If there were an artificial intelligence active right now, would we even know it? And what might such an intelligence want?
Cat pictures, perhaps?
In January's Clarkesworld, Naomi Kritzer explores this idea and more in an absolutely awesome short story. Kritzer's AI is aware of the usual tropes, from Frankenstein to Skynet, and how she (it? Feels like a she to me) might be perceived as a threat by others in the world. This sets up the AI's sneaky and subtle moves as she attempts to figure out her purpose in the world (a feeling we can all relate to, I think), as well as fuel her insatiable thirst for pictures of cats.
One of my favorite things about this story is how it's fantastical science fiction fundamentally grounded in reality. The sense of real world paranoia, of people being tracked through their online presences; the effects the AI gradually has on the other characters, none of this really contradicts how the real world operates. Instead, it pulls back the mask on the mundane to reveal an amazing explanation for why the world is the way it is sometimes (and why there are so many cat pictures on the Internet). I love it when a story makes me consider how there's so much more going on to the world than is first apparent. And it's funny as well as thoughtful.
You can check out Cat Pictures, Please in the January 2015 issue of Clarkesworld magazine. Let me know what you think of it! And whether or not you think there might be something more lurking among the cables and wifi signals, hungry for feline photographs.
I also highly recommend another Naomi Kritzer story from Clarkesworld, from October 2013, called Bits. That one is about sex toys and human alien relationships, and has a similar blend of humor and interesting, unexpected ideas.