Friday 23 February 2024

Extracts From The Writing Of Stuart Aken

Exploring The World Of Artificial Intelligence

Stuart Aken started to delve into the world of artificial intelligence (AI) in the early 2010s when he began work on a novella, The Methuselah Strain, which featured androids designed to pleasure their owners in any way the humans wished. Realising that these androids could never be convincing substitutes for human companionship without an emotional aspect, Stuart considered the consequences.

‘Once emotion was a requirement,’ he notes, ‘self-awareness naturally followed. These artificial servants were built for profit. Their self-awareness and emotional capacity would be paramount to their owner’s experience and such qualities would quickly become sophisticated.’

In The Methuselah Strain, one of these androids is abandoned for a human partner, and then taken on by another android. The story explores how self-aware and emotionally intelligent androids react to this experience, and how it colours their views of the human beings who share what is now their world.

The Methuselah Strain was published in 2015. In a later trilogy, Generation Mars, Stuart takes the ideas developed in The Methuselah Strain and puts them in the context of the colonisation of Mars, following catastrophic climate change that has made Earth almost uninhabitable. In terms of AI, Stuart says, ‘Early in my research, it became clear that AI would be an essential component of the automated systems needed to establish a place on the Red planet where humans would be able to live in some sort of comfort.’

Although the AI in Generation Mars has been developed with very different aims from the AI in The Methuselah Strain, this story, too, explores the consequences of building entities with self-awareness and intelligence.

9 Short Extracts From The Methuselah Strain

In the heart of town, Randal sprawled on his bed next to LoCon in the TipTop NonStop Hip-Hop Pop’n’Shop Mall. Oblivious of the dawn, he dreamed recurrent fantasies of human female companionship; all that life now seemed to hold for him as a Sexual.


In an ancient stone barn, preserved as a picturesque relic overlooking town, the Prime Renegade stirred at sudden silence as rain ceased hammering the roof. Her movement rustled the dry straw of yet another temporary bed. Pulling her stolen fun-fur coat close about her, she considered the coming day and hoped, without expectation, it might bring some release from loneliness.


Randal woke for the second time, in his customary sweat, and covered it with a disposable t-shirt he’d worn for three weeks. It mattered not that it stunk and was tattered and torn beyond its intended daily life: no other human being had visited the Mall for years.

Life as Mall Manager seemed pointless, and demeaning.


‘But she ain’t real; can’t be. That Prime Renegade’s just a bogeyman, lurking out there threatening civilization. I mean, nobody really believes in her; especially not looking like that. It’s a horing rumour, put about by CenCon to make us think they’re horing wonderful.’

At Sports Emporium he stopped the trolley and viewed Hengst’s 2224 Olympic Gold one hundred metre sprint: 8.7962 seconds from start line breach to finish laser. He’d watched it a thousand times. The last Olympic sprint run by real men, and there was no doubt these men were real.


Luce knew Repoz held everything known to man but it was no place to find the type of man she wanted. Her ability to bypass security made such a hunt simple. But a technophobe or a natural wouldn’t make the use of technology that would leave the traces she needed. Once she’d identified the actual presence of humans in certain geographic locations, a physical quest was the only answer.


So, she crossed to the east, found the landing point for the Atlantic Seabridge, and walked, transtrolled and hopped freight monorails right across the ocean. Misnamed Greenland, she’d discovered, was mostly barren rock and more or less deserted. The remnants of the great glaciers now causing no more than a slow flow of grey river water. Iceland had no ice but plenty of volcanic activity and hot springs to bathe in with frisky natives.


Caution slowed Luce as she left the tree-lined lane. Without the vagabond cover of her old coat, she was aware of her vibrant femininity and felt vulnerable, in spite of her bodyguard. Though she hated labels, she knew she’d be marked by all and sundry as a Sexual. Earlier attempts to alter her appearance had made no difference and she no longer bothered trying to hide her appeal. That the Intellectual tag wasn’t so readily attached, in spite of her extraordinary mental abilities, sometimes peeved her. But she understood she presented a rare combination.


‘I want to be loved! And you, Monster, for all your muscular good looks, boundless energy and deliciously sensitive touch, can’t love me. Love, Monster, causes tears and laughter at the holodrome or theatre, when there’s anyone there; blocks throats with lumps, makes hearts race, inspires poetry in books. When did I last curl up with a good book?’


‘Does anybody live here? Anybody at all?’ Her call echoed from lifeless buildings, mocking her as it returned splintered and unanswered from a thousand gleaming surfaces. Ahead, stood the glittering crystal and chrome icosahedron of the Mall, perched on its seven hexagonal pillars of glass. The reference was not lost on her and she smiled at memories of the ancient comedy.


Learn more about Stuart and his writing HERE


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