Structo talks to Ken Liu
“Somebody once tried to complain about my work by saying that my science fiction reads like fantasy and my fantasy reads like science fiction, but I took it as a compliment”
This is going to sound like I’m about to announce a lifetime achievement award but, when it comes to people like the author and translator Ken Liu, it really can’t be helped. So: Among the stories featured in Liu’s 2016 story collection The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories are ‘Good Hunting’, adapted in 2019 as part of Netflix’s Love Death & Robots series and ‘The Paper Menagerie’ (the first work of fiction to win each of the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards). His ‘silkpunk’ fantasy series, The Dandelion Dynasty, is now two volumes and 1,500 pages deep. Notable among his translations from the Chinese are The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, and the anthologies—also edited by Liu—Invisible Planets (2016) and Broken Stars (2019).
This interview has been edited for clarity, although not as much as you might think. Liu is one of the only people I’ve ever interviewed who speaks in paragraphs. — Euan
You have written an enormous number of stories. Can you talk a little bit about your process in narrowing them down into the collection?
Well, it actually wasn’t terribly difficult. I have written a lot of stories but many of them are extremely short—they’re flash fiction pieces—and I think the thinking at the time was that we wanted to build a collection of longer stories rather than from the flash fiction so that narrowed it already considerably.
I wanted to put in stories that I really like in one way or another, and the editor’s thought was that we probably should include the stories that received the most recognition in terms of awards and award nominations. I have conflicted feelings about awards in general, so I did understand the thought, but my experience has been that some of my favourite stories really didn’t get much recognition and I wanted to highlight them if I could… and so we ended up going back and forth a few times and then we ended up with a combination of stories that did receive a lot of recognition in terms of awards and nominations, as well as stories that I thought were particularly interesting even though they didn’t really receive much notice when they came out in magazines.
The much more interesting part is really in the order in which the stories were presented in the collection. My thought was I wanted to have the order of the collection follow an arc so the first story and the last story and the story in the middle would be the tent pole pieces: so that’s why ‘The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species’ is in the beginning, ‘The Man Who Ended History’ is at the end and in the middle I wrote a new story for the collection, ‘An Advanced Reader’s Picture Book’. The thought was I wanted these tent pole stories to serve specific functions.
The first story, ‘The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species’ is really a very strange story, it’s not a story at all, it has no plot, it’s essentially a list of short pseudo-academic descriptions of how different alien species might make artefacts that we could conceivably think of as books. I put it at the beginning because I know that, on Amazon and other ebook stores, the first story often would be presented as a preview. My thought was… because the story is so strange and unusual and doesn’t follow the typical expectations of the story but it is a story that I like a lot and it is in fact very much me, I will put it at the beginning to save readers and myself a lot of time and headache. The idea is if you’re a reader thinking about… who has no idea what kind of work I do and you read the story and you end up not liking it because it’s very unique and not a typical story at all, then you don’t need to buy the rest of the collection, you can just go on in your life and you don’t need to complain to me about it and I’m saving you some money. It’s great.
On the other hand, if you read the story and you’re like, oh this is actually really interesting then, you know, then we have found each other. The last story was a story that was very important to me, and took me a huge amount of personal effort to write, and I wanted to put that at the end as a combination of things presented in the rest of the collection. The story in the middle is a story that I just wrote for the collection that hadn’t been published anywhere else and so was to be the bonus content for the collection.
So that was the thought and all the other stories were arranged around the three stories thematically in order to take you on a journey of sorts.
It’s interesting that you say the first story is ‘very much me’. Could you explain what you mean by that?
I’ve had a very weird career. I was a technologist, a programmer for many years and then I became a corporate lawyer, also for many years, and then I became a litigation consultant. So because of the way my life weaves between technology and law I’ve always had a lot of interest both in technology as an artefact and technology as a process, as well as the rhetoric of law and the way rhetoric has developed into an omnipresent art form in the modern world without necessarily us thinking about it as such.
