• Jabe Stafford

Write Good AI People

Write Good: An Absurd Storytelling And Adventure Blog

AI People

Robots are people too.

People are robots too.

No matter how friggin’ far we come as a society, that “is it human?” question continues to live at the heart of sci-fi and fantasy.

Were Asimov’s robots human?

What about Adams’?

Wells? (Martha, as well as H.G.)

Dick’s robots (You read that right.) are so iconic they might as well be their own brand name Wait a sec—in their world, they WERE. TWICE.

Makin’ good AI people is a frickton tougher than saying, “This is a person even though it looks like a robot.” As a writer, you’ve got a lot of responsibilities in order to get readers believing your robots are robots. You’ve got SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF to handle. You’ve got the SCIENCE to handle, at least in part. And you’ve got MORALITY to think about too. Tackle these three huge beasts and your robots will feel so much like people to the reader that they’ll want robo-hugs and PhDs in robotics so they can build robots to hug.

Suspend the reader’s disbelief like it’s an 80s movie high school rogue and you’re the evil teacher. Doing shiz like that takes setting up. People who start reading your story will usually believe that robots can exist since they’ve seen ‘em in other stories before. That tiny piece of easy work is already done for you. Everything else that’s creative about your robots will need a REASON.

-Why’ve they got solar panels for skin? Needs a reason.

-Robots got tinier robots running things in their mind? Needs a reason.

-Impossible to tell whether a robot is interacting through pre-programmed menus or with genuine thought? Needs a reason.

Setting up those reasons can be a frickin’ BLAST as a writer. Have fun with it! Show you know your stuff in the beginning, but don’t overload the reader on backstory or detail either. Balance is what it’s about.

Remember the last time you put a book down? Think about it. Right now.

You CANNOT AFFORD to make a reader feel this way about your well-planned robots. Picking how you suspend the reader’s disbelief is up to you, like assembling that robot out of redneck space truck parts or sleek too-high-tech exotic robot parts. Start in-medias-res, or hit the reader with the major crux of the plot with the first line. To help suspend the reader’s disbelief, tie in some math & science and try not to have nightmares about high school shenanigans while you do it.

The science will always matter to readers when you write robots. It’s dadgum scary. Like an elder god with automatic weapons the size of mansions. Don’t let it scare ya though. It’s about the RIGHT AMOUNT of science needed to tell your story. Have MORE FUN picking what amount of science you’ll research and how much of it you’ll use.

Not a programmer? Build a social or spiritual science into your robots. (EG: Voight-Kampf tests ala Blade Runner or inability to comprehend faith ala Warbreaker.)

Love programming but don’t want to lose your reader? Tie the minimum amount of code or science to the plot! Something the reader can learn quick and that makes you sound authoritative as a writer. (EG: All that botany and chemistry from The Martian or the time travel rules Auditors follow in Time Salvager.)

Pick how deep you need to dig to be knowledgeable on the subject AND how much of that to show the reader to make the story work. Just like picking between a $5 sugar bomb cake at the grocery store and a $50 gourmet cake with gourmet gourmetness to it.

The delicious yummy science icing on your robot cake is there now. What’s one more piece that makes stories of AI people stories of AI people? Morality. You can start yourself down the path of picking how morality plays in by asking yourself more questions than the SATs did, then writing down the answers and matching the question-answer combos to your characters’ personalities.

-Who’s responsible for murders the robot commits after it’s granted sentience? The robot, or the builder?

-Are your book’s corporations profiting from making robot cooks and captains and clowns? Or are they benevolent and making robot clowns for kids’ enjoyment and to erase the stereotype that clowns are evil?

-What happens if the robot or the builder go against intentions or programming and how does that trust relationship matter to the reader and/or the characters?

Have fun practicing all that when you’re laying out your story’s pieces and…


Converse with the cake. Get to know it. It’s not crazy. It’s science fiction.

Bake some more fiction. Never stop baking.