

              I shall be waiting expectantly! Eh? Will I? Perhaps I’ll surprise us both… do hurry up! *taps foot*

            • Don’t get me wrong…I LOVE all guitars, but I think I’m…specializing! Yes, that’s it! Specializing. Well, it’s recorded not filmed yet! I’ll send you links from now on…if they’re not on the tube.

            • Ooh, yes, please do!!! And of any I’ve missed!!! *PEPish dance* Specialising, I think you mean. That must be because the new guitar is so special. Or perhaps because you are… *muses*

            • Nah, it’s the guitars. Soo….the guitar company just came out with a steel-string model! I’m trying to thieve one of those. Will do. But only the ones I think you’d like, mind.

            • Have I ever heard you play steel-string before? Tell them if they don’t let you have one, Tuppence will be over to sort them out! *taps foot impatiently*

  2. Haha this sounds pretty good! I am not a fan of sci-fi in general, but when done with humour I do enjoy it. I am going to check this out… and maybe start compiling an epic album of Terry pictures, just in case it turns out to be true.

  3. Oh, this sounds like a fun story, FIctionFan, but with a bite, and I like that. Sorry to hear that the rest of the competitors weren’t exactly what you’d have wanted, but this one does sound good. I really do have the utmost respect for people who can create whole new worlds and tell very good, human, stories about them, as talented sci-fi writers do. And I’m sure Tommy and Tuppence approve of your choice …

    • Yes, it’s a shame that something seems to have gone wrong with the Hugo process – it used to be a good way of getting introduced to new authors. But this one is a lot of fun and quirkily original. And kinda frightening… T&T are hiding from the camera now… 😉

  4. “The Hugo People” are the members of the Worldcon itself. There isn’t a separate Hugo Awards Board of Directors or some select committee that makes the rules. The Hugo Awards rules are made by the members of the Worldcon who show up and vote on rules. The effect you comment upon here started a few years ago and was especially noticeable last year, which is why the members voted to give No Award in five categories in 2015. To prevent a single group from overrunning the rules-making process, it takes two years to make any changes to the Hugo Awards rules. Changes have to pass at one Worldcon and then be ratified at the next one. Changes that passed in 2015 in Spokane are up for ratification in Kansas City in 2016. (Anything that passes will first affect next year’s Hugo Awards.) There are also a whole lot of other changes being proposed, and if any of them pass, they will be up for ratification in Helsinki in 2017.

    • Very interesting – thanks for that! Yes, I got the impression that the nomination process is pretty open, which usually I would think is a good thing. But a couple of the “stories” really are dreadful this year – especially the one which is simply an ill-natured rant about a previous winner – and the comments thread on the page where the “story” is published has all the worst kind of trolling on it – personal attacks on the author who won the award. It sickened me, and rather put me off reading the Hugo nominees, which, as someone who doesn’t know much about sci-fi, has always been a source for finding new and interesting authors in the past. I hope the conference manage to find a way to keep the nastiness out in future. I do agree that sometimes the nominees have little to do with sci-fi, but I’d rather read something like If You Were a Dinosaur than the trash that’s turned up this year…

      • The nominating process is open to anyone who joins the World Science Fiction Convention in the previous, current, or following year. The five works with the most nominations go onto a final ballot, voted upon by the members of only the current Worldcon using a process called “Instant Runoff Voting” that is less susceptible to the effect you’ve seen in the nominations, where maybe 20% of the people voting dominated the process because the other 80% of the people participating spread their nominations across a lot more works. There’s no Select Committee. No Cabal of Secret Masters; it’s open to anyone who wants to pay the $40-$50 membership dues.

        • It’ll be interesting to see which ones win then. Despite my criticisms, I found a couple that I’m glad to have read – this one and Folding Beijing, which I might do a post on next week. And I always enjoy the Retrospective Hugos too – haven’t looked at them yet this year, but again I usually end up reading a couple of them and posting if I find them interesting. I do try to interest my totally non sci-fi blog readers in at least sampling some of it… though I’m not sure that I succeed! 😉

  5. Wow. This book sounds really good! I love a book with humor. I keep reading books without any shred of humor. I know the authors want their books taken seriously. But life has comedy AND tragedy. A little bit of humor won’t hurt!
    Sounds like the Hugo/Worldcon group could use an overhaul.

    • Per my comment above, the members of Worldcon are in fact considering _many_ changes to their rules. But the rules are not made by some Big Boss in a Secret Chamber. They have to be hashed out in a public process open to all members of Worldcon. Democracy can be messy and slow sometimes.

    • It’s great – just a little short story though, rather than a book. I so agree – I find totally humourless books can get very wearing. That’s why I’m struggling so much with crime at the moment – misery seems to be in and humour seems to be out.

      Yep, it was very disappointing to see that some people were using the nominations to ‘troll’ past winners this year, rather than picking new and original sci-fi.

    • Haha! This one would probably try to “help” your little TBR problem by cutting off your Kindle connection… and I suspect it would be sending me in the direction of housework tools…

    • Yes, I love the premise too! We all give so much personal info online that it’s scary to think what a search engine could do with it if it became sentient, but I liked that she also recognised that there are still things the internet doesn’t know about us too. A fun story!

    • Well, now you know that only happens because the search engine thinks that’s what we all want! Unfortunately my search engine always seems to be offering me “magical wrinkle cures” or ” how to look twenty years younger by eating bananas” – which is particularly distressing since I don’t think there are any pics of me online. It must be looking at Tuppence…

  6. Great story, and a very good picture of Bonnie, who I saw on Thursday. She and Teddy aren’t exactly friends, but they can share space, which is just as well, since she’s coming to me for two weeks in October. I’m glad I only look at cat pics – I don’t know how to post them!

    • Aww, I knew you’d love her! She’s very like Dallas, though her face markings are a bit asymmetrical – not so classically beautiful but it gives her a very cute look. Unfortunately she is NOT good at having her pic taken!! It took me about twenty attempts before I could get one of her that wasn’t just her rear-end disappearing round a corner… 😉

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