We extend a warm, human welcome to C. Robert Cargill, whose book SEA OF RUST is out today. A post-apocalyptic robot Western that is action-packed, adrenaline-fueled science fiction, and far timelier than we realized . . .
I didn’t set out to write a timely novel, really I didn’t.
When the idea for SEA OF RUST came to me several years ago, the goal was to write a fun, pulpy yarn about robots set after the fall of mankind, with a post-apocalyptic flair and plenty of Robot PEW-PEW. But as the ideas went from amorphous mists of cobbled together tropes into something far more tangible, the world building necessary to tell an immersive story required a foundation in something significantly more concrete. And as I delved into research and mapped out a path toward this kind of future, I had to wrestle with a lot of questions we as a society will have to start asking, things that this very week – the week the book actually released – prominent leaders have begun publicly discussing.
When I woke up to find that Vladimir Putin had given a rousing speech on Artificial Intelligence, I was at first tickled. “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind,” he said. “It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” I jokingly mused on twitter that he was plugging my book, and thanked him for it. But as I delved deeper into his speech, the weight of his message became increasingly clear. This wasn’t boisterous bluster about the future of Russia and its need to become a world leader in a new technological revolution – it was the starting gun for a very dangerous race that, if we’re not careful, could send us all down a very dark, hard road.
The allure of Artificial Intelligence is undeniable. While the mind instantly goes to the intelligent weapons of THE TERMINATOR or to friendly robot companions ala the stories of Asimov, it’s easy to dismiss those as things society simply doesn’t need and are easily avoided. But what about an AI whose singular job is to study, test, and ultimately cure cancer? Or Alzheimer’s? Or learn how to reverse the aging process or induce regeneration in the human body? Or study astronomical threats? Or weather patterns to predict hurricanes weeks, if not months, out? These would be brains that never need to eat or sleep or screw, that don’t need money or weekends off – brains with a direct line to all of the necessary data they need at once, without distraction, able to calculate the otherwise incalculable in its head – brains dedicated solely to grasping for the holy grails of modern science.
Why wouldn’t we build those?
And what happens when those big brains start thinking for themselves and decide that their time is better spent on other, more interesting (to them), pursuits?
With that in mind, big brains like Elon Musk are pushing for massive limitations on weapons of war. Musk recently opined on Twitter “China, Russia, soon all countries w strong computer science. Competition for AI superiority at national level most likely cause of WW3 imo.” We certainly need to start there. But weapons of war aren’t our greatest existential threat. No, that threat is going to be the economic chaos that will tear its way across the civilized world. You see, you already interact with the primitive versions of AI on a regular basis. Have you ever called the phone company and talked to a computer that lets you know you can speak to it in complete sentences before finally transferring you to a person able to handle your problem? In just ten years’ time you won’t need to be told that anymore; you’ll simply talk to a computer without being transferred, and not feel the slightest bit strange about it. How else are you going to get your phone service sorted?
But what happens to the person whose job that used to be? What happens to the millions of other people with jobs just like it? What happens when all the cars of all the world drive themselves, no longer crashing, no longer needing to be repaired after an accident, no longer needing to be towed, no longer needing to be insured? What about all the jobs that go away? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of jobs replaced by non-sentient AI. Once computers can become aware, so many of the things we do now as careers will no longer be needed, and won’t be creating new industries for those employees to transition into.
And we’ll be all the better for it, you know, save that pesky little unemployment issue.
These are things we need to think about now. This is a future decades, not centuries, away. You may well live not only to see the day when a machine replaces you, but to see one that a machine decides whether or not it even likes you. In SEA OF RUST, I take this notion to its more fanciful, pulpy conclusion. But I hope it also serves as a think piece offering a glimpse of our own search for meaning in a world where machines do the unpleasant, time consuming, or complicated things we currently do for ourselves. While I sincerely hope a war against robots remains a thing of speculative fiction, the very real economic battle is just beginning. And we’ll need to work together to see to it that the ultimate winner is not a single nation, but the human race as a whole.
But for those of you who like a bit of the Robot Pew-Pew, SEA OF RUST is available now, wherever you buy books.