Discuss Avek, Who Is Distributed by Steven Peck

10.26.12 | | 27 comments

Wm says: I’m pleased to host a discussion of the penultimate story in the Four Centuries of Mormon Stories contest. Here’s a guest post from the contest organizers to help us kick things off:

You may have heard of the “Four Centuries of Mormon Stories” contest before, or even smelled its aroma rising out of Minnesota, the Middle East, or Pleasant Grove. If you haven’t, the conceit is simple: we’re featuring very short stories about Mormons in the 19th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd centuries, then holding a vote for the best of our twelve finalists and giving $400 to the winner. We’re also holding a blog tour of discussions, bring the people to the stories and the stories to the people. Or something like that.

Seriously: if you haven’t read these stories, take half an hour to catch up. Or at least take three minutes to read Steven Peck’s “Avek, Who Is Distributed” and discuss it today and one of the world’s oldest Mormon arts & culture blogs.

Some questions:

  1. What are your initial reactions to the story?
  2. How much would you pay for a StraythoughtAssist device?
  3. What role might all the Mormon Literature ever written have played in Avek’s intense desire to join the Mormon panth
  4. If you could have lunch with Avek, what questions would you ask him? And what drink would you order?

27 comments: “Discuss Avek, Who Is Distributed by Steven Peck

  1. SteveP

    I’ve been thinking about this issue for a while–

    How can we tell if a artificial being deserves ordinances of salvation.: http://bycommonconsent.com/2009/03/27/the-future-robot-mission-to-wyoming/

    and here exploring the implications of watching your spouse become an android: http://bycommonconsent.com/2010/01/16/your-lovely-android-spouse/

    This actually may be something the church confronts at some point, maybe in the not to distant future. (As Ken Jennings said in his final Jeopardy answer in his match against IBM’s Watson Computer, “I for one welcome our new computer overlords.”)

    Would you welcome an android Bishop? Missionary companion? General Authority?

  2. Mark Penny

    Steven Peck, you rock! I’ve heard other people say it and I’ve caught hints here and there, but this piece clinches it.

    I’m a pizza person, so I’d just stay out of the loop.

    I imagine he’d have filtered his impressions. It isn’t all faith-promoting, is it?

    Do you consider yourself a fruit juice person, a salad person, or a pizza person? Water or mulit-fruit.

  3. Katya

    Awww. I loved this.

    Also, is Elder Janxvon a reference to Elder Uchtdorf? (Or was I the only one who made a connection between a beloved star ship captain apostle and a beloved airplane captain apostle?)

  4. SteveP

    Mark, as a pizza man, we should share a slice sometime!

    Uchtdorf! I’d hoped that would come across.

  5. Paul

    Steven, awesome story. Loved the reference to Elder Uchtdorf. :-) And the notion that there might be some among the brethren who are more enthusiastic than others about widening the circle of who should enjoy ordinances.

    I perceived the shadow of President McKay’s trying to widen the circle of the priesthood as far as he could in his time.

    Very cool.

  6. Emily Falke

    This is my favorite piece so far. I also loved the reference to Elder Uchtdorf. I love how the piece feels like something we could actually encounter, and I love that it showed how we sometimes have to muddle through the issues, talking to each other – and to other people – until inspiration strikes us. I’ve seen that happen in my own current calling a lot and love how counseling together brings us closer to the truth than we can get there alone.

    And I’d have to choose orange juice, with no pulp of course. :)

  7. Jeanna

    Actually, what worked for me about this story is something completely different (weird how we all read things differently). For me it was so far removed from reality* that I could just read it as interesting sci-fi without having to wrestle with it as much as I have with some of the others. Yes, I’m pretty sure it makes me a literary cretin, but I like to read for pure entertainment. :)

    *Why does it feel removed from reality? My basic answer to the question of AI/cloning/etc. has always been this: I don’t think we’ll ever make it as far as stories like this propose. I think we’ll do great things that will bless lives and improve the world, but I think humans will never be able to give to their artificial creations that certain something (i.e., a spirit) that will truly bring the intelligences to independent, thinking, emoting life.**

    **But hey, I could certainly be wrong. :)

  8. Theric Jepson

    .

    I’ve been flirting with the idea for some time now that we may not be making a huge leap from mortality to immortality—that becoming like God is something we will do piecemeal, that we are already doing.

    At any rate, no matter what the future does or does not hold, we can’t let, say, cloning destroy our testimonies.

    Which is what I think, from a cultural health standpoint, makes thought experiments like this one so helpful. We don’t need to crash into crises if we take the time to ask outlandish questions.

  9. wreddyornot

    Enjoyed the history-repeats-itself theme and the smooth, visceral virtual-osity.

  10. Mark Penny

    Eric, I think you’ve just articulated a trend. One mission of Mormon sci-fi should be a kind of pyshco-spiritual emergency preparedness.

  11. Sarah Dunster

    I loved how the potential convert was God-ish. And the story gave me a real mental wrestle with that issue of AI and what is a spirit. At first I was like, “AI?” But they’re created by HUMANS so they can’t be… oh wait. HUMANS are created by humans, too.

    lol.

    Just loved this story. The last image was just so moving. And I loved coming here and reading this and having the reference to Uchtdorf spelled out to me.

  12. Orwell

    To echo what others have said… that last line is brilliant.

    So, what happens if OSC’s Jane were baptized by proxy before taking young Valentine clone’s body — does she have to get baptized again?

  13. Orwell

    Also, I’m not sure Uchtdorf himself may not already be the first android apostle. This is not a criticism. Last conference I saw most of the twelve and FP up close and personal. All of them looked way older and shorter than they do on TV — except him. He looked better. He can’t be human.

  14. Anneke Majors

    I loved this story – totally brilliant. Delightful and touching and mind-bending and everything.

    I’m on board with a couple of the other commenters, though – quite convinced that we will never create artificial intelligence. I’ve read quite a bit of the AI literature in education and at least from that viewpoint, what we only thought was a matter of years turned out to be a matter of lightyears. (yeah, I know the physics of that don’t work.)

    But I like this story so much because it’s about real human issues, you see. It’s not really about robots, it’s about Peter baptizing gentiles and priesthood being given to blacks. Which is why it’s awesome. And which is why it makes me deeply tempted to vote for this story instead of my own.

  15. KDA

    I liked this story, not for its ability to predict the future for technology, bioethics and religious quandries. I liked it because it throws light on contemporary and historical struggles that people have today.

    The relationship between theology and religious practice is a dynamic relationship — one that is constantly morphing. Just read the book of Acts and the letters of Paul. That was an era of great flux, and religious leaders / visionaries were constantly trying to figure out a way to make the ethereal material. We reify our theology when we dramatize our relationship through rituals: relationships with others, with God and with the cosmos.

    If we take the long view, these rituals shift. We want to believe that we are doing things exactly the way Adam and Eve did, but we morph. But the universal is that we always have an impulse to connect with others and with God through religious practices. A fun (Uchtdorf allusion) and thoughtful piece.

  16. Christopher Bradford

    Steve, was the name “Avek” chosen to intentionally evoke the French “avec”, meaning “with”? It seems strangely apropos for a distributed being…

  17. Eric James Stone

    I was just thinking about this story today, and I realized that I kind of wish I had thought of the proxy solution for performing ordinances for swales (plasma beings living inside stars) in my story “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made.”

  18. Th.

    .

    Rrrg. So much for the stop button.

    But since I’m here again:

    Austin! Sorry I missed your comment before. But I agree. Though I don’t think it’s inevitable just a compelling and arguable possibility.

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