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AI and the Trolley Problem

3.31  ·  Rating details ·  137 ratings  ·  38 reviews
A provocative story about the relationship between the humans on a British airbase and the AI security system that guards that base. When a group of humans are killed, the question is who is responsible and why.

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
ebook, 25 pages
Published October 17th 2018 by Tor Books
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Average rating 3.31  · 
Rating details
 ·  137 ratings  ·  38 reviews

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Quick, fun and to no one's surprise, (view spoiler)
Oct 25, 2018 rated it liked it
" It didn’t completely avoid the uncanny valley, but Helen didn’t think that was possible, anyway."
Oct 21, 2018 rated it really liked it

“Machine logic can be tricky,” Helen said. “Especially when you’re not a machine.”

i liked this one a lot, although it does make me itch for more. a lot more. which is probably the sign of a successful story, right? honestly, i don't have it in me this morning to write a proper review, even a "short review for a short story," so imma just sit you in front of the teevee and let it do my job for me.

and THAT'S why people hate moral philosophy professors. thanks, teevee!


read it fo
Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
3.5 stars. If you’re on an isolated British airbase run by an AI, how worried should you be when the AI starts thinking for itself and ... maybe reaching the wrong conclusions? Definitely not the conclusions the government had in mind, in any case!

It has an interesting setting and build-up, but the ending doesn’t entirely deliver, and the AI seemed a little too human in its thinking. But then, humans programmed it ... and maybe that’s the problem.

An intriguing story, free online at Ful
Oct 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: short-n-sweet, scifi
Great characters, interesting setup, my ideal setting - ended with a whimper, rather than a bang, right as it was getting interesting. Had it been the opening chapter to a book, I'd be halfway through that book by now - let's hope the author feels the urge to revisit this story one day.

Read it free here:
Oct 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommended to TL by: karen

The wind was blowing sharply from the east, across the north European plain from Siberia to the flatlands of East Anglia. Despite that, Helen Matthias was perspiring through her running suit by the time she finished her usual morning circuit of the Lakenwell Airbase perimeter. After two years, she was getting used to the winters here. They felt harsher than the ones she remembered as a kid in Massachusetts, and the snow usually came later, after the turn of the year. This morning she thought she
Oct 18, 2018 rated it liked it
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to perceive.“

Another AI story. How to out-logic an AI, ethics, emotions, how to apply them, the needs of the many over the needs of a few.

The story had a strange plot hole in the middle, making me check if I had accidentally scrolled past a paragraph and missed some info.

Can be read for free here:
Peter Tillman
A hard-SF examination of the old undergrad logic problem: would you throw the switch so the runaway trolley kills just one fat old guy, instead of mowing down three school kids? Discuss.

Pat Cadigan updates this old chestnut with a newish military AI, which is still learning the ropes. Clever and well-written. Don't miss!
Oct 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: short-freebie
Humanity creating its own monster. SkyNet. Nuff said. 3 stars.
Oct 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting enough but doesn’t get much past its title to delve into AIs and the trolley ethics problem.
Meh. I'd rather rewatch The Good Place's take on this.
Zoe's Human
Oct 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: lt
A well written and entertaining story, but I found nothing about it to be particularly unique or original.
J. Boo
Oct 22, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: on-the-interweb
An episode in the development of a military AI. In theory, this could have been interesting, in practice, it was a mess; more than one plot thread, all somewhat disconnected, and none of them handled in a clever fashion.

Also: "After two years, she was getting used to the winters [in East Anglia, UK]. They felt harsher than the ones she remembered as a kid in Massachusetts." Since, as near as I can tell, the main character is not supposed to be delusional, I'll go with the author being too lazy t
Nadine Jones
Story 3 in my 24 Days of Shorts

"In the end, it was the trolley problem,” Felipe said. “You know: You’re on a train and if you continue on your original track, five people will die. If you switch to another track, one person will die.”

Meh. Too "explainey," especially for a short story, and the dialogue didn't feel natural, it just felt like more info-dumps. If you only have 32 pages to tell your story, don't waste it on info-dumps.

For example, none of the description here matters:
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Tidy illustration of the Trolley Problem, riffing on an AI concern from forever, what will the machines do when they realize that humans are the problem? I liked the setting and characters, and there was a nice narrative flow to the story. It definitely felt like a fragment of a longer work, though, so I do feel a little unsatisfied.
Kam Yung Soh
Apr 30, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: sf-and-fantasy
A short story about a military AI faced with what it thinks is the trolley problem (faced with a choice, who should it kill?). The story doesn't offer a solution, but rather a way to talk to it, especially after it decides to cut off communications with its commanding officer over what it considers to be an insult to it.
Sarah Baker
Dec 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
I rather liked this one. Maybe it's all The Good Place I've been watching, but the idea of having to teach ethics to machinery is becoming more fascinating.
Dec 30, 2018 rated it liked it
*3.5 stars

A short story about ethics and AI. Helen is a machine ethics teacher, of sorts. She works with an AI named Felipe, who runs a military base and smaller machines ('donkeys'). Felipe provides surveillance and also makes decisions for itself. The central problem is that one of Felipe's recent decisions was to take control of a weaponized drone and destroy one of their own bases.

