As an enthusiast of science fiction and artificial intelligence, I’m always on the lookout for novels that explore the possibilities and challenges of advanced technology. One novel that has popped back to the surface of my mind with the rise of openAI’s ChatGPT is “Swarm,” the first book in the “Star Force” series by B.V. Larson. At first glance, it’s a pulpy military sci-fi adventure, probably a bit too nerdy for general audiences. But crucially, it is a nerdy sci-fi adventure steeped at every level in AI, and learning to use AI.
There is some SPOILER material, so be cautious, we’re talking about it as a window into AI and not only as a novel (as which, it’s a super fun read). If you’re intrigued by the interplay of humanity and machines, this book is for you.
Swarm: AI Wants You!
“Swarm” introduces us to Kyle Riggs, a computer science professor whose life is turned upside down when he is abducted by an alien spacecraft. That’s your first clue to the value of this novel: A computer science professor.
But this is no ordinary abduction—Riggs is put through a series of brutal tests, and he must use his intelligence and resourcefulness to survive. It is in this early portion of the book that I find the most parallels with working with language models. Much like the experience of ChatGPT for many of us, Riggs finds himself in the position of talking to a strange “intelligence” that is mind-expanding in its implications, yet also fraught with systemic limitations and the need to iterate semantic work-arounds — to verbally approach problems from multiple angles to find the best solution. In short, Riggs becomes an AI prompt engineer.
Soon, he finds himself in charge of the very alien armada that abducted him, leading Earth’s defense force against an extraterrestrial invasion by a second alien enemy known as the Macros. These self-replicating machines are ruthless in their pursuit of conquest, and it’s up to Riggs and the newly formed Star Force to protect humanity.
The novel is action-packed and fast-paced, essentially a war between two AI civilizations, one of which is directed by Riggs. Larson’s writing is crisp, and the military strategy elements are well-executed. If you’re a fan of space battles and thought-provoking sci-fi, “Swarm” delivers.
Artificial Intelligence and the Question of Control
The Macros, as artificially intelligent self-replicating machines, pose an existential threat to organic life. Their ability to learn, adapt, and evolve raises questions about the relationship between creator and creation. Riggs, as a computer scientist, grapples with the challenge of understanding and manipulating the Macros’ AI systems. His struggles with control and autonomy reflect real-world concerns about the ethics and safety of AI.
For users of large language models like ChatGPT, “Swarm” provides valuable insights into both the potential and limitations of AI. It invites readers to consider the role of AI in our lives, as well as the responsibilities we have in shaping its development. No doubt most have us have chuckled (perhaps a touch nervously?) at some “ChatGPT will escape and conquer the world” jokes in the last few months. As AI continues to advance, this novel serves as a cautionary tale that reminds us of the need for ethical guidelines and human-centric design.
As we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of artificial intelligence, stories like “Swarm” offer us an opportunity to engage with complex questions about AI’s role in society. From the challenges of controlling self-replicating machines to the ethical considerations of AI development, B.V. Larson’s novel encourages readers to think critically about the technology that increasingly shapes our world. It offers an engaging story with meaningful reflections on the future of technology. I highly recommend “Swarm” to readers interested in exploring AI and its implications.