Curl Up with Some of the Best AI Sci-Fi Books
Long before AI existed in the palm of our hand, it existed in the imagination. Speculative fiction writers from the second half of the 20th century anticipated much of the technology we enjoy today, celebrating their benefits and warning of their possible ills. Ironically, we might see a future where bots are writing books themselves! But for now, authors continue the tradition of anticipating cutting-edge tech developments through fiction.
So, did the classics guess the future correctly? And what are modern writers anticipating based on the world we live in today? Find out by spending some time with some of the best artificial intelligence science fiction, collected for you here.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
This sci-fi classic is rare in that it portrays AI as friend rather than foe. Forget evil computers like HAL; HOLMES IV, the computer featured here, is a friendly system that wants to befriend humanity. What follows is a Pinocchio-like story in which the newly-sentient AI aims to become more humanlike. Who says a computer with a sense of humor can’t be the shining point of light in a dystopian future?
Heinlein was influenced in his writings by Marvin Minsky, co-founder of MIT’s AI laboratory and an influential AI researcher. The two were friends, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress became known for its realistic imagining of future society. For these reasons, this might be the best artificial intelligence science fiction example on this list in terms of realism. The book won both a Nebula and Hugo Award.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
It’s an old book, but this classic is the inspiration for Blade Runner — which has a sequel releasing this fall. This classic from legendary author Philip K. Dick explores the nature of existence in a world where differences between AI and human intelligence is indistinguishable.
Because the average consumer encounters humanlike digital agents each day, Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep remains a powerful meditation on humanity, sentience and empathy. How does this change the way we view AI agents that already exist today?
Speak by Louisa Hall
One of our top artificial intelligence books came out only two years ago! This 2015 novel follows a whole cast of characters that contribute to the development of an AI across generations. It’s inspired by the historical development of AI (with figures like Alan Turing and a character based on Joseph Weizenbaum), then traces a fictional path between an AI-powered doll (a la Hello Barbie) and a 17th century diarist whose writing inspires its script and personality. The educational value of this novel earns it a place among our top artificial intelligence books.
The historical aspect of the book should help readers understand how we’ve ended up with conversational UI today — and how they can be applied to things like toys that are on store shelves right now. But a powerful theme to the book is how memory can persist across time via AI, as girls in the near-future befriend the diarist through the doll.
Bête by Adam Roberts
What if you could hold an actual conversation with your pet? In this recent work of speculative fiction, animal rights activists call for domesticated animals to become augmented with AI. The technology puts them on par with humans in intelligence, with the goal being that humans will treat them with better empathy.
What results is a strange exploration of ethics (for animals and AI) and questions on the nature of intelligence itself. For example, where does the spirit or soul reside in the animals, and what about their intelligence is artificial? With real-life developments like Elon Musk’s Neuralink — a project aimed at merging the human brain with AI — such questions are compelling for our increasingly cyborg society.
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Ann Leckie’s debut novel is already regarded a modern classic in AI sci-fi books, nabbing a Hugo, Nebula and Arthur C. Clarke award with critical praise. AI is explored here as a force for organization and building a collective; in this far-future world, soldiers called “ancillaries” are controlled by AI, effectively serving as multiple bodies for single artificial intelligences to act through.
While the book may not be the best example of realism in an artificial intelligence fiction book, it allegorically might make you question how AI can shape who we are through media distribution — individually or in collective society.
River of Gods by Ian McDonald
Set a century after India’s independence from Britain, River of Gods features an interesting mix of traditional customs and futuristic technology. In 2047, humans and artificial intelligences (called “aeias”) intermix in society, but those passing the Turing test are eliminated. It’s a wonderful example of what makes AI sci-fi books great, delving into larger political topics as well.
With the planet on the brink of collapse due to natural disaster, we witness a culture war brewing between traditional orthodox culture and a society that has embraced aeias for entertainment and defense. A British Science Fiction Award winner, River of Gods is a compelling artificial intelligence fiction book portraying a probably future beyond AI development.