My Problem with AI

After much procrastination, I finally commissioned an artist to design a logo encompassing “Alaska’s Reverie”. Thanks for all those that have noticed it in my banner where it sits in all its crowning glory.

My logo is the combination of three smaller icons which represent the three genres I prefer to write in; Fantasy, Romance and Science Fiction.

Having invested in the design of these three logos, I will take the time to list many reasons why I think ‘genre’ as an artistic concept is limited and is probably something future writers should and will do away with.

Of course, because I like to get to the point promptly, let’s take a magical mystery tour, starting at what I like to call, “My Problem with AI”.

If you show a child a dog, maybe two dogs, that child will forever more be able to point out other dogs. Labrador, Terrier, Great Dane, stuffed, ceramic or drawn, the parents of these children will become sick of hearing the cry of ‘DOG!’ every time humanities four-legged friends come into this child’s view.

Meanwhile, AI needs to see every single dog (ever) in order to sometimes-maybe be able to accurately identify whether or not the thing you are showing it is indeed a dog. This is known as Deep Learning AI and requires one supercomputer and a whole load of servers (you know, to store every single depiction of ‘dog-ness’).

AI is a lot further off being able to replicate the abilities of the human mind than I think many people assume, and whilst it can pinpoint specifics through huge amounts of data almost instantly, we humans hold a much higher power of categorization. As with all things that have evolved, this is one of our many inbuilt survival instincts and therefore one we don’t have much active control over. If you ever felt threatened by a dog, which no doubt early humans were, you would be able to recognise all dogs after your first encounter and generally steer clear of all future dogs, thus increasing your chances of survival.

Perfect.

The modern world however doesn’t need this kind of survival technique yet we continue to apply our skills of categorization often in bizarre and unhelpful ways.
Think, racial stereotypes or gender prejudices which have obvious negative consequences for our societies but even more basically, things such as dislikes:

“I don’t like sports”
“I don’t like movies”
or
“I don’t like vegetables”

This is our brain’s way of saying, we didn’t like the taste of that green thing when we were a child (“probably poisonous” your brain concludes) so we will steer clear of everything within that same category of plant-based, not-sweet-like-fruits, forevermore. When we say ‘I don’t like…’ it’s our way of expressing a rationalisation of these inbuilt systems that we have no control over. It’s pretty illogical.

What’s even more illogical is when we apply the same preferences and prejudices to things we have categorised which have zero bearing on our survival. Things captured within the creative pursuits such as film-making, drawing or writing which realistically, should be free from such shackles. However, our categorisation of art into genres is so ingrained that several authors will publish work within different genres under different names (so as to not confuse the reader!)
Prejudices around different genres bring out sweeping statements such as:

“I don’t like romance”
“I don’t like science fiction” or
“I don’t like foreign writers”

and again, like those racial stereotypes and gender prejudices, categorising our cultural landscape in this way has bigger consequences than just personal preference. It is important to challenge these assumptions surrounding genres if we want to see more equality and diversity in all walks of life. For example, science fiction is regularly seen as a ‘male’ genre, introduced to boys when they start their reading careers and catering for boys and men of all ages through swashbuckling space operas and appealingly roguish heroes. Because of this, they are exposed to fictional role models within a scientific setting from the beginning of their reading careers.

Meanwhile, romance is seen as a ‘female’ pursuit, exploring relationships, sexual fantasy and building emotional bonds. Something that girls and women can enjoy in their leisure time and not to be taken seriously.

As a result of these genre restrictions, women continue to lag in the industry of computer science and men continue to struggle when it comes to communicating their feelings. Obviously, there are several factors which play into these problems but our cultural landscape is one of the many areas requiring an update.

From a writers perspective, however, updating these genre restrictions is no easy task. Genre’s are made apparent by the use of ‘Tropes’. Wikipedia describes a trope as :

“… a common plot convention, element or theme as a use of figurative language, via word, phrase or an image, for artistic effect such as using a figure of speech.[1] The word trope has also come to be used for describing commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés in creative works”

Therefore, you might think that in order to develop a genre, you should bend the rules of the traditional tropes in order to produce a different effect. However, the human experience has created so many powerful bodies of work, that even broken tropes have become tropes in themselves. Let’s look at science fiction for example:

Original Trope – Strong male lead fights an oppressor
Broken Trope – Strong female lead fights an oppressor
e.g. Alien, The Hunger Games
New Trope – Strong Female Leads must be BAD-ASS, as physically strong as their male counterparts but with a secret female emotional element to them like a maternal instinct

Or the world of Fantasy
Original Trope – Good guys are pale and ethereal, Bad guys are dark and disgusting
Broken Trope – Dark, deformed guys are the real heroes!
e.g. Hulk, Tyrion Lannister,
New Trope – Everyone is morally grey and it will probably be the character you least expect who comes good in the end!

Despite all this, there is a value to the genre and the tropes they carry, held within an unwritten understanding between the writer and their reader’s. When you pick up a book, the writer has no idea what experiences you as a reader, have had beforehand. This might be your first introduction to a magic system or alternatively, you might be well versed in a vast range of magical approaches. Finding that balance between explaining a story’s position on magic and patronising the reader, is a difficult thing to achieve and genres help immensely. If you are reading a science-fiction novel and the writer uses the word ‘space ship’, assumptions will be made about the familiarity the reader has with the concept of space ships. Likewise, if you are reading a romance and the story begins ‘Lily and Jack couldn’t have been more different’, you know that Lily and Jack are probably the two central characters you should invest your interest in.

Personally, I believe the real answer to breaking down tropes and stereotypes in a meaningful way is to blend our genres so that no one reader is excluded from learning the lessons and skills that other genres can provide. Realistic romances within science fiction; technical engineering discussions within fantasy; exploration of alternative cultures through historical fiction are just a few examples where the original readership will still be able to enjoy the core of what they enjoy whilst being influenced in a more progressive and helpful way. The success of this approach hinges upon excellent writing skills but luckily, there are already some great books out there which do an amazing job of blending genres. My three logos are designed as markers to direct readers to what they might enjoy most, but my combined logo is reflective of the way these genres will blend.

I will publish a list soon entitled ‘Blended Genres’ available for your to download as a checklist if you want to experience more.

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