How far would you go to get your child into college?

Now that the Harvard College application deadline is behind us, let’s look at a book by Nobel-winner (like Obama!) Kazuo Ishiguro that turns out to be partly on the topic of what a parent would be willing to do to get a child into college. Klara and the Sun was published in 2021, so I’m not sure if the author gets prescience credit for this:

‘Where were we? Ah yes, so the plan was for Rick to be home-tutored by screen professors like all the other smart children. But of course, you probably know, it all became complicated. And here we are. Darling, would you like to tell the tale from here? No? Well, the long and short of it. Even though Rick was never lifted, there still remains one decent option for him. Atlas Brookings takes a small number of unlifted students. The only proper college that will still do so. They believe in the principle and thank heavens for that. Now there are only a few such places available each year, so naturally the competition is savage. But Rick is clever and if he applied himself, and perhaps received just a little expert guidance, the sort I can’t give him, he has a good chance. Oh yes you do, darling! Don’t shake your head! But the long and short of it is we can’t find screen tutors for him. They’re either members of TWE, which forbids its members to take unlifted students, or else they’re bandits demanding ridiculous fees which we of course are in no position to offer. But then we heard you’d arrived next door, and I had a marvelous idea.’

Ishiguro tries to inhabit the mind of an android (lowercase) that is solar-powered and was designed to be a child’s artificial friend (“AF”). What comes naturally to the artificial intelligence is personification/deification of the Sun. From the AF’s point of view:

The most important thing I observed during my second time was what happened to Beggar Man and his dog. It was on the fourth day – on an afternoon so gray some taxis had on their small lights – that I noticed Beggar Man wasn’t at his usual place greeting passers-by from the blank doorway between the RPO and Fire Escapes buildings. I didn’t think much about it at first because Beggar Man often wandered away, sometimes for long periods. But then once I looked over to the opposite side and realized he was there after all, and so was his dog, and that I hadn’t seen them because they were lying on the ground. They’d pushed themselves right against the blank doorway to keep out of the way of the passers-by, so that from our side you could have mistaken them for the bags the city workers sometimes left behind. But now I kept looking at them through the gaps in the passers-by, and I saw that Beggar Man never moved, and neither did the dog in his arms. Sometimes a passer-by would notice and pause, but then start walking again. Eventually the Sun was almost behind the RPO Building, and Beggar Man and the dog were exactly as they had been all day, and it was obvious they had died, even though the passers-by didn’t know it. I felt sadness then, despite it being a good thing they’d died together, holding each other and trying to help one another. I wished someone would notice, so they could be taken somewhere better, and quieter, and I thought about saying something to Manager. But when it was time for me to step down from the window for the night, she looked so tired and serious I decided to say nothing.

The next morning the grid went up and it was a most splendid day. The Sun was pouring his nourishment onto the street and into the buildings, and when I looked over to the spot where Beggar Man and the dog had died, I saw they weren’t dead at all – that a special kind of nourishment from the Sun had saved them. Beggar Man wasn’t yet on his feet, but he was smiling and sitting up, his back against the blank doorway, one leg stretched out, the other bent so he could rest his arm on its knee. And with his free hand, he was fondling the neck of the dog, who had also come back to life and was looking from side to side at the people going by. They were both hungrily absorbing the Sun’s special nourishment and becoming stronger by the minute, and I saw that before long, perhaps even by that afternoon, Beggar Man would be on his feet again, cheerfully exchanging remarks as always from the blank doorway.

I don’t want to spoil the book, a reasonably quick read, and I do recommend it, so I’ll stop here.

More: Klara and the Sun

One thought on “How far would you go to get your child into college?

  1. I’ve often wondered whether people working on advanced AI systems in laboratories and places beyond our purview have realized that the only way to achieve “human-like” AI is to build in countless millennia of reinforced Primordial Fear, Superstition, Deification, Deception, Misanthropic Disgust, Existential Ennui, and Self-Blinding Ignorance, Selective Attention, Living in Denial, etc., etc.? What would human minds be without them? Thanks for the taste, it sounds like an interesting read. I’ll reapportion some of my former FB hours to it.

Comments are closed.