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Lem had a genuine affection for machines, not an unheimlich revulsion, or a socially conservative fear, but a fondness. Michael Kandel’s introduction to ‘Mortal Engines’ describes how in his youth Lem would feel sorry for discarded radio components and bits of machinery, and would often take them home with him. He viewed mechanisms paternally, and it is with this fatherly affection that he sets his “artificial progeny” free, to roam the world independently, with his blessing. Indeed it is this affection for machines that positioned Lem well ahead of the curve when it came to the problem of artificial intelligence.
Coupled with this affection was a kind of existential stoicism that is unique to Lem. He viewed the blurring of reality and virtual reality calmly and with a degree of humility, in some cases even mischief. […]
Part of Lem’s stoicism was also a realization that, just as you can never fully understand another human being, you cannot and should not try to understand another type of intelligence. This “unknowable-ness” would have struck panic into the hearts of early SF pioneers — as Andy Sawyer writes, key editors like Hugo Gernsback and John W Campbell sported an almost Victorian sense of conquering the unknown: it was *there* to be understood. But for Lem, adopting an external, behaviourist approach to intelligence, or, to put it differently, taking intelligence on trust, is a fundamentally liberating process. It is a starting point, not an end. Rather as Alan Turing’s 1936 demonstration of the *limits* of logic and computation gave birth to the concept of the computer (the “Turing Machine”), so Lem’s acceptance of the limits of our ability to *understand* those machines ushers forth a way in which we can live together with them. Calmly.
Ra Page and Magda Raczyńska,
from the introduction to
LEMISTRY: A Celebration of the Work of Stanisław Lem