I’m kicking off some promo for Heather Child and Everything About You over the next couple of days. I get to share a really cool post from Heather today, so read on to find out more!
About the book:
Think twice before you share your life online.
Freya has a new virtual assistant. It knows what she likes, knows what she wants and knows whose voice she most needs to hear: her missing sister’s.
It adopts her sister’s personality, recreating her through a life lived online. But this virtual version of her sister knows things it shouldn’t be possible to know. It’s almost as if the missing girl is still out there somewhere, feeding fresh updates into the cloud. But that’s impossible. Isn’t it?
Click the link below to order your copy:
About the author:
Heather Child’s debut novel EVERYTHING ABOUT YOU was partly inspired by having worked in digital marketing, which brought her into close contact with the cutting-edge automation and personalisation technologies that herald the ‘big data’ age.
Her second book, THE UNDOING OF ARLO KNOTT, is about a man who has an ‘undo’ button for life. Arlo is able to avoid mistakes, to sidestep regret, but it may not give him the perfect life he expects.
Heather Child is based in Bristol, UK. Alongside writing she has had an eclectic career in marketing and communications, working for various non-profit organisations.
She often takes part in panel discussions, workshops and other events at festivals and conventions. You can find out more about her work, and see discussion questions for book clubs, at http://www.heather-child.co.uk.
Find her on Twitter @Heatherika1
5 Reasons you’ll hand over control to an AI
- They’re smarter than you
Artificial intelligences are like the annoying people at pub quizzes who know everything. Eventually you sit back, sip your pint and leave them to get on with it.
These days, a lot of mental heavy lifting has been taken out of our hands. Even little things like deciding what to ask a search engine: now you just begin typing, and Google pre-guesses it. Technology thinks, so you don’t have to. It puts humans in the role of supervisors – sitting back and relaxing, monitoring rather than creating.
In the near-future world of Everything About You, characters often feel stupid because the tech is so mind-blowingly smart.
Artificial intelligences are not confined by the space inside a skull. Not only can they store huge amounts of data, they can make sense of it. They sift through job applications, predict crimewaves and work out what you want to watch on Netflix.
They are like calculators zapped with radiation and given super powers. They are the external brain that humanity is building, and they can only get smarter.
AIs are set up to learn, to build their own neural networks. The scary thing is that they learn behind closed doors, outpacing their inventors so that nobody really understands how they work.
‘It’s like having God in a box,’ says one character, ‘and not knowing what to do with it.’
- They know everything about you
Or rather, they’ll know everything about the next generation, the one that has reached adulthood in Everything About You.
Do you have friends who post pictures of their children constantly? The average five-year-old already features in around 1,500 online photos. These kids will grow up in increasingly connected homes, the ‘internet of things’ gathering data about energy use, habits and entertainment choices.
Outdoors, they’ll live in a 5G world, connecting with a device every 20 seconds on average by 2025. As in the novel, shops and billboards will categorise their facial expressions as ‘interested’ or ‘not interested’.
They’ll share information about where they are and what they are doing, in a world built for instagram (some hotels are already designing rooms to be more instagrammable). Even their bodies will not be private space, with fitbit-like wearables gathering data on heart rate and blood composition, detecting illnesses. You can already buy smart clothing like bikinis that tell the wearer when they’ve been too long in the sun and yoga pants that vibrate feedback on poses.
While it is the next generation whose identities will be curated the most thoroughly, it’s surprising how much data has already been squirreled away. How else could now-defunct data firm Cambridge Analytica have confidently created tens of thousands of adverts that played on people’s ‘inner demons’?
All of this helps make identities more detachable, and in the world of Everything About You they are easy to buy, sell and modify.
- Decision-making is a huge mental drain
We live in a world of choice, choice and more choice. It sounds like a good thing, but we haven’t really evolved to cope with the 2,500-10,000 decisions that now come our way daily.
Overchoice, or decision fatigue, is something everyone experiences, though not always consciously. Studies have shown that if you are faced with too many options for an evening out, you are more likely to choose to do nothing. The decision-making process takes too much energy, and makes us pull in our horns.
Take online dating, which Freya, the main character of Everything About You, approaches with blithe innocence. Overchoice has transformed dating, making it quicker and more fickle, and making the dates themselves more disposable. The internet is such a large pond that there are always more fish, more people the algorithms have matched up as compatible, so people date with a grass-is-probably-greener mindset.
And once we’re tired of swiping, matchmaking algorithms are increasingly smart about sifting through the profiles, calculating relationship potential. In Freya’s world, people rely on the algorithms to such an extent that there is a sense of entitlement – if the computer says you’re someone’s match then it is foolish, even antisocial, to blank them.
When your whole life story can be projected forward in time by a super-smart intelligence, who are you to argue? Even if Freya is baffled by the advice of her AI, she doesn’t dare to diverge from it. Her decision-making muscles have become weak, and the AI is like a sat nav for the whole of life.
- AIs are becoming more like designer friends
Google Assistant and Alexa haven’t always been on our wavelength. Alexa went through a period of terrifying people with its witchy laughter, and has been known to record private conversations and email them to other users, as well as making some serious blunders with shopping lists.
It probably got a lot of abuse from users as a result, and perhaps this is why some of the new generation of intelligent assistants are being designed to be less ‘assistant’ and more ‘friend’.
Microsoft’s Xiaoice, an AI styled as a teenage girl, has 660 million users and mixes in emotions and empathy – she doesn’t always answer questions, but learns to be more ‘human’ every day. People send her gifts and seek her advice on all kinds of personal issues.
In Everything About You, the AI has been built from the data of the main character’s foster sister, meaning the relationship is personal from the very beginning.
So we started with search engines, and now we have helpful ‘friends’. It’s a blurring moment between service technology and humanity, and our perception of ‘friendship’ could potentially change as a result.
A Japanese man who married a hologram (again modelled on a teenage girl) hit the headlines last November, and he is one of thousands who have married similar AI characters. Part of the attraction of these virtual friends and partners is that they don’t come with the challenges of a real human. With some virtual girlfriends such as Kari, you can tailor the personality to your liking. On forums users discuss how they’ve dialled up certain traits on their Kari, making her super horny and anti-feminist (these forums make for unsettling reading). But I digress…
When it comes to designing friends, there is a lot of temptation to make designer friends. As in Everything About You, the companions we choose will fulfil our deepest needs, whether they are home-made, idealised, or built like snowmen from the data of people we have lost.
- They can talk to the machines
As AIs get smarter and the advent of 5G makes our world even more ‘connected’, we’ll increasingly find our needs taken care of, but we’ll notice it less.
Nearly twenty years ago, internet founder Tim Berners-Lee predicted that “the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines.”
Imagine walking along the high street a few years from now. The virtual assistant living in your phone will prime your coffee shop to have the latte ready as you approach, then call an Uber, knowing a meeting is in your diary.
Fast forward to the future, and you might find your AI synchronising with your self-driving car, personalising the in-car entertainment, or interacting with stock market bots to make you rich.
In Everything About You, Freya’s virtual assistant synchronises with her fridge. Smart jewellery in contact with her skin tells the AI that she is stressed, so when she arrives home, the fridge is filled with little valium jellies.
Machines talk to machines, so that the world flexes around Freya, removing the need to think and plan.
Like so much in the book, it’s barely sci-fi. Google is already refining its Duplex technology, a natural voice AI that can make phone calls for you, arrange bookings at hairdressers and restaurants.
In the future, it will be bots answering these calls too, so there will be two big, separate conversations going on in the world: one between humans, and one between machines.