Society is in the throws of grappling with the implications of AI in our lives. How will it impact our jobs, our services, our arts and how we will live in general?
So, as we’re asking questions, what better time to get stuck into some great science fiction novels that have already imagined what the impact of artificial intelligence will be?
These novels show a range of attitudes towards the subject of artificial intelligence. Some depict bleak futures while others are more upbeat in their attitudes.
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
Do not be put off by the rubbish Will Smith film that this collection of short stories inspired. I, Robot has rightfully carved out a place in many sci-fi fans hearts due to its intelligent approach to AI and robotics.
It was in one of these short stories, Runaround, that the three laws of robotics were codified. Due to this, and Asimov’s approach to artificial intelligence in general, I,Robot has had an impact not just on science fiction but also on the ethics of artificial intelligence.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick
This book is very different from the film it inspired and deserves to be considered a classic in its own right.
Perhaps even more melancholic than Blade Runner, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep is a beautiful novel full of broken things. As we follow Rick Deckard’s attempts to kill androids we can’t help but wonder what it means to be human.
As with all of Philip K Dick’s work, Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep is unsettling and thought-provoking in equal measure.
You can read our analysis of this novel here.
The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson
Neal Stephenson is not a writer to create a novel that looks at just one theme. Fittingly, The Diamond Age considers topics such as education, class and artificial intelligence. All set in a world where nanotechnology has run rampant.
The Diamond Age is unusual in that Stephenson does not appear to have a particularly high opinion of the value of artificial intelligence when compared to human interaction.
Stephenson’s style is not for everyone, but those who love it really love it.
You can read our analysis of the Diamond Age here.
The Improbable Rise of Singularity Girl by Bryce C. Anderson
The Improbable Rise of Singularity Girl deals with artificial intelligence in a unique way.
Helen Roderick is a young scientist who uploads her brain into a bank of computers, digitising who she is and creating a quasi-artificial intelligence in the process. What follows is a hilarious novel, full of great shout outs to geek culture, that will make you think about the concept of identity and what makes a person a ‘real’ person.
You can read our review of this novel here.
Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Hyperion is a common feature on these best of lists, because it a great novel that spans multiple genres. The novel follows seven pilgrims as they make their way to see The Shrike. The Shrike being a incomprehensible monster that impales his victims on a metal tree, where they writhe for eternity.
As they make their way, the pilgrims regale each other with tales from their life. Each of these written in a different style, but sharing common themes of loss. Each story gives the reader a better understanding of the world of Hyperion. A world where humanity shares space with the strange Ousters and the inscrutable Technocore (a group of artificial intelligences that have evolved far past human comprehension).
You can read our analysis of Hyperion here.
Neuromancer By William Gibson
Often cited as the book that defined cyberpunk, Neuromancer also shows a world where humanity has grown fearful of the power of AIs.
The novel follows low-life ‘hacker’ Case as he teams up with street-assassin Molly Millions to carry out complex crimes under the direction of the mysterious Armitage.
The role of artificial intelligence in Neuromancer is shadowy, but profound.
Nueromancer is a book that’s packed full of interesting concepts and themes, and you can read our analysis of it here.
Date Night on Union Station by E.M. Foner
A quick, easy to read, fun novel to add a bit of balance to this list. Foner is a self-published writer who writes quirky sci-fi tales with a lot of humour.
Date Night on Union Station sees Earth consulate Kelly Frank and space-junk dealer Joe McAllister try to find love with a super intelligent AI-powered dating service. Sadly, the AI’s understanding of human wants appears to be somewhat lacking. Leading to a series of inappropriate and funny dates.
While far from the most serious or profound novel on artificial intelligence, Date Night on Union Station is worth its place on this list due to its humour and charm.
You can read our review of this novel here.
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
All Systems Red is the first novel in the Murderbot series. It’s a tense work that is both a subtle discourse on the nature of artificial consciousness and a mystery set in space.
Narrated by the self aware security bot that calls itself ‘Murderbot’, All Systems Red begins with a research party left on a remote planet. When a neighbouring research party goes dark, they decide to investigate. What follows is an intense novel as we learn more about the Murderbot and what happened to the neighbouring research party.
What makes All Systems Red stand out is the way Wells brings the character of the Murderbot to life with humour and pathos. You can read our review of the novel here.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
Published in 1966 and often considered one of the most important novels in sci-fi. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress shows a lunar colony that is made up largely of criminals, those exiled from earth and their descendants. The novel follows the colony as they rebel against Earth.
The novel is narrated by the colonist Mannie, who discovers that the AI responsible for running the Lunar colony has become self aware, to the point of developing a sense of humour.
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Ann Leckie’s debut work caused quite a stir in the science fiction world when it grabbed a Hugo, Nebula and Arthur C. Clarke award.
In the distant future, humanity has spread out amongst the stars but is still split into factions. The most powerful faction, by far, being the Radch empire. The Radch is known for it’s use of AIs that can control multiple human bodies to either be an administrative tool in peace time or a deadly force in war.
The novel is narrated by an AI that is currently in one body. The narration gives the book a brilliantly uncanny aspect, as the AIs descriptions are similar to, but not quite like, how a human would describe people and events.
Ancillary Justice is a novel that spans thousands of years and various planets as we follow the AI on its quest. During this journey the reader is also asked to consider how humanity could be shaped by the presence of powerful AIs.
We hope you found a book that piques your interest in this list. But, if you’re still looking or just fancy reading more of our science fiction recommendations, you may want to look at the following articles: