Avengers A.I.: Marvel’s New High-Tech Response Unit is Online
In its latest foray into futurism, Marvel Comics has added another to its many Avengers titles: Avengers A.I. This group of Avengers is brought together as a sort of high-tech special ops unit aimed squarely at technological threats. In the course of the first issue, the reader encounters such futurist subjects as nanotech, the notion of technological lifeforms having at least some claim against arbitrary destruction (a springboard to the issue of technological personhood, which I have written about a bit), and the anticipation of the arrival of a technological Singularity.
Marvel’s recent worldwide crisis event, Age of Ultron, focuses on a tenacious, egomaniacal, alarmingly intelligent technological being created by founding Avenger Hank Pym, who’s been known variously as Ant Man, Giant Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket, and even for a short time, in tribute to his fallen spouse Janet Van Dyne, AKA The Wasp, as The Wasp, himself.
Dr. Pym, declared the Marvel universe’s Scientist Supreme (as opposed to its Sorcerer Supreme, a title usually held by Dr. Strange) by the celestial embodiment of Eternity itself, created Ultron a looooong time ago in marvel lore. Ultron was supposed to be an artificially intelligent, differently sentient (to borrow a term from the SyFy series Caprica), and self-improving technological being.
Taking the plot complication of much cautionary-tale science fiction, Ultron, as a self-improving being, quickly becomes more intelligent than not only Pym, but every other supra-intelligent human on Earth.
Oh — and Ultron decides that ze* hates humanity and must utterly annihilate it.
But enough backstory.
In the recent Age of Ultron saga, Ultron reconstituted zirself, re-embodied in zir most-frequent form — a chrome-shining, psycho-grinning robot with diabolically red energy broiling around in zir mouth and behind zir eyes — and quickly outsmarted humankind, taking over the planet.
In the aftermath of all that, SHIELD (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) realizes that the time has come to fight tech with tech. The organization promotes Agent Monica Chang to Division Chief in charge of SHEILD A.I., and turns her loose on the problem.
Among her other talents, Chang lets the – er – is detained the proper word these days? — Dr. Pym know that she “got the job because [she] predicted that someone smart like [Pym] would be stupid enough to accelerate the Singularity” in her college thesis.
To me, this is where the futurist aspect of Avengers A.I. begins to get interesting: The top government law-enforcement agency has become aware of and concerned about the possibility that our future could lead to a technological Singularity such as the one described by Ray Kurzweil and Vernor Vinge: A sudden appearance of a self-improving AGI (artificial general intelligence) that becomes far smarter than its human creators so quickly that we lose control of and, quickly, understanding of it, creating the predicted result of exponential growth in technology. This event is described as a Singularity because it is a moment of change of such magnitude that seeing — or predicting — what comes beyond it is virtually impossible.
In the same exchange between Chang and Pym, Chang reveals that a rampantly evolving AI called Dimitrios, which Pym created, is loose in the wild, the result of an AI that could create new AI by itself. Dimitrios is hacking zir way into presidential e-mails and weapons systems all over the globe.
Intriguingly, when Chang tells Pym that, as Dimitrios’ creator, he’s going to help SHIELD AI squash it, Pym refuses, claiming that to destroy such a self-aware, self-evolving AI would be an act of genocide: the destruction of a unique race/species of a single technological individual.
After a bit of drama and with the intervention of Captain America to get Pym un-detained, the Avengers A.I. unit is formed.
Vision, an android who has been an Avengers off and on for decades, is chosen to lead the team. Originally created by Ultron (we’ll get to him in a minute), the Vision known to readers of Marvel Comics is no longer the mass-shifting synthesoid we used to know. Under the influence of a core protocol called the Ultron Imperative, Vision is calculating his** odds of survival and evolving himself to increase them. As a result, Vision is modifying himself to better address the new technological threats that the world poses in the wake of the Age of Ultron, and absorbing as much solar energy as he can hold. Over the course of the issue, Vision reveals a number of new abilities that he has created.
Another interesting point about this transformation is that as he moves between periods of meditation, Vision cannibalizes nonessential components to create his new tech and scavenges the raw materials he needs from sources he can find, such as asteroids and meteors — a tactic not unlike one I recall the Canadian Futurist George Dvorsky suggesting as part of a plan to construct a Dyson Sphere in our solar system.
The new lineup includes Director Chang, Vision, Victor Mancha, Hank Pym, and, perplexingly, a Doombot.
Victor is a creation of Ultron, a cyborg whose ” … flesh and natural tissue [were] cloned from his human mother and completely conceals metal parts and circuitry underneath.” He is also a character whose continued pursuit of godawful superhero handles is a long-running joke. As a descendant of Ultron, Victor identifies as the Vision’s brother.
The inclusion of a Doombot is a stumper for me. A Doombot is a robotic, A.I.-driven replica of Dr. Doom, longtime thorn in the side of the Fantastic Four. A Doombot’s A.I includes Doom’s prickish, supercilious personality, which means that in the field, this one grouses endlessly about the people he is being forced to help being unworthy and beneath his contempt. Pym controls the Doombot via a “micro black hole” Pym has implanted into the Doombot’s chest. As Hank says, “One wrong move and – ZZZAAP!”
Apart from some serious firepower and the obvious potential for plot complications, though, I do not get why Pym would risk — or even bother with — including a Doombot in the lineup. Particularly not when the sometimes Avenger Jocasta, an obvious choice, is nowhere to be seen. I mean, apart from her (she is consistently identified as female) rather pariphiliac relationship with Hank Pym, she brings some muscle to the table.
(This is a moment for fanboys whose Kung Fu is More Powerful Than Mine to bring me up to speed on Jocasta, if she was destroyed or some such while I wasn’t looking.)
Although the Vision demolishes Dimitrios’ armed attack with his newly added capabilities, Dimitrios zirself is not halted. The first issue sets up the Avengers A.I. to pursue the loose-in-the-wild A.I. Dimitrios into further episodes.
* I choose the pronoun ze here because while the Avengers and other characters who’ve dealt with Ultron through the years generally refer to zir as he, Ultron has also recently appeared as the (at the time) deceased Janet Van Dyne, Hank Pym’s ex-wife, which renders Ultron’s actual gender fluid, rather than consistent.
** Vision has been identified as a male android through his history, even marrying Wanda Maximoff — the Scarlett Witch — for a time.