Machine Learning by Nancy Kress

I read the next story in the Future Visions anthology. I’ve read other short fiction by Kress – Beggars in Spain.

Published: 2015

Genre: science fiction

Setting: a tech company’s campus, it felt like California, near future

Summary: Ethan works for MultiFuture Research in machine learning, trying to get Maip (the Multifuture Research Artificial Intelligence Program) to be able to read emotions in people and to help them learn better. Another branch of the company seems to have found a cure for a fatal childhood disease that killed Ethan’s daughter a few years ago. Ethan has been trying to cope by organizing every aspect of his life and emotions, but he can only seem to copy by viewing a hologram of his daughter. He breaks down, and Maip helps him get through his emotions, displaying machine learning in the process. Unfortunately, Ethan’s response is to rebuild his algorithms to run his life even better than before.

Final thoughts: We have a bit of a contrast here between Ethan and Maip – Ethan seems to want to become more machine-like and unemotional, while he and his partner are programming Maip to become more emotional. Even when Maip helps him deal with some of his emotions, Ethan’s response is to recode his personal algorithms. We see technology helping to deal with problems (like the  new disease killing kids, or trying to help people learn more effectively), but it can also aggravate problems (like when Ethan just keeps playing his daughter saying “Hello, Daddy” over and over again). Kress just reminds us that technology isn’t intrinsically good or bad; it’s all in how you use it.

Title comes from: Ethan worked in the machine learning division, trying to get a program to learn how to read human emotions, especially when they’re lying about them.



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