A great novella that pulls you in for an engaging ride where you won't even notice that you are just reading a novella.
Read it online.
Mary Robinette crafts a nice little buddy detective tale, with a Chinese-American detective and a police AI system. Character interactions are exquisite and the story is well paced. The way our protagonist Scott Huang thinks about and interacts with the AI Metta (of which his personal interface is modeled after Mae West) poses interesting questions about the extent to which AI can be legal persons on themselves. The world is briefly revealed to contain freelance AI, which is a fascinating concept, but sadly underexplored.
“Hang on– freelance?”
Metta nodded. “Though artificial intelligences have not been recognized as people, Jarrett Tovar, our creator, sets each AI up as a corporation. An AI that is not leasing its services is called a freelancer.”
“And you are…?”
“Leased. We call it indentured.” She smiled. “The chassis are very expensive so this is a way to pay off our start-up costs when we first come into the world. Once my lease is up, I’ll be able to freelance but being in the Metta line I’m more likely renew the lease. I like my job and it requires a contract with accompanying vows in order to be granted full access to the city. Other AI don’t have that sort of need so may be more likely to go freelance.”
The story sets up the detective-esque reveal satisfyingly, with a certain degree of predictable unpredictability.
There is one last interesting note I want to make. The police AI called Metta is backed up very regularly; multiple times per day. I remember reading about the AI democratization in the era of GPT-3, an article by The Gradient. There they pose that the GPT-3 neural network model is already so large that it can not easily be moved off the cluster of machines it was trained on. This naturally gives rise to a few questions.
- How did these AI backups work then?
- How long would a backup be retained?
- How many computer clusters does the police department have access to?
Alas, let's not dive in too deep here. The story was great! And a great example of how to write sweeping short fiction.