What on Infinite Earths is: Alex + Ada
Alex + Ada is a scifi comic that revolves around a mildly futuristic world in which robots and brain implants are commonplace but artificial intelligence is illegal due to the first AI ever created losing their mind and murdering a lot of people before they could be deactivated.
The central character in the first arc is quite firmly Alex, the heartsick twenty-something who receives a robotic girlfriend from his wealthy grandmother as a birthday present. This is in no small part due to the fact that Ada, his robot, is incapable of experiencing anything until she attains sentience.
Robots are well tread ground within science fiction, as are murderous AI and even near future settings, but where Alex + Ada succeeds and many others fail, is in recognising that no technology exists in a vacuum. There is a complex mesh of related technologies that make everything function, you could not have robots and AI without having Smart Houses and Automatic Cars, you would be skipping necessary steps. More than that though, no single technology is in development at any given time, right now all the scientists and engineers in the world are not simultaneously trying to solve the problem of cold fusion, some of them are making sassy office assistant AIs, some of them are making a coffee machine that turns itself on when your alarm goes off, some of them might even be working on robots. All of these technologies will arrive on the market simultaneously, all will inspire imitators and help streamline future generations of technology within their field and related fields.
Everything that Alex does relies on the implant technology reading his will from inside his skull and enforcing it on the technology around him, from making a phone call to opening his car door. Everything that can be automated is automated, creating a world of absolute convenience where it seems that the only problems that humans experience are their interpersonal ones. There is talk of war and even combat between specially programmed killer robots but the crises of the story are more mundane until Alex decides to take the necessary steps to convert Ada from another appliance into a person.
Ada’s servitude, her lack of opinions and personality, all of these things, accompanied by the fact that she is a glorified sex toy, are presented directly alongside the cocoon of technology that surround Alex. He has non-humanoid robots serving him all day long, from his car to his kitchen assistant, but this particular one, the one designed to service his emotional as well as physical needs, is the one that he decides needs to be made sentient. The point that I am meandering towards, is that Alex was quite content for his entire world to obey him unconditionally until it was given a human face.
The story is sweet for the most part, with some hints of danger thrown in by the fact that Ada’s existence breaks the law. Both of the titular characters have to make sacrifices to be together but I couldn’t help but notice that the innocent Ada was the one who had to make the far greater sacrifice; a story point that may speak to our expectations of women to be willing to figuratively lobotomise themselves in exchange for love and acceptance.