Fashioned for Fiction

PhillyU grad Courtney Hunter on her new adventures as a first-time novelist. 

Full disclosure: I rarely read fiction and even less so science fiction. So I had mixed feelings when first time author and PhillyU grad Courtney Hunter reached out to us about her debut novel Sentience. But we love local authors! And it’s great to support another woman writer, especially someone seeking not just to entertain but to uplift. “I hope my own story can inspire others who may be wanting to publish their own stories as well, especially young authors,” she wrote in her email.

Alright, fine, I clicked through to read the premise and whoooosh! I was so fascinated, I couldn’t help myself: I bounced down a rabbit hole of google searches about Artificial Intelligence and all the amazing and, quite honestly, terrifying implications possible for the Human Race.

Have you seen robots lately? They’re no joke. Courtney has clearly done her homework into this compelling and not-all-that-futuristic topic.

Check out the eerily-realistic dancing sexy robot video that gave Courtney the idea for Sentience, “I wanted to explore that emotional zone where you’re attracted to or intrigued by something but also kind of freaked out by it.” The piece was a groundbreaking art installation in 2014 — today, the Massachusetts State Police has an animatronic “dog” they call Spot to provide law enforcement “situational awareness” in potentially dangerous environments.

Helpful? No doubt. Creepy AF? You bet! And also possibly an infraction of our civil liberties, which serves to underscore the rich and layered subject Courtney mines in Sentience. A big fan of reality TV and sci-fi, she dreamed up a story that mashes Survivor with Westworld (and a little Ex Machina mixed in):

A group of individuals – 20 humans and 4 AI lifeforms (who don’t know they’re not human) — go thru a two-week reality simulation to test whether the AI beings can “pass” as humans. The scientists behind the AI created an environment called “Eden” which they manipulate over time to test participants physically, emotionally, psychologically, etc. Does the AI provoke human responses like friendship? Desire? Love?

Can AI scheme, hate and destroy like humans, too? Who will benefit most when AI are undetectably integrated into our communities, our institutions, our military?

Some heady stuff, but if Chapter One is any indication this book is also full of action! Read for yourself on, where you can also sign up for an e-newsletter that gets you a Chapter Two preview, plus also keeps in the loop on Courtney’s latest literary leanings.

Splintered Glass Fringe Fest performance 2017

Some scoop from Courtney’s Zoom interview – get the whole story below in the transcript (answers here have been edited for clarity and print).

Where did the idea begin?

In about 2014, or 2015, I was fascinated by a video I saw of an animatronic robot called Female_Figure by an artist named Jordan Wolfson…. She danced and moved in just such a strange, bizarre way. And I was like, Whoa, that’s just like one of the coolest things I’ve seen… So from there, I went to the first medium that I knew for storytelling, which at the time was dance. Because I’d been a dancer all my life, and that’s really where I learned to tell stories.

So I made this dance piece about Artificial Intelligence for Fringe Fest 2017…. All of the research that I did for the dance piece kind of was a springboard for a lot of a lot of my writing, and it just naturally evolved from there. I’ve never done anything like this before. I don’t have a writing background. So definitely didn’t have a blueprint kind of just went step by step and, and figured it out as I went. And now we’re here.

So you graduated PhillyU in 2016 — which is how you found us, right?

Yeah, so I went to Philadelphia University, despite the fact that I like, you know, I wanted to go to a school for film, I also considered going to school for dance. But I played it safe and ended up picking, Fashion Merchandising and Management, which I work in now. I’m a buyer for Burlington Stores, which has been my job since graduation.

But what I loved about Philly U was the way that everything is so like interdisciplinary and collaborative and innovative. And they kind of were like, Yes, we’re giving you a specified degree and training you to be prepared to enter one industry but know that you can hop industries and still use your Fashion Merchandising degree. And you can collaborate with industrial and graphic designers and work in all different cross functional ways. And like it’s almost like rules don’t apply….

PhillyU was this really unique culture. And I don’t think that I ever would have thought that I could write a book, if I hadn’t spent time in an environment like that. Just knowing that I have a whole toolbox of skills gives me valuable perspectives and different advantages over people who maybe were taught more to stay in their lane. I think PhillyU really made me realize, Yeah, I can be a buyer and write a book. Why not?!

Any neighborhood memories to share?

Not many since I was a commuter, but I did have a part time job at Bargain Thrift Center on Germantown Avenue during college. I was the person who priced the clothes before they went out on the floor. So we’d get the racks, and everything would be separated: the fancier stuff and the name brands and then the mid level stuff, etc. I could basically price everything out on autopilot, so to fill the time I’d daydream about possible characters and storylines that eventually developed into Sentience. It was a good job to have as a budding writer!

What are some themes running through this story?

I tried to explore both sides of Artificial Intelligence — the humans who interact with it, and the programmers who are creating it. It’s meant to make readers ask themselves where they lie on the issue of artificial intelligence, and on scientific advancements in general. Because certainly there are always real-life implications.