That story is written in the style of nonfiction, which as a lawyer I’ve had to write a lot of; and it is at the same time deeply interested in technology as a process, and as a way of making artefacts, but not technology in the way science fiction usually considers it. It doesn’t really do a lot with gizmos and rockets and all that stuff, it’s very much focused on one kind of technology, which is the technology of augmented cognition. The most familiar example of which, for humans, would be writing. We don’t typically think of writing as technology but that’s what it is, the symbol system and the actual production of books and the very idea of reducing thoughts into written form: these are technological behaviours and technological artefacts and we have become a different species in the way we think as a result of writing.
My interest in this sort of thing is reflected in the story, a story about alien ways of producing writing and how writing and books and how these technological behaviours and artefacts change the way they think. That’s exactly the sort of thing that I think about a lot. So you know, in that sense, the story is very much me and the other thing that is very me about that story is that it’s hard to pin down the genre. There are passages of it that are clearly very, quote unquote, science fiction—it goes into great technical detail about how certain things might be accomplished—but other parts are written in a very loose, almost fantastical style so you know that the descriptions of what’s happening are really metaphors. But you can’t be sure, maybe it really is literally true, so it straddles and jumps over the dividing line between fantasy and science fiction and magic realism and perhaps even fiction, so it’s hard to pin it down. Somebody once tried to complain about my work by saying that my science fiction reads like fantasy and my fantasy reads like science fiction, but I took it as a compliment.
My sense is that that story tends to be polarizing. Readers who really resonate with my particular style love that story but readers who were expecting something more in the mode of science fiction—or what they think of as science fiction—hate it, they often say it’s not a story at all. Which is fine. That’s why I put it at the beginning as a filter. I certainly don’t want readers who don’t like what I do to waste their money on buying something like that.
It seems that your publishers have got that as well, purely from the jacket design.
I’m very lucky. The cover for The Paper Menagerie, that was largely driven by Simon Schuster, my publisher in the USA. Saga Press in particular. Joe Monty, who is my editor there, really gets what I do. He has been with me for many years and I’m very grateful for the support he’s given to my work. He said, ‘I know what you’re trying to do, I get what you’re doing, we have to design a cover that invokes that sense, there’s no point in putting on a cover that doesn’t give people a hint of what they’re going to find.’ He’s largely responsible for commissioning art and conveying to the design staff an idea of what he wants the book to look like and so I’m very grateful for the result, I think it looks really fantastic.
You use the phrase ‘silkpunk’ to describe your epic fantasy novels. You’re a very careful user of language—what was the reason for that?
There are two ways to answer this question. One is somewhat serious, the other is not-so-serious. I’ll give you the not-so-serious answer first. The not-so-serious answer is basically I needed some way to describe these books in a succinct way to people and I’m a very lazy person. These are epic fantasy books and that meant if I were to describe them accurately, I would have to position them within the existing canon, inside the genre, in a very precise way so that readers coming to the series would know, OK, this is like that and not like that and then so they can be informed, understanding what’s going on; but there really wasn’t anything in the field that I felt was particularly close.
It’s very popular to describe new books by saying it’s X meets Y. I hate that way of doing things, I really hate it and I didn’t think [any term] that existed could really be used to describe what I do in that way. I said, look, I could do several things, one is to go read more epic fantasy series until I found something that fit and become a scholar of epic fantasy but I’m not a scholar and I don’t want to be a scholar of epic fantasy. I’m just a reader, I’m a fan, I want to read. So here’s what I’m going to do: rather than trying very carefully to investigate, learn and know and just… absorb every single subgenre of epic fantasy there is and try to find a label that fits, I’m going to be lazy and just draw a chalk line around my feet and define my own stuff into its own subgenre. That way I don’t have to deal with all the issues that come with trying to position yourself into the existing field, you can just tell them, describe them the way I want to. I created this subgenre in which the only example was me so there you go, people can judge it based on that.
