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We may be on the verge of an evolutionary leap of unprecedented size and effect—but it might not be us doing the leaping.

For the first time in history, scientists may soon be able to create sentient beings who are smarter than we are. Artificial Intelligences. A.I.s. And from that point on, it will be the A.I.s who do the evolving, at a speed mere flesh-and-blood creatures could never come near matching, as smart machines design smarter machines, machines better and more efficient and more intelligent than any machines designed by humans could possibly be . . . and then those machines design still smarter machines, who design even smarter machines, and so on, in a fast-forward evolution where hundreds or even thousands of “generations” can pass in a year.

And where will this all lead? What will the A.I.s be like, what will they be capable of, after thousands of “generations” of forced, high-speed, self-directed evolution?

More importantly, what will their relationship with us, with mere organic unevolved human beings, be like? What will it be like for us to share the planet with superintelligent inorganic creatures many times smarter than we are? Creatures so much smarter and faster-thinking than we are that the gulf between us and them may eventually be greater than the gulf between us and an ant?

Will they conquer us? Exterminate us? Coexist with us in peaceful cooperation? Ignore us and go about their own enigmatic and incomprehensible concerns? Fuse with us in some sort of benevolent symbiosis? Become as gods to us? (And if the latter, will their rule over us be malevolent or benign? Sternly paternalistic or frivolous and playfully random?) Treat us as pets? Revere us as their beloved ancestors? Put us in the equivalent of a Nature Reserve, to be observed in our Natural Habitats?

And who will get to go to the stars? Them, or us? Or will it take both of us working together to get there?

These are some of the questions most central to the best of modern science fiction today, and there are as many answers as there are writers, sparking the kind of give-and-take debate that produces the best that the genre has to offer and signposts to our many possible tomorrows.

So open the pages of this book, and let some of today’s most expert dreamers show you worlds where A.I.s have spread their influence not only over this Earth but over many alternate Earths in nearby dimensions . . . where a woman must match wits against a runaway A.I. in order to save her children . . . where benevolent A.I.s give a transcendental birthday gift to everyone in the world . . . where only an enigmatic alien A.I. possesses the knowledge to save the world from an onrushing cosmic catastrophe . . . where scientists find it difficult to control an A.I. with the powers and omnipotence of a god . . . where humans and A.I.s coexist uneasily, each society unseen by the other . . . except in the illicit and forbidden zones where they meet . . . where love builds between a sentient spaceship and its half-human pilot, in spite of all the obstacles in the way . . .


(For further speculations on this theme, check out our Ace anthologies Beyond Flesh, Nanotech, Hackers, Immortals, and Future War.)

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