What if the intended use a new technology might not be the most like morally responsible thing? As an employee of a company producing it, are you going to step up and say anything? Are you going to just let it happen? In the book, there’s this rule that the corporation will not intervene in the experiment under any circumstances. So then if somebody gets injured, or if resources dwindle — how does that affect how humans think and relate to AI? Do I risk my own life for somebody else who very well might not be human?

These issues divide the group, and also bring them together in all different ways. At the end, when the four AI participants are revealed, it’s jarring for everyone. For the robots who didn’t know they weren’t human, and especially for the people who created relationships with them. Suddenly, this powerful bond they feel with someone is put into question. Does knowing they’re not a person invalidate your feelings, or change how you think about them? About yourself?

Things definitely don’t all fall together neatly, there’s a lot that’s unsettled.  I just want to make people think and feel like I did when I saw that robot video!

Did you say that you’re already working on a sequel?

Yes, I’ve written 30,000 words so far, and I have it all mapped and plotted out.  My working title is Singularity, which is the next step for AI after they become sentient or conscious. Singularity is this concept that once we build artificial intelligence that’s superior humans, it’ll just snowball, and alter civilization in unforeseeable ways.

In Sentience, I write about machine learning — algorithms that allow computers to self-improve and self-manipulate. It’s a great way to design complicated systems but it’s potentially dangerous, to create without controlling the outcomes. And my whole concept for this sequel is what happens if Singularity is reached and AI kind of just spirals out from there? And what does that mean for the world? And how might that affect our society, and our humanity and everything.

So what’s your message for readers wondering what to make of Artificial Intelligence?

I think that there’s a dark side to humanity. I think there are people who see it as a way to gain financially or advance a personal agenda. AI could be used for war, for surveillance, for control. I probably do get dark and intense sometimes, but I think it’s like the reality of our world. Not everybody is going to handle technology like this appropriately. And not even if they wanted to, I mean, this is completely uncharted territory. We’re not going to get it right from the beginning. And with something this powerful, even tiny mistakes can have enormous impact.

It was fascinating to research. The concept of a humanoid AI seems to sci-fi right now but think about how much information we allow Siri, Alexa and Google to have. How much control they have over our lives — how often they are probably listening to us, and learning from us. We already have relationships with these AI devices, we carry them in our pockets, we rely on them to monitor our homes. That technology is just going to continue to evolve. Where is it all leading? As a writer, I’m intrigued by all the creepy ways civilization could change forever.

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TRANSCRIPT: Local Live interview with Courtney Hunter, author of Sentience

Courtney  06:45
Guys, my dogs in the background. Um, she’s usually pretty quiet but if she starts to get noisy I can always just check on her and she’ll usually quiet back down, my calm one is with me. She’s my right hand man. She’s very chill. She can be in the same room. The other one can’t.

Carolyn  10:39
Oh, that’s awesome. What’s her name?

Courtney  10:41
This is Billie. And then my other ones, Ricky and Ricky is a German Shepherd, Chinese Crested Pomeranian combination. So she looks almost like a German Shepherd with the Corgie body. However, that works. Yeah, he’s very high energy. And she likes attention. So if she’s ever like in the same room as something that’s going on, it’s not a good mix.

Carolyn  11:06
I love it.

Steve  11:07
Yeah, we’ve got one of our own back behind the screen. And she see alerts and everything. So she might well bark if somebody just happens to walk by the place.

Courtney  11:15
Fair enough.

Carolyn  11:16
Yeah, yeah, we’ll deal. Yeah, can deal.

Steve  11:19
Yeah. So we’re gonna start then —

Carolyn  11:22
I guess just let’s go over the plot of the book. Um, so I guess we should actually say who we’re talking to, because that’s probably important. And then we can go on and say who we are reading the name of the book. So you’re the guy that does the intro. Did you want to intro it?

Steve  11:40
Yeah. I’ll give it a shot. This is Steve Fillmore, Carolyn Sullivan with the Local Live. And we are here today with Courtney Hunter. Talking about her upcoming release of her novel Sentience.

Courtney  11:56
Yes, Sentience is due out October 30. I’m so excited to be here with both of you. And I’m really looking forward to, to the publication dates, and like three years in the work, so I’m ready at this point.

Steve  12:09
Wow. Three years. So yeah. So how did it Where did the idea begin? And do you have a moment in mind where it actually started?

Courtney  12:17
Yeah. In about 2014, or 2015, there were like two different pieces of media that I saw that really inspired me. So one was a video of an animatronic robot female called Female_Figure by an artist named Jordan Wolfson. And it was a video set to this really creepy version of Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke. So it was like this weird synth version of it. And she moved in just such a strange, bizarre way. And I was like, Whoa, that’s just like one of the coolest things I’ve seen.

And then I watched the movie Ex Machina, which is a movie about like a modernized Turing test. And that was the first time I ever heard of a Turing Test. So from there, I went to the first medium, that medium that I knew for storytelling, which at the time was dance. So I made a dance piece about artificial intelligence. And prior to that, I’d always been really like, interested in creative writing, and kind of always would entertain myself with character development in my mind. And once I finished the piece, I was like, You know what, all of those characters that have been rattling around in my brain can fit into this world.

