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Humanity's quest must continue through creativity

Updated: 2023-10-24 06:20 ( China Daily )
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At the recent 81st World Science Fiction Convention in Chengdu, Liu Cixin, author of The Three-Body Problem trilogy, said in a speech that science fiction has always been human's imagination and exploration of the future. It is the first time that Worldcon was held in China.

"It's an important event for Chinese science fiction, showing that our sci-fi has gained the world's attention," he says.

"Sci-fi allows us to break the limits of reality and see the world from a completely new angle."

For example, the stunning galaxy might be seen as a piece of artwork created by an unknown force, he said at the Another Planet Science Fiction Convention held in Shanghai in late September.

In 1818, English writer Mary Shelly created the world's first sci-fi novel Frankenstein, inspired by the discovery of bioelectricity at the end of the 18th century and related experiments later. Since its birth, science fiction has offered a great space for people to reflect on the relationship between humanity and the progress of science and technology.

In 2023, artificial intelligence has made groundbreaking progress in fields such as image generation, video synthesis, and semantic recognition. The "other" that has always been discussed in science fiction has for the first time really impacted human society.

Never before has it been like today when, confronted with such breakthroughs, people have to question: Will I be replaced by AI at work? How soon will that day arrive?

At the APSFC in Shanghai, some 50 top Chinese quantum physicists, astronomers, musicians, writers, computer scientists, cancer specialists, aerospace engineers, professors of Chinese literature and journalism, and editors from publishing houses gathered to discuss interesting questions at different forums attended by hundreds of sci-fi fans.

"All people who care about the relationship between humanity and technology and its changes are sci-fi fans for me. In the past several years, we have paid more attention to technology, but now when all people's attention is cast toward technology, we want to invite you to look more at people to rediscover humanity," says Ji Shaoting, head of Future Affairs Administration, a company that deals with sci-fi publication, consulting and filmmaking.

"Creativity always seems to be the last frontier where humans can confidently face up to machines, but now will this unique capability that we are proud of also be replaced? My only answer is to create, not repeat works gained through big-data analysis, perfunctorily or following the trend, but genuine creative works," Ji says.

In 2023, although AI has yet to begin creating works, the quality and quantity of those made by people have declined because they choose to safely repeat existing models rather than innovating, Ji says, but meanwhile, such adventures as The Wandering Earth II and Barbie have gained rewarding revenues.

When asked whether humans will eventually be replaced by machines, even in the areas of art, Liu says that it is a natural technological and historical trend, but people need to see this future with a peaceful mind: what if, having inherited human's creativity, AI will create art that is superior to ours.

"From a sci-fi angle, AI might create a stronger civilization, which can expand in the universe and create more glorious technological achievements," Liu says.

"If there is one thing that cannot be replaced by machines, it will be our enjoyment of life. We used to think artistic creation would be the last thing to be replaced by AI, but now it is the first. Now we find that the work we think is low-skilled might be difficult to replace because of the underdeveloped hardware," he says.

When asked about his latest work, Liu says that he is proud to say that he belongs to the last generation of writers who write themselves.

"In the future people will always question how much of the work you actually write or whether you really write at all," Liu says.

Sci-fi writer He Xi says that, although AI can replace people in many aspects, we cannot allow it to make important decisions that involve significant sacrifice, like in self-driving systems or determining whether a person is guilty or not.

Although AI cannot replace us in science fiction writing at the moment, sci-fi writer Wang Jinkang says that, in the future, we must learn to live with a more powerful uncontrollable intelligence.

Sci-fi writer Tang Fei disagrees. "Human's creation comes from a natural impulse, a most profound instinct of writers, and the urgency to survive, which can never be replaced by AI because it doesn't have the impulse and it doesn't die," she says.

"What AI can do in the future has already been done by human copycats, by the way," she adds.

"We don't need to worry that machines will snap up our work in the future, but how we can better serve the machine, because in the future most people's work will be providing services to machines," she says.

Jiang Yuhui, professor of philosophy from East China Normal University, considers the question in another way.

"The development of AI will result in unemployment on a large scale, which will not only be a philosophical or technological issue, but also a social, ethical and political issue. We should care more about those who are to be replaced," he says.

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