Abi Silver Talks To The Bookbag About A Few Of Her Favourite Things

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Abi Silver Talks To The Bookbag About A Few Of Her Favourite Things


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Summary: Abi Silver talks about the inspirations behind The Aladdin Trial
Date: 26 June 2018

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External links: Author's website

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These are a few of my favourite things – part three

Let's begin with a confession: I read New Scientist (whispers). All right, I'll say it out loud: I read New Scientist. At first, I bought it for my kids, on the advice of a kindly high school Physics teacher, unwrapped it each week and gave them first option, only retrieving it if, after five days, it remained untouched and in pristine condition. I moved rapidly on to leaving it on the kitchen table overnight, awaiting takers. But within a few weeks, I had moved to waiting by the door for its delivery, devouring the articles which interested me and leaving it crumpled in a heap by my bedside.

So where does it come from, this interest in all things scientific and technical which burrows its way into my story writing? I think that, at heart, I am a very inquisitive person, always contemplating the 'hows and whys' of events; what could possibly have motivated Harold Shipman to kill his patients or is there any real basis for the conspiracy theories regarding the first landing on the Moon, to provide two random examples. My background as a lawyer helps enormously too; weighing up the likelihood of competing versions of events, probing evidence for gaps and asking endless questions, is part and parcel of the job.

In fact, now that I come to think of it, one of my earliest literary influences was Mr Nosey! I particularly loved (warning: Mr Men spoiler alert) the occasion when he couldn't resist peering around a fence and ended up with his nose splattered with red paint, courtesy of Mr Brush, the painter. And what better time could possibly exist than now, to be interested in technological advances? A time when computerised machines are set to take over routine and mundane repetitive tasks, making them more cost effective and efficient and 'artificial intelligence' is poised to conquer more complex activities, including (some people would like us to believe) those involving soft and creative skills. Here are a few of the recent highlights:

Top of the list in the 'justice' arena has to be 'Robocop'; a multi-lingual six-foot robot on wheels, complete with police cap and a 12-inch screen across his chest, who was despatched onto the streets of Dubai in early 2018, to help keep the peace. I'm also quite keen on facial recognition glasses, deployed in China to catch wanted criminals, although I noticed with concern the Metropolitan police has ditched these after numerous 'false positives'. Advanced lie-detection programmes (similar to my software in The Pinocchio Brief), which read your facial movements to determine if you are telling the truth, are another favourite, now, reputedly being used by UK companies in job interviews and on schedule to be rolled out in some US courts by 2020.

In medicine we have biometric tattoos; wow! These unobtrusive sensors can monitor the wearer's condition and transmit information back to a central monitoring team. We also have dexterous robot assistants who take blood from your arm and immediately analyse it and advanced contact lenses which track blood sugar levels to help in the fight against diabetes. And 'cyborgs' are on the increase, people who have benefitted from artificial implants to enhance certain physical features (think Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar man, whilst chanting 'we can rebuild him!' in a deep voice).

In the arts, Amazon has created its own AI fashion designer and Google's AI is trying to write poems (although Samuel Gibbs in the Guardian referred to the result as 'Vogon' poetry). One high profile failure was Microsoft's Tay, a chatbot sent in to bat on Twitter, but quickly powered down after lapsing into inflammatory Tweets after only a few hours of interaction.

But my interest is not (really) rogue robots, although Tay's meltdown was quite entertaining, or the amazing things that AI can now do but, more importantly, why we are allowing continued development of incredibly sophisticated technology in every sphere of our lives, without regulation. Surely, we should be planning carefully where we want to replace humans with machines from various perspectives: health and safety, economical, enhanced performance and ethical, before we allow the technology to evolve. I fear that there will be a stage, quite soon, when we wake up and realise that this is not a desirable state of affairs but, by then it will be too late. To use a very low-tech maxim this time; it will simply be shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

To see more about the influences for The Aladdin Trial check out Shaz's Book Blog, @ShazsBookBlog on 21 June and Shannon Paige Waters, @captivated_by_fantasy on 25 June, both part of The Aladdin Trial blog tour

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