And that was it, I started. All of the research that I did for the dance piece kind of was a springboard for a lot of a lot of my writing, and it just naturally evolved from there. I’ve never done anything like this before. I don’t have a writing background. So definitely didn’t have a blueprint kind of just went step by step and, and figured it out as I went. And now we’re here.

Carolyn  13:53
But you’re a reader though, right?

Courtney  13:55
Yes, I do love to read. It’s definitely been harder to read while I’ve been writing a book. So it’s kind of just started to reemerge in my life, which I’m really excited about. I actually just picked up the book, Long, Bright River, by Liz Moore, who is a, it’s set in Philadelphia, and she’s a professor at Temple. So you know, it’s in Philly by somebody from Philly. So I’m really excited to read that. And it’s like, one of the first times I really actually have had time to like, pick up a new book. So I’m very excited to read that right now.

Carolyn  14:32
Was it also a concern that you didn’t want to read while you were writing because you would subconsciously kind of like in turn, use the language and stuff, right?

Courtney  14:41
1,000%. I didn’t want to read or even to the point where like, I didn’t want to watch some things on television because television is a really big inspiration for me. I love I just think, or in I actually did another dance piece called the Golden Age, which was about I think we’re like in the golden age of television again, there’s just so much good TV out. Um, so I was very like, away from all forms of media because I was like, I don’t want to see, I want to think of everything that I think of organically. And if somebody else came to that conclusion organically to and had something similar to it, then that’s cool.

But I don’t want to watch something and see somebody have an idea that similar to mine, and then feel like I can’t do it because I saw it somewhere else. Because there’s only a limited amount of ideas out in the universe. And, you know, when you when you deal with something like the ethics of AI, there’s like, a lot of popular like debates and themes and things that come up.

So I was kind of worried, you know, I’ve tried to stay away from a lot so that I could really just, like, be inward, and not get deterred from other things. And now, as I consider, like, I’m in the process of potentially writing a sequel. And even that, it’s so hard. It’s like, I don’t want to see anything. Like it’s like, I kind of have to put the blinders on to do it, or else, everything, everything can can anything can pull you away from it.

Steve  16:02
Mm hmm. And does the did the dance piece influence the writing at all? Is there a back end like a back and forth between those two media?

Courtney  16:11
Definitely! So the biggest thing I learned from the dance piece was what kind of mood and feeling I wanted to like accomplish with my writing. That was the biggest thing for me. So I knew that there was, you know, ethical issues and you know, ethical debates and dilemmas that I wanted to show and I wanted to show that kind of like, tension surrounding that and characters struggling with what’s right, and what should be done…. (dog barking)… Sorry, hold on. (leaves room to go quiet Ricky down)

Courtney  17:31
I’m back. Sorry. Amazon guy. Very exciting. Always does it.

Steve  17:38
Yeah. pizza delivery guy here too.

Courtney  17:44
She should she should chill out once he leaves.

Steve  17:47
Um, so you were saying the dance is sort of informing the writing and vice versa? So that’s a cool concept of it.

Courtney  17:54
Yeah, definitely. It definitely did. And I mean, I danced for the majority of my life for about I don’t know if I mentioned it already, but for 16 years. So that was really where I learned to tell stories. It was really where I learned composition, and plot, and how to convey feeling through something. My creative toolbox is really informed by dance. So naturally, when I went to right, I went to that toolbox and and pulled from there.

Carolyn  18:28
Yep, yep. But you went to PhillyU, which is how you found us — your in our area kind of in a way. That’s your connection to us right now. Right?

Courtney  18:36
Yeah, so I went to Philadelphia University, I studied Fashion Merchandising and Management, despite the fact that I like, you know, I wanted to go to a school for film, I also considered going to school for dance. But I played it safe and ended up picking, fashion merchandising and management, which I still do now. I’m still a buyer for Burlington Stores, which is what I ended up doing upon graduation.

But what I loved about Philly U was the way that everything is so like interdisciplinary and collaborative and innovative. And they kind of were like, yes, we’re giving you a specified degree and training you to be prepared to enter one industry but no that like, you can hop industries and still have a fashion merchandising degree. And you can collaborate with industrial designers and graphic designers and work in these like cross functional ways. And that like kind of like rules don’t apply. I mean, obviously, there was still a ton of rules, but like, in a way, they kind of had this really unique culture.

And I don’t think that I ever would have thought that I could write a book, if I didn’t spend time in an environment like that, where it was kind of like you can do what you want, like you have the toolbox and you know, having the skills that you have and applying them to a different industry gives you like new perspective and different advantages that people who are just you know, setting up path and stay there and only work in that one lane or whatever you want to call it.

I think that really like made me realize like, yeah, I can be a buyer and write a book. Why not? Like, why not?

Carolyn  20:13
I can be a dancer, I can be a writer, I can be a buyer. Yeah, why not? You have your skill set that comes with you and can be applied in any medium of your choice.

