Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Today's the day 'Lena's Nest' hits the electronic shelves!

Yes, the long-awaited (well, by me at least) day of publication of Lena's Nest has arrived. I'll be anxiously watching my Amazon page for the magical change in rankings showing that some wonderful person has bought my book. It's only £1.99 by the way ($3.02 if you're ordering from Amazon.com). If you feel in need of an exciting new read, please go to Amazon UK or Amazon USA to obtain your copy. (You can read this e-book version on your Kindle, tablet, phone or laptop. The paperback version will be coming soon.) One reviewer has already described Lena's Nest as 'terrifyingly exquisite'. See if you agree.

Lena's Nest is science fiction, which is a new genre for me as a writer, though I've been a fan for years. It's 'hard' scifi in that it's based on real science; real knowledge of computers and artificial intelligence (AI). But the science isn't blasted in your face; a lot of it's behind the scenes. And there aren't any warring planets or sophisticated weaponry. There are no aliens either - just different kinds of human beings.

The main story is Lena's. She's a roboticist and also a mother - and when she ends up 90 years ahead of her time, her main objective is to search for traces of her children. Are they still alive? Does she have grandchildren and great-grandchildren? Or have her descendants been wiped out in the conflict fifty years before? (OK, there is some conflict - in fact there's been a war - but we don't  witness it first hand.) Lena's own research - or the lack of it, in some areas - may have helped cause that war. She will have to face the consequences of her work, as well as coming to terms with a very different kind of life in 2104.

I have a background in AI and computer science, and this book reflects some of my concerns about developments in these fields - in particular the ethics of research. I'm pleased to see that such topics are beginning to make the news and even the drama slots - e.g. the recent Channel 4 series 'Humans' and the programme on BBC1 last night 'Could a Robot do my Job?' Radio 4 also has a lot of interesting stuff about computing and AI at the moment, including the reading of Ada Lovelace's letters (Ada was the first computer programmer and yay, she was a girl!)

One of the things that concerns me is that if we succeed in developing robots with thoughts and feelings, i.e. ones that are capable of happiness, sadness, pain and all the rest, will we treat them fairly and with consideration, kindness and respect? Some people fear what robots might do to us. My fear is what we might do to them. We don't have a great record as human beings for treating people we regard as 'different' or 'other' with kindness and respect (dreadful phrases like 'swarms of migrants' come to mind, but don't get me started on that).

These are some of the issues that Lena's Nest explores. Others include the vexed questions 'Who am I? Where exactly does my consciousness reside? What makes me me? If someone stored my brain in digital form, would that still be me? What if they copied it? What rights would that individual (or those individuals) have?' The lawyers will enjoy themselves, for sure - but these are issues that need to be thought about by all of us, ahead of time.

Some argue that a computer or a robot - something non-biological - can never be conscious. But the arguments are far from conclusive either way. I believe it could happen, and it may happen sooner than we expect. Ordinary people, not just scientists, need to start thinking about these things.

Just click here (UK purchasers) or here (Amazon.com purchasers) to obtain your copy of Lena's Nest. If you have Amazon Unlimited, it's free!

Best wishes 

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