Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The making of an AI

One of things I had the most fun with in Genome was 'PIP', the laboratory Artificial Intelligence 'character'. You can try to guess what 'PIP' is an acronym for or better yet grab the book and find out!

PIP grew from being a text based interface that Jack used to run the genetics lab to being a full fledged AI. PIP evolved into a holographic avatar that continues to 'mature' and morph as the book goes along. 'She' is integrated with the holographic modeling 'room' (think holo deck on steroids for you Trekkie's), running the labs and interfacing with the other book characters.

It was a real challenge to show PIP 'growing' along with the rest of the story. I introduce a very simple version of the modeling interface software at the beginning of the book along with the other characters. As the book progresses, the characters grow up and so does PIP. Sort of.

PIP allowed me to integrate a team of geeks into the story line as well. The team creates and enhances PIP's capabilities throughout the story line, even up to the end. It gave me more characters to interact with and gave the story a lot more interest.

It was also a place where I could try out some long brewing ideas from my imagination bank. I had a lot of fun with the 'what if' parts? In this case, what if an AI could morph in context with the human it was interacting with? And what happens when the AI gets it wrong? What if one of its creators is obsessed with early TV actresses and bombshells? Isn't imagination wonderful?

PIP ended up being an integral part of the plot. She moved the story forward in several places, becoming what I like to refer to as an 'enabler'. An enabler is some physical or conceptional 'thing' that the reader just has to accept as 'possible' for the story to work.

An example of an enabler might be 'subspace' in the Star Trek TV series. In many story lines they added 'subspace' with some other techno term and voila! you had the answer to the current problem facing the intrepid crew of the Enterprise. (BTW, I'm a true fan of the series. This is just a ready example.) In the Star Wars series of course the enabler is the 'force'.

I actually backed off on some of my original ideas for PIP. I didn't need them to move the story forward and I realized that I could use these ideas in the next Genome story. Having PIP 'grow' is going to be pivotal in the next story and it's going to be a blast to work on her more. So I smugly put those ideas back in my pocket.

So. I'll introduce you to PIP. Say hello to my readers, PIP. "Hello to my readers," pipes up the silky voice from your speaker. "I hope to entertain you soon! Too bad you don't have a holo projector on this computer."

Say goodbye PIP. "Bye, bye for now."

OK, now you've been introduced to one of my cool characters.

Time for you to work on yours!

Happy writing!