(In the grand tradition ofJohn Van Sickle’s Grand list of Overused Science Fiction Clichés, the Grand list of SF clichés, Things I learnt at the Movies, and Not So Grand Cliché List, Jackie Speel is here to make her own contributions to literature – what to do and not to do – here at MuseHack.)
‘The usual weaknesses’ in describing computers and robots of the future include prediction deficit and chronological inaccuracy. It is not always possible to decide which extrapolations from present technology will be valid and where ‘a leap of imagination’ is required. (Examples – the transition from mainframes to handhelds, and the use of slide rules.)
- In most cases if it would be logical to have ‘a device’ that serves a particular purpose it will be created – whether as one-offs or generic/mass market.
- It is, best to avoid going into the ‘actual mechanicals, programming, memory capacity, and components’ of computers and robots – and it is probably best to invent manufacturing companies, rather than extrapolate the existence of current ones.
- Most of the computer related topics of the present are likely to persist – upgrades, favourite programs, incompatibilities, unpleasant programs etc.
- There should be an allowance for (at least mention of) ‘persistence or retention of old technology.’ Reasons will include the practical – ‘it still works/is better than the modern equivalent/transferring material to new machines is too difficult/keeping it obscure from outsiders’ etc. There will also be collectables and ‘using old technology for show.’
- Sentient constructs in much fiction normally ‘just are’ – there should be some reference to back story, frequency, likelihood of encountering one etc, just as we might now note, for example, a classic car, or ‘visibly hi-tech gadget’ among the many thousands of ordinary ones.
- There is no reason why robots should be humanoid – other forms may be more appropriate/preferred. (Centipede-like or spider-like robots?)
As for things that can go wrong with sentient constructs, the computer or robot:
- Suffers from information overload, deliberate or otherwise, has to be ‘decluttered’, and send information (which ‘promptly becomes essential’) to external storage.
- Overdoes/becomes addicted to computer games and similar leisure-time activities (and has to go to ‘computer de-tox’).
- ‘Personal communications network’ gets overloaded with ‘entries for bulk deletion’ messages (none of which bear any relation to sentient computer/robot activities – another cause of annoyance).
- Gets told ‘Your present system configuration cannot support the latest upgrade (which is now an industry standard)’ and pet computer experts are ‘too busy’ to make the necessary changes as fast as is deemed appropriate (by the computer).
- Is forced to cover up the lack of a vital and expected program (for example an ‘advanced computer’ without a map-reading chip or equivalent).
- Gets an ‘unauthorised problem-causing program.’
- Is told that its multi-yottabite/volume autobiography is ‘a tad long and could you provide more information and gossip on the humans you have worked with, dear – that is what sells books.’
- Suffer from something other ‘exploding component syndrome’ (when not caused by mechanical or external problems).
- There is no ongoing research into potentially computer/robot-life threatening problems, by themselves, their companions, or commercially.
- Gets coffee and crumbs or similar in undue proximity.
- Communications systems don’t work.
- Goes into a sulk.
- Has ‘child intervention’/’rearrangement by inexperienced people whose attempts to solve the problems only make them worse.’/cat typing and ‘feline maintenance’ etc issues.
More positive possibilities:
The computers and robots:
- Are able to make use of other constructs’ memories, including those which are galactographically distant, or which have been carried forward from the then-distant past (in some cases directly from personal experience).
- Develop a range of goods and services aimed at their particular market (the equivalent of Hawaiian shirts, mobile phone casings and ‘bling’) not all of which are appreciated by organic companions.
- Computer/robot orientated toys.
- Holiday venues, art shows, sports events, shopping centres, grooming and similar facilities aimed at such constructed entities are developed.
- Marriage ceremony equivalents, and ‘offspring.’
- Magazine equivalents aimed at sentient constructs complete with problem pages etc.
- Robots are adapted to suit their environments, including means of locomotion (eg can deal with stairs/ladders, switch to amphibious mode, or add necessary modules and protection).
- Organic life forms have to adapt to robot/computer orientated environments (including spaceships), and arts/music.
- Rather than ‘just coming into existence seemingly randomly’ there is a deliberate program of creating sentient constructs.
- ‘Computer and other construct sentience arising’ from the perspective of the entities themselves – and the search for others of their kind.
- Constructed Sentient Rights Groups, business owners/membership, clubs, and membership of political parties.
It might well be possible to create a history of science/technology using what is displayed in ‘future fiction’ – even making allowances for ‘simplifying processes to aid plot development.’ Examples would include computers (in earlier periods often mainframe and centrally operated, rather than desktop to handheld), websites and emails etc (plain text not multimedia), and robots (tend to be ‘clunky metal’, pets, or humanoid, rather than the present (21st Century) diversity).