Peter McAllister is an engineer, scientist, turned technology manager who wants to share the stories that keep him awake at night. In his professional life, he works in IT where tools such as AI are becoming prevalent. This behind-the-scenes knowledge, along with his previous work at the intersection of technology, business, and people, puts him in a great position to speculate on the future. As our Author of the Day, he tells us about his book, The Code.
Please give us a short introduction to what The Code is about.
Liam, a gifted engineer, is trying to save the world, by finding a way to let industry mine for metals without the environmental disasters that make the news. Nanobots mining asteroids are the answer, and they are being tested on the dark side of the moon. But Gene, the AI tasked with helping him, spirals down the path of schizophrenia and is on track to mine the moon to dust -- and without the influence of the moon, the ecosystems that mankind depends on for its survival as a species will be lost. This leaves Liam and his colleagues to battle the creation and his own demons to save humanity -- who are oblivious to the potential destruction around the corner.
What inspired you to write this story? Was there something in particular that made you want to tackle this?
Two things came together for me - the first was the way we were introducing unconscious bias into AIs in the US in healthcare, legal and policing settings that were amplifying the prejudices held by some people and giving them the veneer of science. I wanted to expand this idea - to challenge the idea that we can just put the good parts of the human intellect to work via AI without invoking the other side of humanity - which we encounter in our lives every day.
And I wanted to make it fun to read!
You work in IT - how has this influenced your writing?
It has really helped to understand how technologies are created, how their use is changed/subverted as needs and opportunities arise, and how business sees technology.
Why AI? Why did you find this important/interesting to write about?
AI is quite possibly the next step in the evolution of intelligent life on the planet - synthetic life has been been in books, movies and TV for over a century now, and I wanted to use it as a mirror to show how we treat "people who are no like us"
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
That is all pretty geeky really, I love trivia, working in the garden, a bit of wildlife rescue as required and I am still trying to train my cats.
Tell us more about Liam. What makes him tick?
Liam has two sides to him - the intelligent smart, passional scientist who can sell his vision and the deeply insecure human who doubts his worthiness to walk the earth. He works hard to ensure that the right side turns up for any situation - usually with a good dose of sarcasm.
Liam uses music to help him regulate his moods, and at different parts in the book you can go to the Spotify playlist and listen to the tracks he is using.
Your story contains some twists and turns. Did you plan it all out before you started writing, or did some of it just "happen" along the way?
That would be telling!
Your novel raises the question of whether technology will save us or destroy us. Which do you believe?
I tend to look a the world on a longer timescale than most people, and when you do that you see 5 major extinction events - the most recent being the dinosaurs and that meteor. I expect the next one will be humans, and it will be technology-based - we have dodged the nuclear annihilation option so far, we have climate change, and creating a superior species in AI and robots is another, The real question is will it be intentional or accidental - the unintended consequence of a "good idea".
Which of your characters was the most challenging to create?
Probably Trinity - she was a character who is everything that I am not - so it was really challenging to put myself in her position to decide how she would feel and react.
What is your favourite line from the book and why?
Probably " The worlds most expensive parrot" - it sums up an interaction between Liam and Cletus that shows the relationship between those two characters while they are collaborating.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
I have a plan for what I am trying to write and in each section, there is a particular mood/feeling I am trying to convey. I tend to select what I will work on at any time based on what section matches my current mood - it makes it easier for me to paint the word picture of the characters. So the average writing day involves a few hundred words in the jigsaw puzzle of feelings that hopefully becomes a coherent story.
What are you working on right now?
The next book in the series - there are a few options based on how "The Code" ends
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?