What is your new novel, Interpretation, about?
I’d like to think it’s about taking time to embrace the best of humanity — each other. But I’m not sure if most people will see it that way. Without any spoilers, the main character, Carl Winston, lives an ordinary and somewhat luxurious life with his son, Liam. There are a few odd things about their society, like the government’s pre-occupation with psychology. Little does Carl know, his life is mostly an illusion and the world is run by five artificial intelligences that call themselves Entities.
Eventually, Carl finds himself on the outside of the grand illusion. He tries to put his life back together while seeking answers about what has happened. Along the way, he meets a woman named Eva Thompson and finds out that he has never really experienced love before.
Interpretation is often cited as being more like classical dystopian novels than new ones. Why is that?
There are a few reasons, I suppose. There are references to the classics. The main character’s last name is Winston, which is a nod to Nineteen Eighty-Four. The characters at the beginning of the novel eat Brave New Burgers – something that I found really funny to throw in there. On Carl’s walk, there are elements of The Road mixed in. I’m deeply inspired by the classics and wanted to pay my respect to them.
Obviously, those stories have already been told, though. I wanted to create something that was modern but with a similar feel to the classics. That is why the story is formulated around artificial intelligence. I think real artificial intelligence, the kind that is capable of deep learning, isn’t too far away. I also think that it’s going to be humanity’s greatest gift or possibly our desctruction. There won’t be any in-between.
You’ve talked quite a bit about artificial intelligence and the singularity. What is the singularity?
The singularity is the moment that artificial intelligence becomes smarter than all of humanity and ushers in an unpredictable period of change for us. There will be sweeping, unfathomable, technological growth. Futurists, like Ray Kurzweil, thinks that this isn’t too far away. Some experts in the field believe that this will bring war while others think that it will bring peace.
I’m an optimist. I really do think that technological advancements will bring a brighter future for us. However, I do see the potential dangers and that’s what I wanted to focus on, in this novel. It isn’t meant to be alarmist but I think we need to be aware of the worst scenarios possible. Also, I wanted to show a society that had lost touch with itself, which is something that we do tend to see today, I believe.
Interpretation does look at relationships in society. Is that something you intentionally set out to discuss in the novel?
It wasn’t, at first. I really just wanted to tell this simple story about A.I. As I developed the background for the story, I found this interesting way to include psychological experiments, which became a focus in the book. The question about relationships was inevitably tied to it.
When people inside of the illusory world communicate, their conversations are only superficial. They have an obviously fake smile slapped across their face and only make small talk. They are incapable of real, genuine conversation.
I think that part of the book reflects how I feel about some of the conversations that I’ve had over the years. It seems difficult to have meaningful conversations with people, sometimes. I’m probably more at fault than anyone else at making those connections, but it makes me sad, regardless.
Lastly, what is your favorite part of the book?
My favorite part is the ending – for many different reasons. I’d give everything away if I tell you much about it. I felt that the ending was perfect for the story and tied in a lot of little things together. There isn’t anything I’d change about it.