Courtney  20:22
Yeah, so I think that is definitely something I learned from Phil you and then another connection that I have to the area which we had talked about briefly, during college, I commuted so I bopped around a lot between jobs and internships, and I tried to keep a busy schedule.

So during some of the time I worked at Bargain Thrift in Germantown, so I would be the person who like priced, the clothes, before they went out on the floor. So like while I was sitting back and working on the racks, and we would get the racks and like they would come pre-separated. So I already knew like what was the fancier stuff and the good brands and then the mid level stuff. And then like the opening price point.

So I kind of had a roadmap, and then I would price everything out. But while I was doing that I was also like character developing in my mind, because that’s just what I would do when my mind was like, on autopilot. It was always something I did to fill time, like just create stories and characters and things in my head. And yeah, I guess I’m good at multitasking in that way.

Carolyn  21:24
Yeah, and you know, of all the items that you would be dealing with I think clothes are kind of like people almost, right? Like costumes are —  a lot of actors say they’re not really that part until they put the costume on. So in a way, it makes sense to me personally, why character development would be rich then because you have all these like characters. They’re like little shells waiting to be born, you know? Yeah. So that’s kinda neat. Before we go further, I wanted to show Steve the animatronic dancer….

Steve  21:54
Now that you mentioned I do remember this. Yeah, it’s

Carolyn  21:57
Yeah it’s truly terrifying.

Courtney  21:59
I’m the kinda person, when I see something terrifying, I’m like, hell yeah.

Carolyn  22:06
I was compelled as well. Because you if you don’t look at the face, you almost can’t tell — well, and the big bar in the back obviously.

Courtney  22:15
I want to make things that make me feel or that make other people feel how that video made me feel.  That was like, you know, from the beginning

Carolyn  22:24
Your mood board.

Courtney  22:25
Yeah, exactly.

Steve  22:26
She looks like a plague doctor in her face.

Courtney  22:29
And all of the movement she does with her hands. And

Carolyn  22:33
Oh! The hands are the most insane

Courtney  22:34
That ended up being some of the movement that I used for my choreography in the dance piece. So all of my choreography for my piece that ended up inspiring the book was adapted from the way that that robot moves. So I was like, you know what? I love it.

Carolyn  22:52
Wow, wicked. Now, that’s where we got into the fact that this is creepy and weird. So like, it looks like your book’s heading into some dark places. So before we start talking about that, let’s at least set up what your book’s about. I’m going to give it back to you. And you’re going to tell me if I got it right, because I’m not really a sci fi person. But yeah, you got it.

Courtney  23:12
Let me say this before — especially as you mentioned that you’re not a sci fi person. I like to think that it’s like, I don’t know how else to say it other than like sci fi lite. Like it’s like a very accessible there’s, you know, romance and all different things that I think make it like really appealing to all kinds of readers, I don’t think you necessarily have to be like a hard sci fi person to enjoy this book.

Carolyn  23:41
And I can see that! And I can also see your TV influences because to me, it’s all it’s totally like, Naked and Afraid. It’s totally like The Amazing Race kind of — it seems to me like very reality TV. So I my head could totally go right into this space. Okay, so the idea is that it’s in the future at some point not that far along. And AI has gotten to a point now artificial intelligence and androids have gotten to the point where they’re pretty much undetectable or they think they can be there’s a company that’s pretty sure what they’ve made something that is, is perfectly — it can fool human.

And in fact, there’s a test called the Turing Test that’s based on like a little game. It’s, that’s the sci fi part that you pulled in. From the real history. It’s actually a very real thing. And it’s based on this game where you would put people in like a closet, and then you they would answer questions in a typewritten format. And you would have to on the party game, people in the outside would try to figure out who’s in each place. Why your answers…. Right.

So it’s based on that. And the idea is that if you had an artificial intelligence, you couldn’t tell the humans answers from the artificial intelligence and then from there, it didn’t sci fi world it becomes whether it’s It’s passable as a human or not. So this company, to determine this, has created a setting much like you would in Naked and Afraid, you know, comes like a finite area that the for two weeks these contestants or whatever you want to call them applicants. Are there’s 12 of them?

Courtney  25:18
Twenty four!

Carolyn  25:18
That’s right, I knew it was a huge number. I can’t, we’ll get to that. Yeah. Okay. So different pack of them. And like, two of them?

Courtney  25:26
Four. Four of them.

Carolyn  25:27
I do my own math, I split them in half. Okay, so four of them are AI. And they the funniest part, to me that was most intriguing is that the AI don’t even know they’re AI, right?

Courtney  25:37
No, they don’t

Carolyn  25:38
So everybody’s in this game. And they just go like, Alright, we’re going to give you challenges, we’re going to make you feel emotions, we’re going to put you through the test. And you’re all going to work as a group on some tasks together and accomplish this shit. And if at the end of the test, nobody knows who the AI is, then we learned that we’ve got — it worked.

But then she also takes a little bit of the story out. So you get to see the guy, the people that are programming their own little like their Truman Show going on here. And they’re like the the manipulators of the environment. Both pods are investigating and understanding artificial intelligence in two different ways, the people that are experiencing and interacting with it as a human would, and then the people on the other side that are dealing with the implications of Okay, what am I doing exactly? And what does this mean?

