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The story of Ted Chiang’s life includes stints as a technical writer in the Seattle area and worldwide acclaim as a science-fiction writer. (Alan Berner Photo via Knopf Doubleday Publicity)

What rights does a robot have? If our machines become intelligent in the science-fiction way, that’s likely to become a complicated question — and the humans who nurture those robots just might take their side.

泰德清, a science-fiction author of growing renown with long-lasting connections to Seattle’s tech community, doesn’t back away from such questions. They spark the thought experiments that generate award-winning novellas like“The Lifecycle of Software Objects,”并激发好莱坞电影“Arrival.”

Chiang’s soulful short stories have earned him kudos from the likes of The New Yorker, which has called him“one of the most influential science-fiction writers of his generation.”During this year’s pandemic-plagued summer, he joined the Museum of Pop Culture’s科学Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. And this week,he’s receiving an award from the Arthur C. Clarke Foundationfor employing imagination in service to society.


Absolutely, Chiang says.

“艺术是一种方法来理解世界,它自己没有意义,”他在最新发作中说Fiction Science podcast,这侧重于科学与小说之间的交汇处。“艺术可以对事物施加一种秩序。......它并没有提供治疗 - 所有人,因为我不认为这将是任何简单的治疗方法,但我认为艺术有助于我们在这些压力时期得到。“

Covid-19提供了一个插图。蒋会争辩说我们对此的回应冠状病毒大流行has been problematic in part because it doesn’t match what we’ve seen in sci-fi movies.


This pandemic may well spark a new kind of sci-fi theme.

“It’s worth thinking about, that traditional depictions of pandemics don’t spend much time on people coming together and trying to support each other,” Chiang said. “That is not typically a theme in stories about disaster or enormous crisis. I guess the narrative is usually, ‘It’s the end of civilization.’ And people have not turned on each other in that way.”


蒋不仅仅是作为短篇小说的作者,而是作为加入西雅图科技界的人三十年ago to work at Microsoft as a technical writer. During his first days in Seattle, his participation in 1989’sClarion West Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshophelped launch his second career as a fiction writer.

In our interview, Chiang didn’t want to say much about the technical-writing side of his career, but his expertise showed through in our discussion about real vs. sci-fi AI. “When people talk about AI in the real world … they’re talking about a certain type of software that is usually like a superpowered version of applied statistics,” he said.

That’s a far cry from the software-enhanced supervillains of movies like“Terminator”要么“The Matrix,”要么the somewhat more sympathetic characters in shows like“Westworld”“Humans.”

In Chiang’s view, most depictions of sci-fi AI fall short even by science-fiction standards. “A lot of stories imagine something which is a product like a robot that comes in a box, and you flip it on, and suddenly you have a butler — a perfectly competent and loyal and obedient butler,” he noted. “That, I think jumps over all these steps, because butlers don’t just happen.”

In “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” Chiang imagines a world in which it takes just as long to raise a robot as it does to raise a child. That thought experiment sparks all kinds of interesting all-too-human questions: What if the people who raise such robots want them to be something more than butlers? Would they stand by and let their sci-fi robot progeny be treated like slaves, even like sex slaves?

“Maybe they want that robot, or conscious software, to have some kind of autonomy,” Chiang said. “To have a good life.”

Chiang’s latest collection of short stories,“Exhalation,”将这些类型的思路实验扩展到科幻宿舍,从自由意志寻找外星智力。

Both those subjects come into play in what’s certainly Chiang’s best-known novella,“Story of Your Life,”which was first published in 1998 and adapted to produce the screenplay for “Arrival” in 2016. Like so many of Chiang’s other stories, “Story of Your Life” takes an oft-used science-fiction trope — in this case, first contact with intelligent aliens — and adds an unexpected but insightful and heart-rending twist.

蒋介石说,成功的中篇小说和the movie hasn’t led to particularly dramatic changes in the story of his own life, but that it has broadened the audience for the kinds of stories he tells.

“Exhalation” is the latest collection of Ted Chiang’s science-fiction short stories. (Knopf Doubleday)


What’s more, Chiang’s work has been popping up in places where you wouldn’t expect to see science fiction — such as The New York Times, where he weighs in on theimplications of human gene editing;要么Buzzfeed News, where he反映了硅谷世界观的缺点;或者,你可以在那里找到蒋的思想实验自由意志Transhumanism.;或幼儿园,蒋介绍unorthodox perspective on SETI.


Chiang’s answer? It depends.

“If we could get software-generated novels that were coherent, but not necessarily particularly good, I think there would be a market for them,” he said.


“For an AI to generate a novel that you think of as really good, that you feel like, ‘Oh, wow, this novel was both gripping and caused me to think about my life in a new way’ — that, I think, is going to be very, very hard,” he said.

泰德清上ly makes it look easy.

Chiang and other Arthur C. Clarke Foundation awardees will take part in the2020年克拉克对想象力的交谈at 9 a.m. PT Nov. 12. Register via the foundation’s website andenverbrite.进入交互式视频事件。

This is a version of an第一次发表在Cosmic Log上. Check out the Cosmic Log posting for Ted Chiang’s reading recommendations, which are this month’s selections for the宇宙日志二手书俱乐部.

My co-host for the Fiction Science podcast is Dominica Phetteplace, anaward-winning writerwho is a graduate of theClarion West Writers Workshop目前生活在加利福尼亚州伯克利。她是科幻作家中的特色The Best Science Fiction of the Year. To learn more about Phetteplace, check out her website,DominicaPhetteplace.com.

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