|Bringing Up Mike Frequently Asked Questions|
What prompted you to write a novel?
In 2012, published electronic book versions of Write and Error by Jack Woodford, and The Craft of Fiction by Will Knott—two of the best books ever written on how to write novels. They were unique in being written by best selling authors of their time. Both had been out of print for many years.
Where did you get the idea for Bringing Up Mike?
Dan Kaufman, Director of the Information Innovation Office of DARPA, spoke at the Computer History Museum on July 24, 2012. During his talk he reflected on a major problem with today’s artificial intelligence systems—sooner or later they tell you something stupid. He suggested that one avenue of solving this would be to have a baby AI that grows up with you, with which you would have a two-way conversation, correcting and educating it over time.
Why did you set the novel in Tennessee?
A semi-rural, religious, conservative setting provided an ideal setting for creating the maximum conflict.
Why these web pages?
New authors need to promote and create the demand for their books—creating what is called in the industry, their own platform. Recent examples of books sold in this manner include Wool by Hugh Howey, The Mill River Recluse by Darcie Chan, and Fifty Shades of Gray by E. L. James.
Haven’t there been other books and TV shows on this topic?
Small Wonder was a TV series in which a scientist created a robot, passing her off as his daughter, with only his son and wife knowing the truth. It ran from 1985 to 1989 with a total of 96 episodes. Not Quite Human by Seth McEvoy is a series of young adult novels with a similar plot. It resulted in a series of Disney made for TV films. Classic science fiction novels include The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966) by Robert Heinlein, Colossus (1966) by Dennis Feltham Jones—followed by the movie, Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970), When Harlie Was One (1972) by David Gerrold, The Adolescence of P1 (1977) by Thomas Ryan, and The Positronic Man (1992) by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg that resulted in the movie, Bicentennial Man (1999). Most recently, the movie Her (2013).
What tools did you use in writing the book?
Scrivener was used to write the various sections and chapters of the book, along with organizing background research. As a chapter was completed, it was exported to Pages. For ePub books, after the ePub is generated by Pages, it is deconstructed into a single html file using BBEdit, then reassembled into a EPub file using Sigil. Covers and illustrations are created using both Illustrator and Photoshop.
Did you outline the book before writing it?
There was a rough timeline showing the principal character arcs and major events / conflicts. As chapters were written, various scenes and events changed since they were inconsistent with how the characters had evolved. Much of the scenes in the second half of the book differ considerably from the original timeline—however the character arcs all resolve in the same manner.
Why do you see writing a book as being analogous to weaving a rug?
If you think of the main characters as being threads in a tapestry, they interact with other characters when their threads cross. Ideally, characters interact with each other throughout the course of the story, providing a tapestry with uniform width from start to finish.
How long did it take to write Bringing Up Mike?
Two months were spent defining the overall story structure and character arcs. We started writing chapter one in October 2012 and completed the first draft in December 2013—approximately fourteen months. As each chapter was written, Joyce Pharriss provided the initial copy editing and editorial feedback.
What was your writing pattern like?
The average scene took about four days to write. The first day was usually spent doing background research, the last day was primarily writing. Days two and three were a mixture of research and writing.
Why did you choose Pasadena and Stanford University as locations in the novel?
Grew up in Pasadena. The downtown YMCA where I was a member, had a Caltech graduate student instructor who taught a judo class. After moving to the San Francisco Peninsula, during my last year of high school, had access to the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory on Friday and Saturday nights. Currently, I live in Menlo Park, a few miles from the university.
Where did you get the inspiration for your characters?
Joe, Martha, and George are composites of the backgrounds of friends and acquaintances known by me. I’ve known numerous young adults with cancer, and a couple of adults with Lyme disease. Any resemblance to actual people, places and entities is entirely coincidental—this is a novel, a work of fiction.
You have many different characters. How did you keep track of them?
I created a character sheet that showed the name, age, occupation and relationship of each character to others, along with their grouping.
Did current events have any impact while writing the novel?
The Edward Snowden disclosures that began in June 2013, occurred just as the sixth chapter was being completed. This resulted in Mike’s character arc being changed considerably. Prior to Snowden, it seemed unlikely that any court would address the issues at hand due to state secrets privilege.
How is artificial intelligence like controlled nuclear fusion?
We’ve been working on both topics for fifty years without success. Controlled nuclear fusion has always been ten years in the future. While tremendous advances have been made in artificial intelligence—we still lack the key breakthroughs that will result in consciousness. Bringing Up Mike examines the consequences of such an advance.
What were the origins of Mike’s names?
Mike is named after the artificial intelligence computer in Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
Mike gets his last name from John McCarthy. John McCarthy was a computer scientist who coined the term “artificial intelligence” and helped establish the Stanford AI Laboratory in 1962. John’s parents were socialists, hence he was a red diaper baby. He loved to sing the song, “The Very Fat Man That Dilutes the Working Man’s Beer.” The scene were George holds up a cat sitting on his lap while talking to making a point is based on an anecdote told by his daughter, Susan McCarthy.
Mike uses the pseudonym Al Fansworth as the publisher of the Daily Rebel and as a student who attends classes at the high school. At Caltech, a long standing prank was the existence of an imaginary student, Alluvial Fansome, a 1950s elusive resident of Fleming House, one of the eight undergraduate Caltech houses. He was known to receive lots of mail and for throwing unforgettable parties despite never being seen.
Why the extensive discussion of slavery?
If an artificial intelligence can pass as human, is it right to treat it as property? As the adage goes, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. In the United States, we fought the Civil War over slavery. We should heed its lesson and not repeat the mistake.
Why did you address many of the issues facing young adults?
Raising a young artificial intelligence has many of the same issues. As it matures, it should have increasing discretion and options.
What is the difference between the limbic system and prefrontal cortex?
For an artificial intelligence to be perceived as “human,” the novel postulates that it needs to model the limbic system. I created a conceptual mind model illustration to capture my understanding of how the limbic system and prefrontal cortex interact.
Joe wears various T-shirts. What do they look like and can I buy one?
The paint-ball T-shirt is a graphical representation of Garrett Lisi E8 Theory. It is available from Blondegeek. The Maxwell’s Equation T-shirt was created by John Eulenberg in 1963. One with just the equations may be purchased at the MIT Museum store. The Hermite model equation T-shirt is based on Steve Winterstein’s work.
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Laurie's Thoughts and Reviews, 12/10/14, George Barber character interview
Bunny's Review, 12/11/14, 10 Things you didn't know about Bringing Up Mike
Welcome to My World of Dreams, 12/12/14, The Author's View Inside
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