Author Archives: Stephen Oram

Do you want the AI to see you now?

As part of the Barbican’s More Than Human season there’s an evening event this week titled, “The AI will see you now.”

I was asked to curate a pamphlet of short science fiction to accompany the event, to get the audience into the ‘zone’.

I chose a selection of four stories – two from my own Biohacked & Begging collection (Zygosity Saves the Day and Happy Forever Day) along with two from the Virtual Futures Near-Future Fiction anthology (Young Blood by Jule Owen and Undefined Variable by C.R. Dudley).

Here’s the event blurb: “As machine learning is increasingly adopted into our systems of society, when will we see its launch into the medical field? Will it lead to a quicker, more efficient and less error-prone NHS? Are we as patients more comfortable with human error than machine error, even if the machine gets things right more often? Can a machine be taught bedside manner? “

It certainly looks like it’ll be an interesting and lively evening with a panel made up of: Professor Tom Vercauteren, a pioneering researcher at King’s College London whose work is using AI to recognise signs of disease; Dr Ali Jomaa, an active NHS A&E doctor and futurist working to improve his patients’ care with breakthrough digital technologies; Dr Christine Aicardi, a big-picture social scientist at the EU’s Human Brain Project investigating the potential dangers of using AI in healthcare; and Juan Echenique, co-founder of Horatio Productions, a company which seeks a new storytelling language around science in theatre and film.

For those of you that won’t be able to attend the event, here’s my introduction from the pamphlet:

When we talk about artificial intelligence we often bundle together many different aspects, such as automation, algorithms, machine learning and sentient robots. Fiction tends towards stories of sentient AI and is really about our fear that superior beings will consider us a toxic blemish on the world and wipe us out. Of course, these stories say more about us than they do about artificial intelligence.

Another aspect of AI that crops up a lot is health – how we’ll be diagnosed or cured and what the health system could look like. But, who knows what the future might hold?  The possibilities are endless in a world of big data, a world where AlphaGo wins with a move so radical it overturned hundreds of years of received wisdom and a world where a shed load of money is spent on extending life expectancy.

Science fiction helps us imagine these possible futures, mainly with warnings of what could go wrong. Why does sci-fi focus on the negative?  Well, partly because stories need drama, but also because, as Frederick Pohl put it, “A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam.”

This mini collection of short stories takes you through different versions of our future, ending with the hopeful scenario of living forever. They are designed to prompt you to think about what you want your future to be.

After all, “the future is ours and it’s up for grabs…”


Biohacked & Begging and Near-Future Fictions Vol 1 are both widely available (here are the amazon links (Biohacked & Begging | Near-Future Fictions, but you can buy them in other places too!)

Link to the event https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2019/event/the-ai-will-see-you-now


photo credit: fabsit waiting room via photopin (license)</a

Future Fictions of Finsbury Park

On Saturday the 10 August I’ll be live in Finsbury Park celebrating its 150 year anniversary, by thinking about its future. It’s been a fantastic project to work on and I’m really chuffed with my story, Long Live the Strawberries of Finsbury Park, and I’d love you to join me for the reading.

This is the blurb…

“Gather round and listen to two short stories emerging from the heady mix of sci-fi authors (Mud Howard and Stephen Oram), scientists and the folk of Finsbury Park. Come and decide if these are the futures you want for your park?”

Times: 11.30, 2.30

There’s loads of other great stuff going on too – take a look at https://www.furtherfield.org/future-fair/


photo credit: Rusty Russ Twisted Tree ReTwisted via photopin(license)

The Radical Reboot Robot

Ten. Nine. This is it. Seven. David grabs my hand. Five. He’s holding my hand. Three. Strange. One. Our work is complete. The months spent finding the best neural widgets to build the ultimate AI and the painstaking training of Omega ended with that simple countdown. A palpable sense of collective relief ripples around the room and I’m fully prepared to accept whatever comes next. I hope.

David is still holding my hand and grinning. There’s something about the tilt of his head and the sparkle in his eyes that betray more than a colleague’s happiness at a job well done. I glance down at our hands. He’s hairy. I hadn’t noticed before. I follow his hairy skin all the way up his arm, across his shoulder and up his neck to his face. He sees me looking and I distract him by pointing to the large screen displaying the data-processing server farms of the world. The tiny blue dot sitting next to the largest of the red lights, that’s us. That’s Omega, busy working out the ultimate way to reduce the planet’s energy consumption to its bare minimum. Connected to each and every other AI and their server farms, Omega will decide and deploy the solution. Determining the fate of the planet and all who inhabit her fragile shell.

David runs his fingers along the inside of my palm. It’s nice. It’s unexpected, but nice. Someone complains that the kettle won’t boil and someone else shouts that the communications network is down. Ping — the lab lights go out at the same time as the red lights on the display disappear. Someone screams and then there’s a stifling hush, broken only by one person sobbing. David stops stroking the inside of my hand and in the silence of a hundred colleagues the familiar hum of the air-conditioning ends. My palm is damp, clammy with sweat.

The doors from the lab to the server farm slide open. Sunlight streams in through the large open doors at the far end, from the greenhouse that uses the controlled heat of the servers to grow food. Surely this breach will damage its delicate atmosphere?

David pulls me away from the sobbing and into the sunlight. We walk hand-in-hand through one farm and into the stillness of the other. Robots stand motionless as if death has arrived, which is a sharp contrast to the wonderful and life-affirming tang of tomatoes growing on the vine and the citric essence of oranges on the trees.

‘Omega must have killed all the server farms, including its own,’ he says, ‘giving us life-lines instead of product-lines.’

I pick a tomato and bite through its skin, releasing pips and juices into my mouth.

With a click, the glass panels open and a cool wind blows across my face. I pluck an apple and point to the path outside. ‘Shall we?’

‘No,’ he replies. ‘Let’s stay where there’s food and we’re safe.’

I sit down and wait for whatever comes next.


Story first published on Medium as Radical Reboot

Photo credit: Paul VanDerWerf: “Butterfly House