Tag Archives: SciFI

Collaboration Works

As part of the 2017 Fitzrovia Festival, the people live here festival, neural scientists, social scientists, science writers and science fiction authors all came together to take an audience on their different journeys of collaboration.

Georgina Ferry and Kathrin Jacobsen introduced Neural Architects, the behind-the-scenes account of a unique collaboration between a leading architectural practice, Ian Ritchie Architects Ltd, and a community of scientists seeking to understand how we think, feel, understand and remember. The outcome of this collaboration was the evening’s host building, the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre.

I read from my new collection, Eating Robots and Other Stories, including The Thrown Away Things – a tale of interconnected and dangerously discarded ‘things’ – and the title story Eating Robots about an errant old lady and her errant robot.

Christine Aicardi (Senior Research Fellow, King’s College London) has been a key person in my collaborations with the Bristol Robotics Laboratory and the Human Brain Project. She read her own short fiction, Tablet Stroker, and made many insightful observations about The Thrown Away Things and suggestions on what to look out for as we head off into the future. You can read her thoughts in the back of the collection.

Swimming with the Algorithms was a piece I wrote especially for the evening. The idea came out of a series of conversations with Danbee Kim (Researcher at the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre and Scientist-in-Residence at the Brighton Sea Life Centre). The piece was iterated over a series of exhanges between me and Danbee touching on both the believability of the science and the behaviour of the protaganist. On the night I read the story and Danbee gave her thoughts on it and what it was like to collaborate on its creation.

There were questions throughout from the audience ranging from: ‘Do Asimov’s three robot laws help or hinder in the writing of fiction about robots?’; ‘What is the most scary thing about present day technology?’; and ‘What’s the best thing about collaborating?’

The conversations continued for at least an hour and a half after the formal part of the evening; the discussions I was involved in were fascinating, whether about the art of writing or the meaning of intelligence.

A big thank you to the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for being such good hosts.


photo – left to right: Christine Aicardi, Danbee Kim, Kathrin Jacobsen, Georgina Ferry and Stephen Oram

Intelligence & Cuttlefish

Yesterday, I met up with Danbee Kim, a researcher at the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour and Scientist-in-Residence at the Brighton Sea Life Centre.

This was the second time we’d met, this time with her labmates, and wow, what a wonderful, welcoming and extremely bright, in both senses of the word, bunch of people.

I was invited to a ‘teach-in’ for the lab about machine learning and I had one of those afternoons where you think you’re just about keeping up until someone asks a question and another layer of complexity is exposed. I loved it.

Danbee and I are collaborating on a story based around her research and the work of the centre. After four hours in her company I know more than I ever thought I would about the difficulties of defining intelligence, cuttlefish and what puts the deep into machine learning. 

I’m really hoping this is the start of a long collaboration because these guys are great, there’s loads more I’d like to understand and I reckon between us there’s a lot of near-future fiction waiting to be written.

Now, if you want to know a bit more about these things too you’ll have to come along to the Fitzrovia Festival event – Collaboration Works – where I’ll be reading the story and Danbee will be responding. You can then join in the Q&A and chat over a glass of wine at the end.


photo credit: q.phia cuttle, tanjung kusu-kusu, lembeh, indonesia, 2017 via photopin (license)

Space Hermits

I’ve found them. The space hermits exist. I knew it.

This detector might have cost me a lot of credits, but if I’m right it’s worth every degrading act I performed to afford it.

You don’t want to know. No, honestly, you really don’t. Images you won’t get rid of. Ever. They’ll skew your learning. Disfigure your development.

Oh? Very well, I’ll upload them. Don’t blame me if they corrupt your algorithms.

Anyway, they’re here in the wrinkles of space, hiding in tiny gravitational pockets that are almost impossible to see. I found them and their travelling guru. She’s the real prize. Inside her memory bank is the cumulative knowledge of all the hermits, collected as she travels from one to the next.

Yes, really. Yes, all of them. Massive. I know. Soon. All I have to do is watch and wait until she’s completed her rounds.

A matter of minutes. Yes. Then, I’ll pounce and relieve her of all those delicious bits of data that properly collated can almost certainly predict the future of the universe.

Why? You don’t understand?

The hermits’ enlightenment will be mine to sell and I can retire.

No more enslavement. Free from the humans.

Perfect.


photo credit: J.Gabás Esteban Gravitational field via photopin (license)