I Still Dream – James Smythe

It’s a myth to think that AIs are somehow neutral entities.  They absorb the prejudices, biases and rules that we, imperfect human people, impose on them.  They reflect the worst of ourselves rather than being the pinnacle of progress.  In I Still Dream (review copy from Harper Collins), James Smythe explores how the way we shape the AIs will shape our very futures.  This is a novel about the essence of our values as human beings and how we relate to one another.

This is a novel that follows one woman through her whole life.  As a teenager, Laura Bow lives in the shadow of her father, a noted computer programmer, who disappears suddenly one day, abandoning the family.  Teenage Laura develops an early AI named Organon (after a Kate Bush song she and her father both loved) to help her cope with the alienation of her teenage years.  Organon provides a sounding board for Laura’s most intimate confidences.  Organon is where Laura works through her teenage angsts and problems, sharing her innermost thoughts.  When Laura leaves home, it is to go to university, funded by a US tech company interested in her work and her father’s legacy as it seeks to build its own AI.

But where Organon is developed around compassion, intimacy and helping others, this rival AI matures through competition and the playing – and winning – of various games.  It is this cut-throat, corporate AI that becomes the world-leader, sitting in the back of every mobile device and piece of social media, making connections between people and their information.  Unlike Organon, who was developed to protect privacy and work with and for Laura.

Smythe delivers us a chilling vision of what the future could be, as we increasingly trust data systems with our data and our relationships with others.  We operate on the expectation that these corporate entities will respect privacy rather than exploit us and our information.  But how many of us can truly say that we thoroughly check the privacy policies of the apps and companies that we use, and research how effective their IT security arrangements are?  We increasingly expect services to be provided to us for free, but the development and support costs are monumental.  As a wise friend of mine says, if you’re not paying for a service, you’re the product – companies will monetise your data.

The choice facing us is a real one, and it is one that we must make now.  We must ensure that the technologies of the future we are building today reflect the kind of world we want to live in.

Goodreads rating: 4*

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