Did I get that?

Courtney  26:33
You got it! It’s like, it’s a very complex like crazy plot. Fine of like, only when I started it, like, so much of what ended up being written was like, written through, like, I didn’t know exactly what I want it going in, there was only a couple things that I knew I wanted to do going into it.

But exactly that and it’s all you know, both sides, both what happens inside of the habitat that’s called Eden. And then what happens outside with the company called Algoritmos, is all kind of meant to make readers ask themselves where they lie on the issue of artificial intelligence, but also to make them ask themselves, where they lie on a lot of issues surrounding like scientific advancements kind of kind of thing.

So like, yes, some of the things that happen in the book are a little bit futuristic, but also like, I want people to take them and like apply it to life now and think about like, Okay, if, you know, the intended use of this AI might not be the most like morally responsible thing, like, as an employee of this company, are you going to step up and say anything about it? Are you going to just let it happen?

And one thing that’s really interesting, I think about the book is that there’s this rule that the organization is not going to intervene. And then what that does is kind of make everybody freak out and say, like, we don’t know who’s human or who’s not. So like, you know, if somebody gets injured, or if somebody you know, if we have a limited number of resources, like, how do we handle that? How do we allocate that, like, do I risk my own life for somebody else who very well might not be human, and then everybody’s true colors start to show that makes groups start to divide.

And then at that point, you know, romances kind of start to fall together. And then it all culminates in a way where people have created relationships with one another, and then at the end, you know, who’s who is revealed. And that, in itself is really jarring. Because the robots don’t know, the people who’ve created relationships with them. Now realize that the person that they have, you know, created and formed this bond with isn’t a person, and what does that mean? Like, does that make a difference? Does that invalidate everything that happened and as a part of their experience, so, you know, it’s definitely it’s there’s a lot of moving parts to it, but I just want to make people like think, you know, like, what, like, that’s like that robot video.

Like, when I shut the computer. I was like, thinking about that. So I just wanted to make people think so it is a lot. There’s like, a ton of crazy parts and a lot of characters. A lot of people ask me about why there’s 24. And honestly, I was just like, you know what, 24 seems like enough where like, if I was with 24 people, I wouldn’t be able to pay close enough attention to everybody to know for sure that nobody was a robot. I feel like if it’s like 10 it gets hard. So I was like, You know what, big group easier to pass by. But on the flip side, I definitely learned that it’s a lot of characters. So I had to do a lot of work to kind of go back and make sure like, people actually had backstories and personalities and things that like didn’t just make it seem like this just big blob of people.

Profiles from two characters in Sentience

Steve  29:44
And how do you keep them all in, in your mind? I mean, is it like I used to read like, I remember reading a Russian novel, or they must have had about 30 characters in it. And the book actually came with a diagram of who they were and here is Nikolai and here’s this guy…

Courtney  30:00
Exactly. At one point, they all cross a bridge together or not a bridge, they cross over a river together, there’s supposed to be, you know, a straight through path. And one of the obstacles is that like the map, the map lied. And they now have to figure out how to get across themselves. And I remember writing that scene and literally being like, Okay, this character went across, okay, across, because I quit, and I still the first rounds that came back from my editor, she was like, I think that this person is missing from the crossing. And I was like, Wait, you’re right. With the chart, and I had notes and everything. So it was a lot of that. And like a lot of I think, because it was, it was definitely written to read like television, a lot of times when I was writing a scene, I would just like, map it out, like a football play. And, you know, put her here and her you know, him there. And then they move like this. And that would be how I would start the scene and then write it and then have that visual to know. Okay, this is where you are. That’s where you are. All right. Good. Got it.

Steve  31:05
And you said you had an editor, where were they? When did they come into the process.

Courtney  31:09
So my editor, I actually worked with the editor through the site called, which was has been a really great resource for me in this process, I’m about to a, about a year and a half in. So I wrote straight through for a year to get to my first draft. I spent about half a year on my own going through everything scrubbing through making sure I felt like it was what I wanted, things were consistent. The editor came in around year and a half mark.

And then I implemented those edits, send it to some beta readers, friends and friends of friends who I thought would would be able to, you know, get what I was going for, and then worked with a close friend who did a lot of a lot of digging into the grammar again. And even still, I’m I actually just did my last final pass of sending it through one more time. As I was like, You know what, I’ve spent three years of my life on this, I want it to be the very best it can be.

So it’s, there’s a lot every time I’m like, Oh, it’s finally done. It was like, No, just kidding. You’re going to actually edit it one more time. So I think now, it’s unless something insane happens, it’s finally done.

Steve  32:36
And did you say that you’ve got an idea for a sequel to it?

Courtney  32:41
Yeah I actually wrote 30,000 words so far of a sequel, and I have it all mapped and plotted out. The interesting thing for me is that it’s a lot when I wrote the first one, I had no expectations of what it would become really what the story would be. I knew that I wanted to form a rule, I had two characters that were inspired from a television show I watched called The 100. And I wanted to kind of create a dynamic, like those two characters had.

