My next short story will be about chess; the title will be “The Game.” As promised it’ll follow a kishōtenketsu format, and there’ll be a complication with an intelligent, fully-conscious smart phone. I now have a main story line, or at least the beginning of one: the main character plays correspondence chess, or perhaps a modern variant, with a friend. There’s more, I may even know what I want to say!

I’ve been a sharp critic of AI hype, and more to the point the dystopian, anti-humanistic future which some of its proponents promise. As I think about that critique, I realize there’s a fundamental point I want to make. It’s not that AI is somehow fatally flawed. Rather, that there’s nothing special or singular about it: it’s a tool that we can use for one purpose or another, no different than a hammer. Viewed in this light, proponents of AI-fueled dystopias are not prophets of an inevitable future but illiberal retrogrades who have a specific agenda. In some respects they are actually somewhat naive about the nature of technology - it takes a certain kind of shortsightedness to assume that the latest tool is somehow exceptional in the long line of tools that come before it. From the stone axe to the plow to the steam engine - none of these tools prevented us from controlling our own destiny, so what is really so special about a suite of statistical methods that make a certain set of mental tasks a little bit faster than they were before?

That’s really what I want to drive at with this short story. The protagonist has a particular agenda in mind, and not a very ambitious one: to play correspondence chess with a friend, as a way to keep in touch. It so happens that the tool du jour is not a pen and paper, but a somewhat over-powered smart phone with a mind of its own. What does that mind say, and how does it impact the protagonist? That is an interesting question.

Since I would hate to keep things simple, I’ve already decided to overburden this story with something more: I want to put it in conversation with the other short stories I’ve written, The Menu and The Recipe. The concept is a little hazy to me, but I want to finish out the series with a fourth story, which will be called The Check. The entire series will also follow a kishōtenketsu format, along these lines:

  • The Menu: introduction
  • The Recipe: development
  • The Game: twist
  • The Check: resolution

If it’s not already painfully obvious: the first two stories have associations with food, the third is an entirely different idea, and the fourth story (which has associations with food as well as chess) brings the entire series into harmony. I confess to having little more than a superstructure and a title for this last story. In my mind it has something to do with the downside to AI (the mundane reality which keeps technology in check, if you will) - the need for “real-world” data, the problem which ensures that AI is fundamentally non-generative.

I have to assume it’ll be some time before I’ve figured out how to make this rather baroque vision come to life.