"What if" is sort of a loaded phrase in the Marvel Universe. Writers have always been able to ramble off a What If... Wolverine had hot dogs for claws!? and then you'd see "WHAT IF: HOT DOG WOLVERINE" on a spinner rack. But, sometimes, just from the nature of comics being batshit insane, we get thought experiments played out long form.
And so after Age of Ultron ended with a huge influx of artificial intelligence beings in the Marvel universe, we now have Avengers AI, an Avengers team captained by the Vision. An entire team of gadget Avengers, basically.
We asked writer Sam Humphries (Uncanny X-Men, Sacrifice), who's writing the new Avengers AI series, what writing a team full of sentient tech was like:
Gizmodo: What kind of research did you do into real-world artificial intelligence research in preparation for the book?
Sam Humphries: I did a lot of broad research into the subject, trying to familiarise myself with a diversity of viewpoints. Nick Bostrom's work has a particularly strong but subtle influence on this book. I found his theories on superintelligence, existential risk, and the simulation argument to be fascinating. I've been searching for the right way to sneak an homage to him in the book, but appending his name to a Marvel Universe spaceship or whatever seems inappropriately frivolous. I'll figure it out, one day.
Giz: Did the premise of a group of AI characters, as opposed to humans, affect how you write character interactions?
SH: Oh yeah, that was one of the most attractive things about taking on the book. Not only are they robots, but they are robots of several different generations and origins. Not only will their desires and motivations be very different from humans, but they will be very different from each other. The Vision is one of the most compelling characters in the Marvel Universe. For decades he's been the only A.I. in the room. Now with this explosion of artificial intelligences in the Marvel Universe, he's gone from a solitary punchline to having millions of brethren. I am very interested in exploring how this will change his perspective on humans, and his role among them.
Giz: Is there an overarching technological metaphor at the heart of Avengers: AI?
SH: I would say the overarching theme of Avengers A.I. is a metaphor of culture impacted by technology. How does society cope with the ever increasing — and increasingly inevitable — escalation of technological sophistication? One could say the recent controversy over PRISM makes this book relevant, but the truth is, every month there's a high-profile story about how we grapple (or fail to grapple) with runaway technology development. In the pages of Avengers A.I., that translates into the technological singularity, and the robot, synthetic, and A.I. threats that spawns. But in the real world, it is everything from drones, to catfishing, to your loved one paying too much attention to their phone.
Giz: There are some longstanding Marvel technologies — Pym Particles come to mind — that don’t have very much basis in real science. When coming up with fun new stuff, though, do you try to base it in something we’ve got now, or just work backwards from some crazy idea?
SH: A little of both. Usually I have a crazy idea and then I try to base it in something we've got now, or we're beginning to understand now. The Marvel Universe, since day one, has been "the world outside your window." Avengers A.I. is weird and futuristic and fun, but it stands squarely within that tradition. I've learned a lot about science by researching subjects I learned about in comics, even if those subjects were used to prop up some questionable fictional science. I think that's something comics do particularly well and I want to do my little bit to carry that on.
And — let's be real — cutting edge science research is still crazier than fiction.
Giz: How sad does Siri make the Vision?
SH: This is what happens every time Hawkeye asks Siri to call him "King Sexy":
Here's an exclusive look at a few pages from Avengers AI #1, which is out tomorrow.