Review of We Think, Therefore We Are by

Book cover for We Think, Therefore We Are

As usual, I snap anything up involving artificial intelligence. This has been on my list for a while, and I finally got around to acquiring it. We Think, Therefore We Are is exactly what it seems: a collection of stories about AIs, robots, and other posthuman ideas about disembodied consciousness. Fifteen stories from fifteen authors, all with different ideas about what the next centuries might bring us.

For such a long wait, this wasn’t all that impressive a payoff. This is a rather lacklustre collection. I’m used to anthologies coming with short prefaces to each short story introducing the author and maybe saying a few words about the story, so much so that their absence here seemed gaping. The stories themselves have some interesting ideas, but none of them were very fun, enjoyable, or just plain entertaining. (A few came close.)

The first story, Stephen Baxter’s “Tempest 43”, is probably the best the collection has to offer. It concerns an ailing AI on an ageing weather control satellite. The AI actually has a tripartite personality core, and the three personalities have gone to war. Three humans are caught in the middle. Even this story, however, lacks a satisfying climax, because it feels like the AI is doing all the work while the humans just sit around and watch.

I should also mention “Adam Robots” by Adam Roberts. It is definitely an original tale, a riff off the Garden of Eden story with robots instead of humans and a particularly sad twist at the end. Yet it’s representative of the stories here in another way, in that it relies more on clever premises than any deep exploration of what artificial intelligences might be like. None of these stories really made me go, “Oh yeah, I didn’t think about AI that way before,” and that’s what I want to see in such fiction.

Another weakness is the gender balance here: a single woman author among fourteen men. I don’t mean to say that every anthology should have a ratio of women to men approaching 1:1, but in this case the skew is just so noticeable. It would be easier to excuse if each story were a diamond in the rough, but most are merely adequate cubic zirconium.

We Think, Therefore We Are is neither bold nor brilliant. It doesn’t seem to take many risks; rather, it’s as if someone decided that they should collect some mediocre stories about AI, bundle them, and sell them at a profit. Well it worked, but it isn’t exciting, and it isn’t all that fresh.

Engagement

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