Looking for Gordo by Robert J. Sawyer

This is the next story in the Future Visions anthology, by someone I’ve never even heard of. Turns out the two authors are known for their comics and illustrations, which explains my lack of knowledge.

Published: 2015

Genre: science fiction

Setting: California, 2030s

Summary: Scientists are holding a mock trial on the merits of an active vs. a passive search for extraterrestrial intelligent life. Emily, our narrator, is a big data analyst and was able to find a pattern in old SETI data. A civilization from 47 Ursae Majoris had sent us the entirety of the Reticulum, their equivalent of the internet. We were able to mine the data to create an AI avatar to represent the species. That avatar was questioned as to their motives behind sending the data out to multiple star systems, in the hopes of helping humans decide if they wanted to do the same.

Final thoughts: I usually read the Future Visions stories with half an eye for what technology the story is highlighting (since that is the underlying rationale for the collection). This story had quite a bit – big data analysis, deep learning for artificial intelligence, a fully interactive avatar that mined the data in the Reticulum to answer questions. For a while, I couldn’t decide if they had actually made first contact with an alien race or if the whole thing was simulated, but that information was provided in the context of the story. I was impressed with the fleshing out of the alien race without an infodump. Of course, answering questions about your society at a trial provides an excuse for background information. Overall, an enjoyable story by another author I haven’t read anything by,

Title comes from: A story about the Royal Ontario Museum wanting a sauropod skeleton for their new dinosaur gallery. They were going to buy or excavate one, but turns out they already had one in storage. The dinosaur was named Gordo in honor of the curator who acquired the dinosaur. Emily’s job was to look for patterns in the data they already had for evidence of intelligence – she was looking for the SETI equivalent of Gordo.

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