It all began . . . at the turn of the millennium when, after I’d recovered from the celebrations, I read a long review in The Guardian‘s New Year edition of Ray Kurzweil’s book The Age of Spiritual Machines. His predictions were a wake-up call. He imagined a future when humans start to merge with technology, that is, when wealthier humans boost their brainpower by way of neural implants (welI, I can see the upside, who wouldn’t? Imagine being fluent in seven languages…).
Kurzweil argues that it’s absolutely inevitable that the next step in our evolution will involve cognitive implants. By the year 2099, he says humans with neural implants will be unable to hold a meaningful conversation with humans who do not have them; the divide will be too great.
This was seriously scary stuff, or I thought so at least. I was already looking at the dividing line between humans and machines in my art practice, but Kurzweil’s predictions really unnerved me.
Around this time, I visited Kevin Warwick, professor of cybernetics at the University of Reading. He said that humans must find a way to compete with machine intelligence. Some time after our conversation, he published I, Cyborg – an account of how he used himself (and his wife Irena!!) as guinea pigs for his implantation research.
I have to admit I was getting pretty alarmed and eventually I decided to start writing fiction as a way of exploring the subject. Maybe this evolutionary step wouldn’t seem so horrendous, I thought, if I created a fictional environment in which the consequences were played out.
Initially I wrote a handful of short stories. Later, I brought genetic engineering into the mix with cognitive implantation and started to develop the character of Jayna. I was interested in corporate settings and I wanted to capture a moment when humans find themselves at a cusp, that is, an evolutionary cusp. Next, I wrote an essay-of-sorts for myself, in which I described a wider backdrop for a story involving Jayna. At that point, it dawned on me that I had the beginnings of a novel.
Why has it taken so long to finish and publish A Calculated Life? Well that, as they say, is another story.