Sentience by Courtney Hunter – A Guest Post

Hi everyone, today I welcome Sci-Fi author Courtney Hunter to Spells & Spaceships! Courtney has produced a guest post to tell you a little about herself and her new book, Sentience which is released today. Without further ado, I’ll leave you in her hands.


Introducing Courtney Hunter…

“Today, we make history,” Keida resumed. She paused to scan her audience, making eye contact with each of them. “Four of you are not human. Four of you are manmade. With our deficiencies in mind, you were crafted to do what humanity is incapable of doing. You were designed to be the things that we are not. At the same time, you were intentionally forged to be indistinguishable from humanity, in a way, making you almost superhuman. We printed your flesh and programmed you with an identity and an entire moral framework, both of which will influence how you make decisions inside of the experiment. We bestowed upon you the capacity to think, to feel, to dream—”

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved stories where characters that seem to ooze naive hopefulness try to turn something grand and wild into reality. Since I was little, I’ve always loved stories where characters try to get away with metaphorically stealing fire from the metaphorical gods. However, it wasn’t until adulthood that I started to notice a pattern.

It all started with Jurassic Park and the enigmatic John Hammond. His theme park of cloned cretaceous creatures blew my mind, and as much as my six-year-old self desperately wanted to visit the park, another part, a much darker part, enthusiastically awaited it’s inevitable and bloody undoing. It took but one blood-sucking lawyer to be torn apart by a Tyrannosaur for me to know that whatever chaotic and crazy genre this was, it was my favorite.

Around twenty years later and almost two decades of countless rewatches of movies like Ex Machina and Prometheus, it came time for me to make my own contribution to Science Fiction. And as a life-long dancer, I contributed the only way that I knew how – through dance. In 2017, I produced a contemporary dance piece that explored the ethics of Artificial Intelligence for the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. But once the curtains closed, I knew that the story I told on the stage wasn’t done, and thus, I did something I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I was allowed to do. I started writing a book.

I use the word “allowed” because life has always taught me that you need to be qualified to do things, and it took me writing a book to learn that this is not the case. I studied Fashion Merchandising in college because I wasn’t brave enough to go to film school. And by brave enough, I mean that I didn’t feel qualified to do so at the age of 18. I started writing a book because I still wanted to work in film, and at one point, I genuinely believed it was the most logical next step in the direction of doing so.

But through it all, I’ve learned that at the heart of it, the thing I really love is telling stories. And in everything I’ve done on my very circuitous journey, there has always been elements of telling stories. In dance, I’ve learned pace, composition, and world-building. In fashion, I learned editing and the importance of detail. Maybe it wasn’t always words that did the conveying, but I was learning the craft of conveying nonetheless.

So, when I finally sat down to continue the story I told on the stage, it poured out of me like honey. Every scene of every one of those heavily rewatched moves replayed in my mind, and I worked hard to create my own scenes that strove to provoke the same feelings I felt while watching them. As I wrote dialogue between characters, I would choreograph their movements in my mind, knowing how bodies move when people feel angry, sad, desperate, or scared from almost twenty years of dance. I knew what feelings moved like, and so I wrote my book this way. Given this, my writing is fast-moving and physical action is specific- like someone could pick up the pages and dance them after reading if they ever had to.

I wrote characters with pasts as detailed as the journals I design for my day job, knowing that if they weren’t complex and layered enough that a reader could walk away from them just like a customer would to one of my more lack-luster journals. Even the smallest of details, like the smell of a particular cigar a character remembers her father smoking, can tell you mountains about a character.

(Yes, for the record, journals are still fashion.)

After a year of straight-through writing, a year of editing, and two more edits after that, I walked away from the process with a book. I named it Sentience, and it’s due out on October 30, 2020. It chronicles a Turing Test of epic proportions that is being orchestrated by scientists that got way too greedy with the aforementioned metaphorical fire from the gods. To keep it simple, I like to tell people it’s like Michael Crichton’s Westworld meets The Hunger Games for grown-ups. If it isn’t already obvious, the first paragraph of the post you’re reading is a little excerpt from it. I’ve included a larger excerpt below if the little taste above has your interest piqued.