So I knew that and I knew that I wanted to write about artificial intelligence. That was all I knew when I started it. Everything else is a Turing test concept. All of that happened as I was writing. So now that I kind of have a world that’s built, and there’s constraints, and there’s stuff that’s already been written, and there’s obviously story that has to be continued, and I can’t take it exactly wherever I want. And then also, I’m like, curious what readers are going to think and what a reader would want rather than what I want to do with the characters.

So it’s a lot harder to write the sequel than it was to write the first time the first time. Yeah, so I actually recently just put it down for a bit. And it’s still, it’s still a goal of mine to have a sequel out within two years of like the first launch. But I’ve also recently been exploring this idea of creating kind of like a universe where there’s a common theme, and it’s all different, like science fiction and speculative fiction stories that are all connected in some way I have a have an idea about I’m really fascinated with like all like odd and a cold kind of thing. So I’m really interested in like, actual coats. And I’m really interested in true crime and I kind of have this idea of, you know, something like that, that I might want to work together and have it still be a part of this larger universe because I think it could Um, so yeah, I definitely a sequel in the future.

At some point. I’m being a little bit more merciful on myself of exactly when that will be because at first I was like, has to be out in June, after you know, this coming June and I was like, that’s a little unrealistic. So I’m chillin on that and taking it as it comes, but it’s definitely harder to write the sequel like, oh so much. Are they going back to Eden? So no, so just They definitely are not going to be going back to Eden, they may potentially go back to the corporation that was involved, but the actual like corporate building is separate from Eden that contain preserve where everything takes place. Um, and it’s more going to be diving into. So in my head, I want to like right now that I the working title of it is Singularity.

So the book, you know, Sentience is all about sentient robots or an artificial intelligence actually getting to a point where they’re sentient, where they’re conscious where they feel. And Singularity is this concept that once we build artificial intelligence, that’s so superior and so, so much just better than human intelligence that it could get to a point where it just kind of outsmarts us and just kind of snowballs from there. Because there’s other concepts that I talked about in Sentience called machine learning, which is a part of algorithms where you kind of relinquish some control to them, and allow them to, like, self manipulate, to self improve, because otherwise, if somebody had to do all of that work manually, it just wouldn’t be efficient.

So they kind of let the algorithms that exist in our world today and prove themselves a little bit. And my you know, my whole concept for the next one is like, what happens if that Singularity is reached and AI kind of just spirals out from there? And what does that mean for the world? And you know, what, what do I think that would do to society in humanity and all of that. So…

Carolyn  36:34
Well, I ran into when I was looking up, the I like to, I mean, to titles, so as long as about where you came from, kick got your title from and obviously, instead of just asking you, I just went and research the word just because I figured that what I would do is research definitions. And did you run into sense Sentience versus Sapience?

Courtney  36:53
Um, she’s, I honestly don’t remember. Um, is there is there like a similarity?

Carolyn  36:59
Yeah it’s like sentient means, like, you’re aware. And then Sapiences means you can use that for, you know, like, you can reason. So it’s interesting. That’s homosapiens. So when you said Singularity, I was like, Sentience, Sapience, Singularity. I’m like, you got a whole trilogy!

Courtney  37:20
Yeah, there we go. I mean, ideally, like I have this whole, like, time jump idea in my head of like, what the universe would look like. So all of this takes place in 2024. And like, when I really let my mind get out of control, I have this whole idea for what it could look like, way down in the future. And there was a hot minute where I was thinking, like, maybe I’ll make the second one, the time jump, and then go back and make the third one, that chronological order, but it just didn’t make sense. So I’m going chronological order, because that’s something I always really liked was television and books when they do like then and now or manipulate a time line.

Carolyn  37:53
I do too!

Courtney  37:54
I love that. So I kind of wanted to do that. But I don’t think it works for what I’m trying to do here. So that’s actually something I want to potentially do in this like, True Crime Thriller-y sci fi cult.

Carolyn  38:07
Yeah. Yeah. Let it all marinate and see what happens. So we have two important themes that I believe run through the book. And this is me just talking out my ass having not really read the book, I read everything I could about the book, including one of your chapters. So I do know one thing that there is a lot a hell a lot of action, if it’s based on the first chapter, because already you jump in, bam. So this is not like a thinky read like…

Courtney  38:33
No, it’s not. And I think it’s interesting. It’s like part of that is because I want it to read like television. But also, I think it’s because, you know, I’m maybe not as much of a like a technical writer or like a writer by degree or trade, or, you know, I don’t have it, it’s not my background. And I just think I was like, You know what, I’m just going to tell the story. I didn’t like digress or — and I think that’s something I also do want to do a little bit more in the next, whatever I write, because I think that there’s some merit to that. And I didn’t do it only because it just didn’t, it didn’t like it kind of was like I’m just going to do this.

Carolyn  39:12
There’s an urgency to this story. It’s nice.

Courtney  39:15
So yeah. So it’s definitely very — there’s a lot that happens in the 294 pages. We move quick!

