the inspiration behind Tania Hershaman’s short story, ‘The Perfect Egg’
I wrote ‘The Perfect Egg’ specifically to submit to Nature magazine’s Futures section. I had never set out to write anything I thought might be “science fiction” before, and I hadn’t read much science fiction, but one of the things that always struck me about futuristic films and TV programs I enjoyed was the idea of artificial intelligence and how we might deal with it in our homes, on a personal level. The machine I invented is a robot-like creature, human-ish but not an android a la Blade Runner, almost indistinguishable. But my main character still tries to look for human aspects to the “machine” since it responds to commands in normal speech.
There is no doubt that I was clearly influenced by Alan Turing’s legacy when writing this story. I read about Alan Turing many years ago, my Dad was a computer programmer and I learned to program in Basic as a ten year old. I must have read about Turing in some kind of book for kids with biographies of scientists, and was always intrigued by how he invented the entire field of computing – how did he think so far out of the box? How does anyone innovative come up with something no-one else has really thought of, and in a novel way? I was also smitten with the idea of the Turing Test, with someone charged with creating a computer who could fool a human into thinking it was human – or, these days, being the human who has to prove she is not the computer!
My character in the story is fascinated with these new creatures, but ultimately it’s not all the tasks they might perform to free us from such burdens as child care and housework but their mere presence that he really needs to stave off his loneliness. Not a bad role an android might fulfil for us some day soon, who knows?
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