Robert Reed. The Algorithms of Value. (Clarkesworld Magazine #112, January 2016)

clarkesworld112Reed’s stories of late have been quite contemplative in nature as I recall, and this is no exception. It’s online to read and to listen to here so do take the time to read it.

Reed posits a future where humanity is still constrained on Earth, largely happy with longevity, and a comfortable co-existence with AIs. The AIs ensure that all needs are met, including everyone having their own multi-function ‘room’ that can adapt and transform as required. ‘Parchment’ is a couple of hundred years old, and likes to wake up to a room like that she lived in as a child – a reminder of the shabbiness, the noise and the vibrant life (and death) outside is a pleasant reminder to her.

We follow her to a nearby coffee shop, and her musings describe how she achieved her fame and wealth – she was one of those involved in created the titular Algorithms of Value, which have ensured that humans are served, not enslaved by AIs – and her relationship with her now-dead husband.

The thing is, it’s that backstory that really grabs the interest. The ‘Algorithms of Value’ are bit like a mix of the Three Laws of Robotics and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and you could write a whole novel, or series of stories around them. But what we have here is a touch of ennui, as the double centenarian is confronted by a young boy who wants to reach for the skies. They converse, but the conclusion appears slightly arbitrary (and a bit questionable considering the age gap!!)

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