Mark Ravine – Alexa, tell me a story
For those of you who’ve read The Tech, or even those having gone through the first few chapters, it may have dawned on you that Aisha is not a real person. She’s an Artificial Intelligence. A piece of software. Okay – perhaps, that’s oversimplifying matters. To be clear, none of the existing AI’s – Siri, Cortana or Alexa were inspirations in the true sense of the word. Nor were the fictional AI’s from books, television and films through the past few decades a true inspiration. The question remains – what inspired me? And what does Alexa have to do with The Tech?
The answer, folks, is both simple and complicated. Unlike many AI’s in fiction, be utopian or dystopian, a stark if not startling similarity is that they are, for the most part, built in the image of man. Or rather, human. Homo sapien sapien, with the added twist that they all either aspired to or achieved a level of consciousness through self-realisation. They became sentient. It’s too early to tell if Aisha will gain sentience – The Tech is but Volume I, but Aisha (I don’t wish to attribute gender through personal pronouns, therefore giving Aisha even a semblance of humanity) certainly does not have roots in humanity.
On the other hand, Aisha is, like I’ve said before, very similar to AI in industry – real AI, that is. The kind that answers questions addressed to your smartphone or assists a helpdesk agent solve user problems or myriad other industrial uses from edge computing to drone technology – and essentially comes under the umbrella of AIoT – the Artificial Internet of Things that combines AI with IoT. I needed to give this AI voice. I went and bought myself an Echo Dot to experience Alexa. I already had experienced Siri on my Apple iPhones and Google on android devices (I’m impartial when it comes to technology – I love all of them!). I wanted, folks, to understand how technology gave itself voice.
Let’s get one thing clear – Aisha is not Alexa. Far from it, in fact. Truth be told, I was getting quite frustrated with some of the smart technology out there – launched with bugs, don’t play nice with one another and compatibility between competing brands – a necessary evil, I suppose. After all, we do live in a capitalist society. Aisha was born of that frustration. I wanted to create an AI that didn’t compete – it combined. It uses anything and everything that’s available out there, using its own algorithms to leverage existing technology. Aisha is not science fiction. Aisha exists only in fiction but is eminently achievable to create in reality. It’s a sobering thought.
Look at it another way. Remember the myriad industrial uses that I mentioned earlier – well Aisha is, well, a combination of everything. But everything in Aisha’s world is rooted in reality. There are, however, several pros and cons of this approach that I’ve taken, perhaps even a self-imposed constraint. In a way, much like Matrix’s Neo, I had a choice between the blue pill and the red pill. I could either go the fantasy way and take the blue pill, allowing myself to let my imagination rule the roost. Or I could take the red pill and still achieve the seemingly impossible though accepting the grime of true life as we know it – warts and all.
There was a reason for this choice. I wanted this book of fiction to be believable. There may still be readers out there who can’t grapple with the way supercomputers work – appreciating the time that it takes for a powerful supercomputer to make calculations or process zettabytes of data. That being said, there was another reason. Remember my point about dystopian or utopian? I loved Bicentennial man and I, Robot’s Sunny. The good guys. I loathed Alicia Vikander’s Ava from Ex Machina and Arnie’s I’ll be back Terminator from T1. I found Viki really interesting. They all seemed to go – mad. For some inexplicable reason, AI, having gained sentience, decided to embrace Good or Evil. No in-between. In a sense, they didn’t represent humanity at all. They represented what humans either feared the most or might grow to love, as I did, of course – I’m only human.
Another characteristic that I was keen to explore is evolution. AI, by its very definition (real definition based on industrial usage) is evolutionary in nature. Let me explain. AI, at least in part, is founded on machine learning. An algorithm (or in this case, a machine) learns from watching or overseeing what humans do – mostly several humans over a period of time doing a repeatable set of tasks. The more complex, the longer it takes.
However, with each passing moment, with each new experience, AI becomes cleverer, able to do more things. Alexa is evolutionary but requires human intervention to evolve. As I’ve said before, Aisha is not Alexa. Aisha is able to evolve without human intervention, although Mike does have to lend a helping hand from time to time. In fact, Aisha evolves through the storyline of The Tech. You’d have to read it, of course, quite carefully, to figure out how.
Aisha will continue to evolve. Whether Aisha gains sentience – time alone will tell. I cannot and will not predict the future. After all, could we have imagined, before Knight Rider, a talking car? Or a singing smartphone before Star Trek? Or a robot that learns how to vacuum the household. What’s interesting at the present moment is how Aisha uses existing technology to help solve crime. That’s the ticket. For me, Aisha represents the art of the possible. And very near future, I hope. However, let’s not forget the dangers. Aisha, like any other technology in the wrong hands, can commit horrendous crimes against humanity. That’s true of the AI used to manage and manipulate social media. That’s also true of drones. The two sides of humanity. Good and evil. Unlike Aisha, who, at present, is actually soulless. At least, that’s what I set out to do.
I try. I don’t always succeed. You see, it’s the journey. It has to be fun. It has been for me thus far and I have hopes for the future. Hope you enjoyed it. I know that I did. Let me know what you think.
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