The more serious answer is that silkpunk does actually mean something to me. It’s very popular in these days to stick a -punk suffix on anything, and it becomes kind of ridiculous, but I was actually trying to think this through. silkpunk in some ways can be seen as a kind of alternate investigation or experimentation with the fundamental ideas of steampunk. Steampunk is a very fascinating literary subgenre to me because, if you think about it, steampunk actually is kind of our attempt to write in the style of Jules Verne. For Verne it was pure sci-fi but for us, it’s taken on this interesting mix between sci fi and fantasy.
It’s an articulation of a particular technological and aesthetic vocabulary into a whole subgenre of works that are really all very different subgenres: dramas, romances, what have you. What unifies the idea of steampunk is the extension of Victorian era technological vocabulary, you’ve got the goggles, you’ve got the Tesla style coils, you’ve got steam, you’ve all that stuff. And we extend them out into fantastical variations try to take the Victorian era aesthetics and try to make it global and engage with all the issues of post-colonialism and power distribution in the process. At least, that’s how modern steampunk has evolved.
That to me is very fascinating, so I said, can we take that basic idea of creating a technological and aesthetic vocabulary inspired by a particular historical period and try to see what we can do with it? I ended up picking the technological vocabulary and aesthetics of classical East Asia, particularly China and Japan and Korea, to develop my own version of this alternate technological vocabulary and aesthetics. I wanted to tell a fantasy story using that vocabulary.
So that explains the ‘silk’ part. The thing about this East Asian fantastical and East Asian-inspired fantastical technology vocabulary is that it focuses on different materials. The technology uses materials that are of historical importance in east Asia, like bamboo and silk, and it also tries to extend the engineering principles you see in classical East Asia.
One part of Chinese engineering from antiquity is this idea that the highest aesthetic realm you can reach in artefacts is the feeling in the viewer that it’s actually natural, the highest aesthetic ideal is to make what is otherwise artificial feel natural. It has to be crafted in a way as to evoke nature. That explains things like very carefully cultivated bonsai arrangements, it explains scholar’s rocks which are natural, crafted by natural forces. But for a lot of classical Chinese aesthetics, it’s also very highly artificial because the meaning of the rock doesn’t come from its natural form but from the layers of poetic imagery heaped upon it. It’s in fact an augmented reality creation, if you will, where the augmentation happens through culture and through the poetic ways in which you view it.
A lot of famous Chinese natural sites, or tourist attractions, are like that. Take West Lake. It’s a natural formation but it is highly crafted. It’s highly crafted and artificial and layered with many, many centuries—and multiple dynasties—worth of history and culture, and yet at the same time the ultimate reason they are attractive is because they feel natural. That’s the kind of aesthetic I was going for. [The characters in The Dandelion Dynasty series] use materials like bamboo and silk and kites and so on and so forth, but for battle kites and underwater boats and airships which use the principles of biomimetics to move, they imitate the movements of motion of natural things. For example, the airship moves around using giant feathered oars and they’re lit up from inside so that when they are flying around at night, they look like glowing jellyfish going through a dark sea. The underwater boats actually propel themselves using the motions derived from the way whales propel themselves through the water, and the battle kites are very much inspired by the flight of birds—as are the airships. If you read the book you see there’s a lot of reference to how the principles of lighter-than-air flight were discovered. It’s very much inspired by natural phenomena.
