TWA #18 – Absurd AI – JUDGEMENT!

18-judgeWelcome one and all to the conclusion of our Absurd AI challenge. This futuristic showdown shows us the potential error of our advancement through impractical intelligent machines.

In a story that made the worst sales associates in any store seem reasonable, Joseph Devon brings us a fantastic little story called “User Error.

Challenging him in the arena was a Scotsman by the name of B.T. Joy. His story, “The Eye That Sees, The Ear that Hears,” is a haunting and surgically poignant story about a robotic A.I. trying to finish its work.

It’s time to pick a winner. Let’s see what our judges have to say:

Ellie Ann is a New York Times and USA Today best selling author, as well as a mother of three. Arena denizens and podcast fans know her for her fantastic work with The Silver Sickle, which you can find on the banner ad to the right. You can also hear her talk about her new project, The Tale of Frida, here on the Human Echoes Podcast.

On top of this, Ellie is taking a new editing client or two this fall. So if anyone wants a creative or technical editor for a reasonable price, contact her through her website: – She’s worked with everyone from first time authors to NY Times bestsellers. She specializes in science fiction/fantasy and YA, but will accept any clients as long as they are compatible.

 I totally failed as a judge this week.


This was one of the hardest weeks for me to judge. I keep going back and forth, back and forth. I found myself nitpicking and and tearing apart the stories and then doubting myself and then loving them and hating them and it was JUST SO HARD I COULDN’T TAKE IT THEY BOTH WIN!


I heartily enjoyed both the stories. They had bits of brilliance and bits that needed work. No matter how I look at them, I see equality. Two fantastic writers penned two fantastic stories, and I heartily enjoyed them both.


Here are some of my notes:


“User Error” – by Joseph Devon


Wonderful first paragraph. It sets the scene so well.


First three paragraphs every mundane detail is written out—making me very present. This should pay off. If it doesn’t, it’s just boring.


Personification of A.I. I love it!


““…we just miss you all so much and we love when you visit!” The door screamed,”


This is all kinds of perfect.


But out here in the great wide empty you never know what you can count on, you’re just there one second and the next you’re not.


Another beauty.


Wow, this story is so fun to read! I like the length and the personality. Brilliant.


“The Eye That Sees, The Ear That Hears” by B.T. Joy


I had to read the first paragraph twice before I could picture it.


AI has a human captured. This is a fantastic premise, with so much tension already. Robots are one of my favorite subjects, as good robot stories incorporate themes of life and humanity and souls. However, it’s a hard trope to tread. You have to be aware that this has been written a thousand times before you and you have to get a new take on it. This usually comes by incorporating strong, well-written characters.


There haven’t been very many details—no personality or motivation or goals—I’d have loved to see this written as a tighter POV, tied to Justin. To have his perspective and inner dialogue would make it exciting and personal.


Just a few more details about Justin would have gone a long way. Who is he? Why should we care? As is, there’s the horror of it, but it’s hard to attach.


Okay, now this story is really picking up. I’m loving the POV and the plot. So interesting. Totally engaged. This is thoughtful and well written.


Search for intelligence? That’s it? I kinda wish it’d have been something more interesting: like love or spirit or something, but this story was so cool I can overlook it.


Great battle, men! I want to see you two go at it again and see who comes ahead next time. 🙂


Rich Alix is our second judge. He is a patron of The Human Echoes Podcast, and an all-around awesome guy. He is the voice of the common man in this contest, and here is his judgment:


Another week, another great prompt in the arena. Artificial intelligence holds a lot of promise for humanity, but a lot of potential peril too. What happens when it doesn’t do quite what we asked it to do? Lets see.


“The Eye That Sees, the Ear That Hears” by BT Joy – I am fascinated by the idea behind this story. I feel like it addresses one of the most realistic fears about AI, that the entity would develop its own plans and goals that may not exactly coincide with our own.


I like the approach of the reader riding along with Justin as he goes through the testing process. It allows us to have the story revealed to us slowly and really understand what kind of monster we are dealing with here.


Marcus’ methodical approach to human suffering and destruction and the complete disregard for anything other than its two protocols is something that really drives home the horror of this story. There is something about a cold, calculating enemy that transcends the most angry killer out there. That Marcus will continue to torture and kill humans until he finds out what makes them tick or until he runs out is without question.


The parts with just Marcus were a little more confusing to me. The story tells us that the entities known as Marcus are identical and possess a hive mind. If that is the case, why do they need to talk among themselves? The scene where they are asking about Daddy I could see as almost a kind of playacting, trying to understand emotions by portraying them. The scene where they talk about death I had a harder time putting into context.


The ending left me a little baffled too, I am not sure if Marcus wants to figure it out so he can “rest” or if he is determined to never be satisfied with his discoveries in order to justify what amounts to immortality. I could see it either way, and it really changes the lingering affects of the story in my opinion. If he wants to rest, then his actions are almost understandable, it takes away a little bit of the awfulness of what he is doing. If he is exploiting a perceived loophole to live forever, that adds a whole other layer of evil to him.


Great story that got me thinking, but that left me with a few questions I’m not sure I can answer.


“User Error” by Joseph Devon – Some weeks both competitors take the prompt in the same direction, that did not happen this week. Not even close. And I love that.


The description in the first couple paragraphs here is pure poetry. “Low winter light painted everything in cinderblock tones.” Fantastic. Transitioning from that directly into the saccharine pleas for attention that the door makes was great.


I’ll admit, it took me a little while to really understand what was going on here. At first I thought that this was all happening behind the scenes in a normal store, but then some of the people are affected by the talking appliances. Then I realized that there weren’t any humans who worked in the store. The machines were running it all. If the first story exposed what could happen when machines set their own goals, this story shows us how things can go wrong just by taking our directions to the extreme.


Its not too hard to imagine a store like this in the not so distant future, at least minus the speech processors in the machines. Who wouldn’t want a store that was open 24hrs a day, always clean, always well stocked and that didn’t have any cranky cashiers or incompetent employees to hinder your shopping?


Why the designers added those speech modules I have no idea, but how the machines use them is wonderful. That such advanced, smart machines would fall into petty arguing and loneliness is really what makes them count as AI to me.


The “one who got away” that the microwave talks about is a nice touch. It’s really the force that drives the desperation and depression exhibited by all of the machines.


I never expected a story like this, but I enjoyed it thoroughly.


Two great stories, two talented authors. Alas, I have but one vote. This week it came down to which story embraced the prompt to the fullest. For me that story was:


“User Error” by Joseph Devon


Well, this is unprecedented. One judge gave a decision, one judge declared it a tie. This means that the voting will fall to the proletarian masses. What say you, good people?

[poll id=”14″]

In a close decision, B.T. Joy and his story “The Eye That Sees, The Ear That Hears” is the winner!

Battle #18 is in the books!

Tune in next week as we lose track of reality…



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