The trolley problem is a sort of ethical dilemma. There is a trolley running down its track. If it continues as
Good concept, sparse writing, still clunky in one or two places, good buildup of plot incidents without being a horror or action story, the ethics discussion between the AI and the main character was the highlight of the story, demonstrating human (well... US) hypocrisy and inconsistent ethical standards both for ourselves and the potential machine minds we create and educate, then expect to run exactly as we tell them to and end up surprised when they follow to the letter in an unforeseen way. ...more
Oct 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
You can't swing a cat in New England without hitting a ghost story, and apparently you can't swing a ghost story without hitting New England. Damn you, Edgar Allen Poe! That said, this story was actually very enjoyable - unlike a lot of short stories, it doesn't condescend to its format or its audience, but provides enough of a tease and a slow burn to keep it interesting throughout. Despite all my misgivings.
Disclaimer: I do not necessarily support the swinging of cats. It was just a flashy thi
Dec 25, 2018 rated it liked it
There are two kinds of short stories: the kind that are self-encapsulated, and the kind that feel like the prequel to a much longer/more interesting story.

I prefer the first kind, but this story was the second, which I find frustrating.

This story left me with a bunch of questions, and as far as I can tell, the author has no plans to write more in this world.

Questions include but are not limited to: why were most of the inhabitants of the colony women? where was the colony? were the women someho
Anton Hammarstedt
Setting presentation, design and originality (how cool is the setting?): 4
Setting verisimillitude and detail (how much sense does the setting make?): 4
Plot design, presentation and originality (How well-crafted was the plot, in the dramaturgic sense?): 3
Plot and character verisimillitude (How much sense did the plot and motivations make? Did events follow from motivations?): 4
Characterization and character development: 2
Character sympatheticness: 4
Prose: 3
Page turner factor: 3
Mind blown factor:
Nov 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Werner Herzog once interviewed programmers at Google who were designing cars that drove themselves. "Who is responsible if there is an accident?" he asked. The programmers were puzzled. They not only did not know the answer, they did not understand the question.

I assumed this story would ask that question. It does not. It introduces an interesting scenario , one that could serve a longer work, but just when it gets started it ends.
Jan 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
A bit too open-ended, but I enjoyed reading it.

It was bit heavy-handed, though, in:
1. The comparisons of personal agency and responsibility between (i) a bipolar person not taking their medication; (ii) the bipolar person's colleague; and (iii) an AI
2. The leaders/researchers/military introduced characters all being women (with the exception of a single male soldier...and the male-named AI), in a slightly gimmicky inversion of the all-male cast common to older SF
Pedro L. Fragoso
Mar 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“Yes, I noticed that. How do I persuade you to talk to her or anyone else?” “I would like a formal apology.” Helen wasn’t sure she’d heard right. “A formal—why?” “I have been shown disrespect that a human in an equivalent position would not tolerate.”

Brilliant little take, great fun, and the AI very much reminded me of the one in Emma Newman's Atlas Alone (and there's also a "shielded room").
Dec 24, 2018 rated it liked it
A story with no real resolution or ending. Pleasant prose and an fascinating idea in the heart of it. It reads almost like David 8 (Prometheus, Covenant), villain origin.

Read at
Jan 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Free on Tor's website. The plot seemed to skip ahead at random times, enhancing the feeling that this was a sketch or an outline of a more fully-developed story. Character are setups don't quiiiite pay off, and the plot doesn't have the "twist" that typically draws me in to short stories.
Feb 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
I have been wanting to read something by Pat Cadigan for a while now, but I never had a chance before. I do not know how this compare with the rest of her work, but I quite enjoyed it. AI and the Trolley problem is a story about the relationship between the humans on a British airbase and the AI security system that guards that base. When a group of humans are killed, the question is who is responsible and why. Based on the title, can you guess the rest of the story?
Apr 21, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ethical dilemmas with AIs

This seems like more of a theoretical discussion than a story with a plot. Most of the final act is a conversation between the main character (a “machine ethicist”) and the AI of the title. Mildly thought-provoking, but little more than that.
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Pat Cadigan is an American-born science fiction author, who broke through as a major writer as part of the cyberpunk movement. Her early novels and stories all shared a common theme, exploring the relationship between the human mind and technology.

Her first novel, Mindplayers, introduced what became a common theme to all her works. Her stories blurred the line between reality and perception by mak

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