I tried to carry through this idea of a particular set of materials used for the technology as well as the design principles in it. So that’s the ‘silk’ part but the ‘punk’ part is also pretty important to me. A punk aesthetic to me implies the idea of reappropriation, of taking what already exists and using [it] for new, often subversive purposes. Punk as an aesthetic movement is always associated with some kind of political protest, of revolution, of dissatisfaction with the status quo and so that’s what these epic fantasy books are actually about. A lot of epic fantasy that we’re familiar with traditionally tried to tell the story of restoration, of restoring what is otherwise out of bounds, into a nostalgic status quo ante that is better than the chaos that we experience. You know: we have to restore the rightful king to his throne, we have to put the artefact that has been stolen back into its rightful place, we have to drive out the usurpers, and put those who should rule back in charge. There are better people and worse people, and we have to preserve the natural border of society. My books are very much not about that. They are very much about how there is no such thing as a perfect nostalgic past, and the only thing we can do is engage in continuous revolution to create something that is better. The world will never be perfect, but that doesn’t mean that the impulse to perfect it should be held back. That doesn’t always necessarily always mean progress. It doesn’t always mean something better in fact will emerge, and so the books are about that. They’re about a punkish impulse to always rebel. So: ‘punk’. That’s the more serious reason for why the books were described that way.
And the universe in which this huge story is set is one that you created in partnership with your wife.
Yes. My wife is a photographer and a visual artist, and when I was trying to look for a big story to tell I was asking for her thoughts about the kind of stories that I could tell, and she said, “Well, you know, we both grew up immersed in these very traditional Chinese stories and wuxia [martial arts] fantasies. They are very important stories for the Chinese diaspora across the world, and these stories often evoke a specific sense of continuous change, of reappropriating the past to do something new.” I said, “Okay, that’s really fascinating.” Then I wanted to think through a way of making that work in a fantasy setting, and then my wife said, “Okay, well, what if you try to tell a story that is very Chinese, but using techniques and worldbuilding ideas that are actually not traditionally Orientalist, or Chinese at all? Can you do something that goes against that kind of expectation?”
We talked about it a little more, and my thought was I wanted to do something epic in the traditional sense, not just epic fantasy, but actually epic. What that means is, it would be inspired by epic style narratives from both East Asia and the West. It would take its cues from things like the Iliad and the Aeneid and Paradise Lost, as well as from traditional Eastern-style oral storytelling, jianghu [martial artists in wuxia] stories, historical biographies, all these sources.
My wife helped me with some of the thinking through of some of the issues with world-building. We discussed the gods, and what role they would play, and how they would reflect ideas about religion prevalent in East Asia, and so on and so forth. And so, in the end, we came up with a world that I enjoyed, and then I set about trying to tell the story.
Were there any stand-out stories for you, growing up?
Like a lot of folks my age, I was very taken with the work of Michael Ende. Momo, that’s a book that I loved, just absolutely loved, reading as a child. I felt the way he used this fable-like way of telling the story was fantastic. Even now, reading it so many decades later, it feels timeless and true. Similarly, I think Jin Yong, who is not very well known in the West, is possibly the most influential Chinese author [to] folks my generation. His wuxia fantasies literally took the genre of martial arts fantasy, which you know is a very old genre, and elevated it to a new level. A large part of what he did is—he fused a lot of classical Chinese elements with Western storytelling techniques, as well as traditional Chinese novel techniques, and blended them into something very new. The fact that he could re-appropriate what is otherwise part of the past and craft it into something new, felt like an inspiration for the kind of silkpunk storytelling I wanted to do.
Was there a specific moment when you started writing?
I think like a lot of people who want to be authors, I did start writing early, although I can’t say I pursued it with a single-minded dedication that a lot of my colleagues had done.
I did write throughout elementary school, and high school, and college, but I don’t think I was really serious about pursuing publication until after college. I think that my first story came out in 2001. This is when I was in law school, so it really wasn’t until after college that I thought I would try to be a little more serious about trying to pursue publication. I think it largely happened step by step. I sort of stumbled into it, even though it’s something I always wanted to do.
Was translation something you were just interested in or were you offered a commission?