Carolyn  39:22
I can see that okay, the two themes now we got a I know that romance runs through Yeah, which is very interesting. So are there some conclusions on love you made? Or are there some things to explore?

Courtney  39:34
Well, I definitely think there is some things to explore. I think my biggest thing is like I do think that if humanity gets to a point where we have humanoid AI that like some people will want to use them in that capacity. And I think you watch something like Westworld. It’s like immediately what they go to. And I do wonder like if we get to a point where and obviously the thing that’s challenging is that things like college consciousness and sentience are not something that there’s like a quantifiable scale for.

So obviously we all know as humans, like we’re conscious, but there’s not like a consciousness scale kind of thing out there that exists. So like you don’t really know. So that’s what I wanted to get out was like, Well, if you don’t know what consciousness is, how do you know if you created it? And if if somebody is in a relationship with this humanoid AI that functions almost precisely, like a human relationship? Like, is it all that different? And I’m not like, I don’t necessarily make the conclusions either way.

I don’t really want — nothing in my book, I don’t think you know, is really me. I wasn’t trying to like make conclusions on things. I think I was really more so just trying to be like, well, if you were in this situation, and this happened, like, what would you do? And I think that’s what kind of makes it fun. But I definitely think there’s something to that. I mean, if we get there to that point in the future, like, you know, is that something people would recognize as like a, I don’t know, it was like a valid relationship? Or is that something? You know, I don’t, I don’t know.

And I think that’s what’s interesting about it, because I think if we get to a point where we really — And people are trying to invent that kind of like humanoid, artificial intelligence technology. If we get to a point like that, I mean, who’s  to say, and I just think that like, you know, as society, kind of, like, rapidly barrels towards technology like that somebody has to, like, ask the questions and make people think about it. And I think shows like Westworld, the movie that I mentioned, Ex Machina, does it too. I think it’s just such an interesting question.

So I didn’t really, you know, make the conclusion one way or the other. The first book definitely ends, openly and kind of cliffhanger-y by design. So I definitely plan to answer all of the things I left hanging in the first one eventually. But I did want to let readers like marinate with it for a little bit and be like, well, where like, before I tell you how it ends, like, Where do I fall on this?

Carolyn  42:06
Yep. Yep. And it also went to some dark places, too.

Courtney  42:10
Yeah. So I also think, you know, there’s definitely a lot of dark themes throughout it. Um, I think that there are

Carolyn  42:18
Hold on, I gotta say, your dance thing. Totally was a dark place.

Courtney  42:23
Yes! To let people know, the, you know, the dancing ended with like, the artificial intelligence, like, uprising against the corporation, and like killing them all, and then just like going, you know, escaping world, not what happens in the book, not yet, at least, not to spoil it or anything. There is, you know, I think that there’s a dark side to humanity, that, I think there are people who think, who think about what this could mean, financially, and what this can mean from like, you know, industry power standpoint. And also, like, there’s different applications for artificial intelligence like this, like, they could be used to go to war, they can be used for criminal surveillance, they can be used…

Carolyn  43:12
Against their creators!

Courtney  43:14
Yeah. And like that, you know, it’s, that’s all like, kind of like a reality of it. And I felt like, you know, it does kind of get like, dark and intense sometimes. And there’s a lot of different topics that will come up. But I think it’s like the reality of our world, and that not everybody is going to handle technology like this appropriately. And not even if they wanted to, I mean, you’re not going to with something uncharted like this, you’re not going to get it right from the beginning. But I want it to show you know, like, oh, if you don’t get it, right, it can have a lot of impact.

Carolyn  43:50
Certainly. And human beings are creating their own demise. It’s very interesting that that’s what’s happening. You can’t resist. They’re thinking money, they’re thinking power, they’re thinking control, when really they’re just going down a rabbit hole to who knows where, right?

Steve  44:05
It’s like Frankenstein, you can’t assume that’s gonna end up well.

Courtney  44:11
Exactly. And there’s also like this thing of, I mean, you think about it. And this is something that I found, like, really fascinating in my research, but when you read it, and you think about this humanoid AI that’s like this really advanced concept, you’re kind of like, Oh, it’s a little far-fetched. But think about like, how much information we allow, like Siri, and Alexa and Google to have and how much control they have over our lives and like how often they’re probably listening. And you know, what that means and the relationship and the dynamic that we already have with these like artificial intelligence, home technology systems and phone technology systems and things like that. And that precedent already and what that’s like and you know, what, that could you know, if if that technology just continued to evolve, like what does that mean? And There are definitely some dark elements that I think, come up within that.

Carolyn  45:04
Certainly. The seamless boundary between human and and machine. It’s it’s very scary and well can be very, very creepy, very weird, uh robot-dancing-with-herself kind of creepy. Right? That’s, that’s where we’re going. So it’s kind of fun. I like that. So when do we get to go here? When when is this book coming out?

Courtney  45:28
So the book is out on October 30. And it will be available on Amazon. So as a paperback and ebook, no promises yet I’m in the process of trying to have it be an audio book as well. Um, I went down the route of trying to do that myself, not for me. So I’m in the process of trying to have somebody help me do it. It’s okay to have people help you sometimes. But I digress.