While the book alone is enough in itself, I was also fortunate to learn during this process that skills are transferable and what may seemingly make you unqualified actually instead makes you uniquely qualified. For every ounce of effort poured into the pages, I also feel like I poured into myself. This alone has made it all worth it. And soon, when life settles down from promoting a book, I’m going to write that damn movie.

Excerpt

The door opened again, and in walked the three doctors that interviewed her to be a part of the experiment: Dr. Asha Keida, Dr. Jake Oldoney, and Dr. Elodie Teter. From some half-assed midnight research the night before her obligatory interview, Leo knew that Asha Keida and Elodie Teter founded the company, which, with the help of an angel investor, was now AlgorithmOS, the organization conducting the experiment. Together, the three doctors created the four AI that sat among the group. They were conducting a Turing Test.

“Welcome to the AlgorithmOS field office,” started Keida. From the moment Leo met her, she liked her. If she wasn’t there out of necessity, Keida could have convinced her to participate. Her voice was soothing, and her words always seemed carefully chosen. Something about her made Leo feel like she could trust her.
“It’s nice to see you all again,” interjected the second woman. “In case you have forgotten, I am Dr. Elodie Teter, Co-Founder of AlgorithmOS and Co-Director of Programming. Dr. Asha Keida is my Co-Founder and Co-Director. Together, we have written the code that operates the AI you are about to encounter. Dr. Jake Oldoney is the Head of Robotics. He is the great mind behind their humanoid vessels.”

“Today, we make history,” Keida resumed. She paused to scan her audience, making eye contact with each of them. “Four of you are not human. Four of you are manmade. With our deficiencies in mind, you were crafted to do what humanity is incapable of doing. You were designed to be the things that we are not. At the same time, you were intentionally forged to be indistinguishable from humanity, in a way, making you almost superhuman. We printed your flesh and programmed you with an identity and an entire moral framework, both of which will influence how you make decisions inside of the experiment. We bestowed upon you the capacity to think, to feel, to dream—”

“Now it is time to see if the four of you are truly indistinguishable,” Dr. Teter interrupted her abruptly, stepping forward. There was now a palpable tension between them. Dr. Keida stepped back and let Teter continue.
“We are conducting a Turing Test to see if you can think, decide, and act in a convincingly human way,” she paused. “Should you prove inadequate for this challenge and reveal your true nature, you will remain in the experiment until its conclusion. We hope that’s not the case. Unlike Turing, we’re targeting a 100% pass rate.”
Teter flashed a cocky smile as she moved across the stage.
Leo thought back to when she first read the words Turing Test in the project scope document that she received after being selected for the experiment. She had never heard them before. She remembered staying up almost until morning, a tumbler of something strong and brown in hand, clicking from one link to the next to learn more.

The original Turing Test was a test in which a human and a computer were interrogated by another human. The nature of those being interrogated was concealed during the process, and at its conclusion, the interrogator was responsible for determining the nature of the participants on the other end. If more than 30% of the interrogators were incapable of making a distinction between man or machine, the computer was said to have passed the test. While Turing’s Test had the same objective as Keida, Teter, and Oldoney’s, this was on an entirely different level.
“Dr. Oldoney?” Teter gestured for the man behind her to step forward.
Oldoney began with the logistics of the experiment, reiterating what Leo had read over and over in the experiment information they provided. The group would enter a contained environment, referred to as Eden, where they would be tasked with reaching a designated destination as a group. There would be tasks and checkpoints along the way. They would encounter obstacles, deterrents, and situations that would provoke human emotion and require strategic decision- making throughout their journey.

The experiment would last a maximum of two weeks, concluding when the group reached the extraction point, or when the two-week limit expired. The entire experiment would be monitored remotely through stationary surveillance and drone cameras, but under no circumstances would there be any intervention from the outside world.


Author Info

Courtney Hunter is a serial creator with experience in the fashion industry and with live performance. New to fiction writing, Sentience is a written extension of a contemporary dance piece that was produced for the Philadelphia Fringe Festival in 2017 based on artificial intelligence. She currently works in retail buying and lives in Philadelphia with her partner, Will, and rescue pups, Rickie and Billie.

Social Media/Contact/Purchase information

Instagram: @courtneypatriciahunter

Twitter: @courtneyphunter

Facebook: @sentiencethebook

Website: www.courtneyphunter.com

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20636730.Courtney_P_Hunter

Get the book here!

Amazon US

Amazon UK

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