Study and Discussion Questions for

Ken Liu's "The Algorithms for Love" [2004]


Lester Del Rey's story, "Helen O'Loy," through its presentation of Helen, is an early address to the humanization of robots that leads us to consider both whether an artificial intelligence could in fact evolve self-consciousness and human emotions and whether human behaviors might not, like those of AI's, result from conditioned responses to familiar experiences.  Our story for consideration today--written almost 70 years after "Helen O'Loy"--confronts similar issues while also provoking some thought about gender representations in SF.  Consider the following questions while reading and reviewing Liu's story.


"The Algorithms for Love"

  1. In computer science, "algorithm" refers to "a predetermined set of instructions for solving a specific problem in a limited number of steps" [Webster's New World Dictionary, 4th edition, 2002].  Since Elena is a designer who writes the code governing the dolls, this definition is likely relevant to Liu's story.  How does the concept of an "algorithm" function in the story's title?  How does this concept inform the statement, "To [Brad] this means that the routines are back in place, that he is talking to the same woman that he has known all these years, that things are back to normal"? (416-17). 

  2. How do the phrases, "I love you" & "I love you, too" (416, 422, & 427) function in the story?

  3. Why does Liu send Brad and Elena to Salem for their weekend when Elena is released from the hospital?  Why does he mention Bridget Bishop, Salem's Official Witch? (419).  Is this somehow a comment on Elena and her work?

  4. How does John Searle's Chinese Room Argument function in the story?

  5. How does the sequence of dolls [from Clever Laura to Witty Kimberly to Aimee and finally to Tara] develop the themes of AI self-consciousness and human understanding?  What are the purposes and who are the audiences for these dolls?

  6. Why does "seeing an inanimate object display intelligent behavior" (418) unnerve the TV interviewers?  How does this effect also develop the story's address to algorithms and their implications for both AI and human understanding?

  7. Finally, why does Elena "want to scream"? (417).  Remember, this thought occurs very near the end of the story's time frame despite the fact that in the plot it appears on the second page.