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'Silence Like Diamonds' Concludes

Mitch Wagner

The thrilling conclusion of "Silence Like Diamonds," Light Reading's original science fiction story, is online: Silence Like Diamonds – Finale: When in Rome.

Or start at the beginning: Silence Like Diamonds – Episode 1: Family Business

And once you're done, come back here and we'll talk about some of the technology issues of "Silence Like Diamonds."

Now we know the cause of our heroes' problems. NameItCorp was just following its programming -- too literally.

This is an old idea in science fiction. The 1947 story "With Folded Hands... " by Jack Williamson, tells the story of robots called Humanoids which threaten whole worlds just by literally following their Prime Directive, "to serve and obey and guard men from harm." The Humanoids work for free in every human job, and forbid humans from doing anything that might be dangerous. Humans who resist the Prime Directive are taken away and lobotomized, so they can live happily in the new world. The title refers to the only activity that the Humanoids permit real humans: to sit at home with folded hands.

"With Folded Hands... "

Earlier, Isaac Asimov introduced his Three Laws of Robotics in 1942. Paraphrased and abbreviated, they say robots have to protect humans, obey humans and protect themselves -- in that order. Simple and inarguable, and yet Asimov spent another 50 years turning out stories in which robots malfunctioned, often fatally to humans, through overly literal interpretation of those three laws.

"I, Robot"

Older examples: "The Monkey's Paw," about a magical artifact that grants its owners three wishes, and "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," based on a 1797 poem and most well-known today as a cartoon featuring Mickey Mouse.

Artificial intelligence lifts these kinds of stories from the realm of fantasy, because computers have a tendency to follow instructions literally, as anybody who's ever debugged code can tell you. AI researcher Stuart Russell describes the problem in this video lecture on YouTube. Cory Doctorow, a blogger, journalist, political activist and science fiction writer has more.

Find out more about the New IP on Light Reading's The New IP Channel.

Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and Elon Musk take these and other threats of AI seriously enough to donate $7 million to research dedicated to making AI safer.

For a few more words on "Silence Like Diamonds," including further discussion of the implications of breaking encryption and an explanation of the title, visit author John Barnes's blog.

We hope you enjoyed this experiment on Light Reading as much as we enjoyed bringing it to you.


— Mitch Wagner, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profileFollow me on Facebook, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading. Got a tip about SDN or NFV? Send it to [email protected]

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8/25/2015 | 8:06:24 PM
Re: Jack Williamson
Mitch, an incredible achievement - at any age!

So it is "Back to the Future"?  And the AI makes an added dimension of intrigue - with human slaves.  Really interesting thoughts and writing.

Thanks to you and John for the series - it has been excellent!

Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
8/25/2015 | 1:14:28 PM
Jack Williamson
Jack Williamson, who wrote "With Folded Hands.... ", discussed above, had a remarkable life and career. Born in 1908, his family moved to rural New Mexico in a horse-drawn covered wagon in 1915. He published his first story, "The Metal Man," in "Amazing Stories" in 1929. He died in 2006, a year after publishing his last novel. Amazon reviews are unenthusiastic. But before you criticize Williamson over that, firstpublish a novel when you're 97 years old and see if yours is any better?
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