Um, October 30. It will be available on Amazon and ebook and paperback format. I have some advanced copies. So it’s a this is just like a print version. So I could get a look at what the cover looks like, going on back here. Real hard to see it through the camera. But yeah, this is it in all its glory. It was like very, very surreal experience to hold this for the first time and to feel it actually be a real book.

Carolyn  46:28
I saw your picture of you with it in a little blanket.

Courtney  46:33
I still can’t believe it’s like actually a real book. It’s bizarre, but awesome. And it’s been like, one, I think probably the hardest thing I’ve like, the most hard I’ve ever worked on something. So I hope that the reward is as as impactful as as the process have been, has been because it’s definitely been very informative and transformative. And, you know, it’s been fun. It’s been a long ride.

Carolyn  47:02
Besides the illustrious press that is Northwest Local paper. Where else are you doing promotion for this?

Courtney  47:15
I’m still in the process of firming up some dates, but I have some virtual readings planned with some local bookshops. I also because I date a podcaster. I have a lot of podcasting friends. So I’m going to be making some podcast appearances. Right now the ones that I have confirmed are ones called It’s For the Table and one called Still Standing. The person who does Still Standing Her name is Daniela Galdi, she actually has was one of the people who helped me produce the Fringe Festival performance. So she’s been really like impactful on my life creatively. So I’m really looking forward to that.

And then another one called Built Brave, which is you know, just all about tackling life and and being brave and taking risks and things like that, which this definitely was. I definitely you know, when I started I don’t necessarily know if I saw it being all that it is now. So it’s definitely required me being brave to like actually talk about it with people and share it with the people that I actually like work with, who know me is one thing and now on this other thing outside of work and yeah, so that’s that’s what I have going on now.

I too also, for like a hot minute started a podcast called the Sentience Podcast, where I dove into — back in January when I thought the book was going to be out even earlier, I did this podcast series about the book and talked about the characters and stuff like that. But I’m also going to be promoting it when it’s actually out with a series called Inside the Chapter where kind of like HBO’s Inside the Episode where I like go in and give you like a little backstory, exclusive detail of each chapter, how I wrote it things I wanted to call out things that are important kind of thing.

So that’s really what’s in the works. Now I’m trying to think if I’m not remembering or anything else, I feel like all I do is work on like, the marketing end of things lately, which is a whole it’s every day. I’m like, oh, there’s something new I didn’t know that I should be doing I got to start doing it now. It’s definitely fun and rewarding. I’ve gotten to like connect with a lot of really, really great people. And you know, it’s definitely been exciting to make those connections and to hear people respond positively to what I’ve worked on and what I’ve been working on and

Carolyn  49:32
Yeah, and it’s just beginning. Think about that!

Courtney  49:35
Fingers crossed. That’s the goal. That’s the plan.

Carolyn 49:38
I love it! Well you know you haven’t even come out yet. So you still are waiting. There’s so much fun stuff to come yet. So I’m very excited and also other fun stuff to come is that we’re going to try to we’re going to circle back and this is not necessarily part of the — um, we’re gonna circle back around because you gave us a nice script, a nice little excerpt. So I think we’re gonna try — I have a pretty decent microphone. You’ve got a pretty decent one, Steve’ll dp the narration. I’m not sure — if we want, we can switch our backgrounds up or I also have like a program Toonly I don’t know if you’ve ever played with it, but it can make little cartoons. So I might be able to take our voiceover, so if that’s the case, I can turn us, maybe make us animated.

Courtney  50:33
I would love that! I’m up for anything I’m so excited.

Carolyn  50:38
Oh, very cool. So what we want to do right now is we’re gonna, this whole little recording that we got going on, I’m gonna splice it up into a cute little movie of some kind, um, we’re going to turn into a transcript using Otter AI.

Courtney  50:52
There we go. See?

Carolyn  50:53

Courtney  50:54
Think of all the things you don’t realize are AI. And then when I was reading this, I was like, shit, it’s there too.

Carolyn  51:00
It’s everywhere! I know, we’ll do that. And we’ll read like a little thing. And we’ll get that in the paper just to let everybody know it’s October. And all the books come in at the end of the month, but make sure that they come back online to look at the video.

And hopefully by then we’ll have our little trailer. A little if it’s a cartoon, it’s a cartoon, if it’s a Doodle, it’s a doodle. If it’s us reading in different backgrounds, we’ll figure it out. I have I love to do this kind of stuff. So this is my treat for October, right? I usually pick things to do in October so this is my treat for me. So thank you for coming up for appearing. Just thank you. Thank you Universe. It’s gonna be fun.

Courtney  51:39
Nice. Awesome. Thank you so much. This was like so fun. I’m, you’re the first people that I’ve done like a virtual interview for it. So I’m really excited. I feel like I feel much more confident now that I’ve got one under the belt. So it was really exciting. Cool.

Steve  51:54
It was very informative, and you’re really, really smooth with talking about it. You are on your way!

Courtney  52:24
Awesome, thank you.

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