It’s much more random and fortuitous. I have a lot of friends in China who are writers and many of them are sci-fi/fantasy writers. I enjoy and admire their work a great deal. One of them, Stanley Chen, is a good friend of mine. I really loved his works, I thought they were fantastic, and I always sort of hoped that he would get published in the West and get more readers that way. He had a professional translation commissioned and he sent it to me, and said, “Do you mind taking a look at this, and see what you think?”
And I read it, and I said, “It’s an accurate translation, but it’s somehow none of your voice, none of your sardonic wit, none of the things that makes a Stanley Chen story a Stanley Chen story has made it though. It feels very dead. This feels a lot like, you know, the patent translations that I read all the time.”
I said, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I have no idea how to do a translation. I’ve never even thought about doing translations, but I do know how to write, so maybe, if you want, I can try to revise the translation to see if I can make it better.” And he said, “You know, sure.”
So, I tried, and then of course, as anyone has done programming, or any kind of work like this before knows, there’s nothing worse than trying to fix someone else’s code. After a while, I was like, “Okay, I can’t do this.” So I had to start from scratch. So I tossed the whole translation away and started over from scratch. It was really a matter of trial and error. I would try different things, and say, “Okay, does this sound good? Does this sound better? Does this somehow convey Stan’s original idea or voice in a way that feels true? You know, this is not a literal translation, but does this little flare actually do the job of recreating for the reader in English the kind of thrill I got as a reader in Chinese?”
I stumbled around, tried all sorts of things, and finally, I had something that I thought was okay, and Stan and I submitted it to Clarkesworld, and they accepted it, and I believe that’s the very first translation they ever published. It’s one of the first translated Chinese sci-fi stories published in the contemporary era.
There had been translations from the 80s and so on, but nothing really contemporary, outside of academic journals. This was the first time a commercial genre magazine published one of these contemporary Chinese sci-fi stories. We were all super excited. The story got quite a bit of recognition, and it wound up winning a translation award, which made both Stan and me very happy.
After that, I said, “Well, you know, this is actually kind of cool.” One thing that we do in the science fiction and fantasy community—which is a small community, there aren’t many of us doing this work—is a sense of service to the community. Many of us try to do something to help the community. Some of us teach workshops for almost no money to pass on the craft to new writers. Some of us try to run conventions, or try to join conventions to allow fans and writers and pros and illustrators and critics to get together to celebrate the genre. I thought one thing I could do is to do more translations to introduce new works to readers here [in the West] that they would enjoy, and to bring in readers for my friends in China.
That was really how it started. I did more translations after that, largely out of this sense of service, of trying to make the community more interesting and to connect good writing with hungry readers.
And it seems that there are hungry readers. Was it Clarkesworld who did a special entirely on Chinese sci-fi in translation?
Clarkesworld runs a partnership with a Chinese media company called Storycom, whereby Clarkesworld publishes a Chinese science fiction story in translation with every issue. Clarkesworld has been doing this for several years now, and it’s a very successful programme.
One thing that I noted in your translation of The Three-Body Problem was your use of footnotes. This is not something that is super common in translations, especially of mainstream fiction, or whatever you want to call it. I assume this was an entirely conscious decision on your part.
You’re right. The practice of footnoting is fairly common in academic translations, but it’s not that common in mainstream fiction. Although this is a culturally specific thing. If you were to read, say, a Chinese translation of Ready Player One, the text is heavily footnoted with every pop culture reference explained. As a reader, I appreciate that. I remember, as a very small child, reading Chinese translations of American novels and I thought the footnotes were super helpful. Part of why you read translations is to learn. If there are no footnotes to explain things, then you’re not learning anything. My philosophy is not universally agreed upon. There are tons of readers who also despise having the footnotes, and come up with all sorts of ideas about how the text needs to stand on its own, blah-blah-blah. I simply disagree. They can ignore my footnotes, but I’m going to keep on doing them the way I want to.
