Ken Liu: What Science Fiction Can Teach Us
On fiction's value, critical reflection on technology, LLMs for creativity, and looking toward the future.
In episode 61 of The Gradient Podcast, Daniel Bashir speaks to Ken Liu.
Ken is an author of speculative fiction. A winner of the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy awards, he is the author of silkpunk epic fantasy series Dandelion Dynasty and short story collections The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories and The Hidden Girl and Other Stories. Prior to writing full-time, Ken worked as a software engineer, corporate lawyer, and litigation consultant.
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(02:00) How Ken Liu became Ken Liu: A Saga
(03:10) Time in the tech industry, interest in symbolic machines
(04:40) Determining what stories to write, (07:00) art as failed communication
(07:55) Law as creating abstract machines, importance of successful communication, stories in law
(13:45) Misconceptions about science fiction
(18:30) How we’ve been misinformed about literature and stories in school, stories as expressing multivalent truths, Dickens on narration (29:00)
(31:20) Stories as imposing structure on the world
(35:25) Silkpunk as aesthetic and writing approach
(39:30) If modernity is a translated experience, what is it translated from? Alternative sources for the American pageant
(47:30) The value of silkpunk for technologists and building the future
(52:40) The engineer as poet
(59:00) Technology language as constructing societies, what it is to be a technologist
(1:04:00) The technology of language
(1:06:10) The Google Wordcraft Workshop and co-writing with LaMDA
(1:14:10) Possibilities and limitations of LMs in creative writing
(1:18:45) Ken’s short fiction
(1:19:30) Short fiction as a medium
(1:24:45) “The Perfect Match” (from The Paper Menagerie and other stories)
(1:34:00) Possibilities for better recommender systems
(1:39:35) “Real Artists” (from The Hidden Girl and other stories)
(1:47:00) The scaling hypothesis and creativity
(1:50:25) “The Gods have not died in vain” & Moore’s Proof epigraph (The Hidden Girl)
(1:53:10) More of The Singularity Trilogy (The Hidden Girl)
(1:58:00) The role of science fiction today and how technologists should engage with stories
The Dandelion Dynasty Series: Speaking Bones is out in paperback