Is there anything in the actual process of translation that you find to be particularly challenging?
liu: I would say the biggest challenge in translation is that you have to balance all the competing ethical duties. We talk about translation as technical art, but the best analogy I have is it’s a performance art. So, as a performer, you have lots of creativity, but you also have certain duties you owe to the composer, and to the audience and to the art of music as a whole, and to your own aesthetic goals and commitments. These things are sometimes in competition.
As a translator, I’m in the same position. I have a great deal of creative freedom, but my creative freedom is very much bounded by the original. I owe certain duties to the author. I owe certain duties to the text. I owe certain duties to my new readers—the Anglophone readers—who will read this translation, but I also owe certain duties to Chinese readers, who read the original. I owe duties to the editor. I owe duties to the idea of translation. I owe duties to power imbalances. We all know the story of Ezra Pound, who created so-called translations of classical Chinese poetry, in an act of colonial appropriation. Somebody who takes a Chinese text and simply recreates it to fit his own idea of what Chinese-ness means, and to further his own aesthetic goals, I don’t think is an ethical way of doing translations. I would have to be careful about combating that kind of historical power imbalance when Chinese works are translated into English. I would have to know how to deal with the legacy of colonialism. How to preserve and protect and defend the voice of the Chinese author, while at the same time not letting that instrumentalist and political concern overwhelm other considerations. So, it’s complicated. [Laughter] I find balancing all these different aesthetic judgements and ethical commitments very difficult.
Does that explain why the Invisible Planets anthology came about?
A little bit, yeah. I’d been doing short fiction translation for a long while before I was approached by The Three-Body Problem and I made friends and got to know a lot of people really well in the process. My problem is I do these translations, they come out in magazines, but similar to my own short fiction, oftentimes they come out in the magazines, and then they just disappear. No one pays attention to them. So I said, “Okay, well this happens to translated short fiction as well, so if there were a way to put them into a collection so that it’s easier for people to acquire and to see and get an overall feel for the diversity of voices and approaches possible within this genre, written by contemporary Chinese authors, then it seems like that would be a good thing. It would benefit readers so they don’t have to actively hunt down these stories in old issues or in dead links. And it would benefit the authors to find new readers.”
So, I put together the Invisible Planets anthology as a way to showcase some of my favourite authors and their stories and to try and improve the discussion of world sci-fi—you know, when people talk about sci-fi outside of the Anglo-American sphere. We don’t really, as anglophone readers, have a lot of material to work with, because so few translations are done. I wanted to put together this volume to allow people to have something to talk about and to use as actual support for various arguments.
Let me try and articulate something I’ve been thinking about for a while. As someone who writes and translates from a viewpoint which isn’t the “old white man” perspective, do you sometimes get tired of just having to constantly represent or defend or otherwise advocate for a body of writing, whether that’s from a certain perspective in America [in terms of sci-fi] or through translation? Do you just sometimes feel like you just wanna go home and write?
[Laughs] I know what you mean, but I think that’s gotta be true of everybody. I actually think this is universal of all authors, including male white authors, if you want. I think everybody who comes to writing, at least in the modern age, tries to do it in a very personal way. Trying to label them or trying to reduce them to some kind of representation is problematic. Here are my concerns about the way we talk about this. We talk about diversity quite a bit. We talk about the need for diversity and for diverse voices. But oftentimes we seem to reduce this diversity idea into an idea of representation. That is, we need to have one representative from some marginalized group, and that is enough for us to fulfil our duty. And I’m not sure that’s the right approach at all.
I think diversity is a collective quality. Which means that you actually have to really be committed to true diversity, which is to get beyond the idea of having one person represent a whole group. And to have many, many, many, many more voices from many, many, many, many different backgrounds, and have them all. It’s not like if you have one translated book you’ve somehow satisfied your diversity quota. You should have many more translations so that the collective difference between everyone can be seen. The uniqueness of every vision can be discerned and appreciated. I’m a big believer in trying to push for diversity in the sense of it’s not just one, but many. When you are a member of a marginalized group, there’s always going to be a tendency to market your work by suggesting that it is somehow representative of a whole group, that it is somehow speaking for a whole group. But I don’t think I care about that. I don’t care about other people speaking for me, and I certainly don’t care about speaking for other people. I simply wish to share the full diversity of our global culture. To the extent that a lot of the works that I love that have been very influential on me, are not well known. Then I feel joy in promoting these works and trying to promote everyone’s understanding, because it’s beautiful and it’s a treasure. Why would I want to hoard it to myself? I wish to share it with everyone. That’s how I feel about it.
But I don’t feel, particularly, a strong impulse to speak for anyone. I feel that’s very deeply problematic, and it goes into areas of identity policing. Which people have been trying to do for good and bad reasons for centuries, especially in recent decades. I’m very much opposed to any kind of identity policing. I want to do my own thing and have other people to do their own thing. And in that lack of a unified narrative, that’s where true diversity is found.
Is there any particularly interesting writing happening that you’re amazed that people don’t know about?
I guess one thing that I found to be particularly fascinating is the idea of new narrative forms. New ways of telling stories that are made possible by the advance of technology. The whole idea of hypertext fiction has been going around for decades without really breaking through, but we are starting to finally see some examples of hypertext fiction that are actually working. One area in where I’m seeing a lot of interesting traction is the idea of text fiction. That is, stories told in the form of text messages back and forth between fictional characters. I mean I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of these on BuzzFeed among other places. I think they’re just amazing as an art form. If I were an academic this is the kind of thing I would be focusing my research on, because I can imagine myself just getting absorbed into this. I think this is a fascinating development. I can’t wait to see how this is going to turn out.
You can hear all kinds of complaints about this sort of thing, people saying, “Oh this is just so symptomatic of our age where we have no attention span to read a novel or even a story, we have to read text messages and get our desire for narrative fulfilled that way.” I don’t agree with that at all. My feeling is, this is great. There’s a lot of complaint about young people and their obsession with technology but the truth is, the generation that grew up texting and tweeting and Instagramming, and Snapchatting and so on and so forth, have written more and read more written language than any human generation in the history of this planet. They are more erudite and literate than any other generation in the past. I don’t think this is a bad thing at all. I think they are simply showing where language is going to evolve, and it’s great to see new narrative experiments catering to their tastes. It’s great.
As a coder you’re not tempted to give it a shot?
I am. [Pause] My feeling is, the future of creativity is collaboration between AI and humans. I mean, we’ve seen that in the visual arts and music already, where generative algorithms and so on have made a huge difference. We haven’t seen that as much in text so far, but I don’t think that’s gonna be the case forever. I can’t wait to see the day where humans collaborate with AI to tell stories that haven’t been told and can’t be told, and utilize techniques in a more efficient and powerful way than anything in the past. That often is spoof in a kind of fearful concerned way, but most of us now take photographs by relying on the AI in our phone. We don’t adjust the settings individually, we just trust that the auto mode will do the right thing, and if you actually look into what these phone cameras do, you would be amazed the amount of machine learning and artificial intelligence and neural networks that are going on under there to produce what is considered a good photograph. It’s incredible, and that’s just in the West. But in other countries you have machines that will automatically quote-unquote beautify images, and some of these effects are extremely aesthetically interesting when you’re looking to think about theories of aesthetics and creativity and what it is these machines are really trying to do. So, if we’re used to that, I don’t see why we would find an algorithmically enhanced story, or even algorithmically generated with minimal human intervention to the story, [to] be fearful. I think it’s going to be fascinating, and interesting and quite cool, frankly.
You could not possibly have generated a better segue for something else we’re going to have in this issue. I was at a workshop a while ago with an artist called Tivon Rice, who uses photogrammetry to create 3D models in a VR environment. He then uses machine learning algorithms with bias towards the vocabularies of certain authors to tell stories about that environment.
Incredible! Not even planned.