Running from a violent past, Leo Knox desperately decides to participate in a scientific experiment conducted by the infamous and greedy tech-giant, AlgorithmOS. Soon, Leo learns that she has agreed to take part in a Turing Test, a test that measures the ability of artificial intelligence to blend in among humanity, but what she doesn’t know is that the test set to take place is unlike any other of its kind.
Leo enters Eden, the contained preserve where the test will occur, with twenty-three others. While everyone appears to be human, four of the individuals are an indistinguishably advanced form of humanoid AI. The task is simple: identify the AI while trying to survive. The twist? The four AI are completely unaware of their nature, causing every participant to question what they know as reality.
The group embarks on a journey within the preserve, rigged with obstacles devised by the controllers of the experiment to elicit human response and emotion. Quickly, madness ensues and divides form, partnering Leo up with Avery Ford, a Marine who wears his demons on his sleeve. Romance falls together for the two as the world around them falls apart, revealing the lengths people will go to protect those they love, to achieve monetary gain, or simply to survive.
Back at AlgorithmOS, the story unfolds on the screens of Nathan Aimes, a scientist responsible for monitoring the experiment’s surveillance cameras. Nathan studies the humans involved as they wrestle with where they stand on the polarizing issue of AI and its applications. He watches the AI unknowingly fight to prove their humanity just to leave the experiment unscathed. All the while, Nathan is intimately aware of his company’s plans to weaponize or commodify the AI should they pass the test, and he must reconcile this with the chaos that plays out before him.
Targeted Age Group:: 18-30
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I pulled inspiration from anywhere and everywhere, but ultimately, I wanted to tell a story about humans taking things too far. I'm drawn to anything that tells a similar story. Jurassic Park is my all-time favorite movie, and all I wanted to do with Sentience was to make others feel the way that story made me feel.
However, there were many specific places and pieces of media that I pulled inspiration from. I count the following among them. The CW's The 100. Ex Machina. HBO's Westworld. Netflix's The OA. The East. The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton. Voices of Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich. Ultraluminous by Katherine Faw. The NY Time's podcast Caliphate by Rukmini Callimachi (I'm really inspired by Rukmini in general).
It's a random list, but I found nuggets of things that I wanted to emulate in my writing in each of the above.
In addition to all of that, I've been a dancer for all of my life, and dance is where I really learned story-telling. Funny enough, my novel was an extension of a contemporary dance piece about artificial intelligence that I did for the 2017 Philadelphia Fringe Festival.
Completing that dance production and being left with the world I created on the stage made me feel like I should evolve the project into a new form, and thus, Sentience was born.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I've always been the kind of kid and adult who fills empty time or times of boredom by making up stories in my head. I had a rotation of characters that I always worked into the different tales I wove, and these characters ultimately became starting points for some of my characters in Sentience. I never realized that this was me writing narratives until I got to the point where I had built a world through creating the dance piece I mentioned above. So all of my characters had been rattling around in my brain for a long time before I ever knew that they would become characters in my novel. Once I had the world to anchor them in, it just all clicked.
The door opened again, and in walked the three doctors that interviewed her to be a part of the experiment: Dr. Asha Keida, Dr. Jake Oldoney, and Dr. Elodie Teter. From some half-assed midnight research the night before her obligatory interview, Leo knew that Asha Keida and Elodie Teter founded the company, which, with the help of an angel investor, was now AlgorithmOS, the organization conducting the experiment. Together, the three doctors created the four AI that sat among the group. They were conducting a Turing Test.
“Welcome to the AlgorithmOS field office,” started Keida. From the moment Leo met her, she liked her. If she wasn’t there out of necessity, Keida could have convinced her to participate. Her voice was soothing, and her words always seemed carefully chosen. Something about her made Leo feel like she could trust her.
“It’s nice to see you all again,” interjected the second woman. “In case you have forgotten, I am Dr. Elodie Teter, Co-Founder of AlgorithmOS and Co-Director of Programming. Dr. Asha Keida is my Co-Founder and Co-Director. Together, we have written the code that operates the AI you are about to encounter. Dr. Jake Oldoney is the Head of Robotics. He is the great mind behind their humanoid vessels.”
“Today, we make history,” Keida resumed. She paused to scan her audience, making eye contact with each of them. “Four of you are not human. Four of you are manmade. With our deficiencies in mind, you were crafted to do what humanity is incapable of doing. You were designed to be the things that we are not. At the same time, you were intentionally forged to be indistinguishable from humanity, in a way, making you almost superhuman. We printed your flesh and programmed you with an identity and an entire moral framework, both of which will influence how you make decisions inside of the experiment. We bestowed upon you the capacity to think, to feel, to dream—”
“Now it is time to see if the four of you are truly indistinguishable,” Dr. Teter interrupted her abruptly, stepping forward. There was now a palpable tension between them. Dr. Keida stepped back and let Teter continue.
“We are conducting a Turing Test to see if you can think, decide, and act in a convincingly human way,” she paused. “Should you prove inadequate for this challenge and reveal your true nature, you will remain in the experiment until its conclusion. We hope that’s not the case. Unlike Turing, we’re targeting a 100% pass rate.”
Teter flashed a cocky smile as she moved across the stage.
Leo thought back to when she first read the words Turing Test in the project scope document that she received after being selected for the experiment. She had never heard them before. She remembered staying up almost until morning, a tumbler of something strong and brown in hand, clicking from one link to the next to learn more. The original Turing Test was a test in which a human and a computer were interrogated by another human. The nature of those being interrogated was concealed during the process, and at its conclusion, the interrogator was responsible for determining the nature of the participants on the other end. If more than 30% of the interrogators were incapable of making a distinction between man or machine, the computer was said to have passed the test. While Turing’s Test had the same objective as Keida, Teter, and Oldoney’s, this was on an entirely different level.
“Dr. Oldoney?” Teter gestured for the man behind her to step forward.
Oldoney began with the logistics of the experiment, reiterating what Leo had read over and over in the experiment information they provided. The group would enter a contained environment, referred to as Eden, where they would be tasked with reaching a designated destination as a group. There would be tasks and checkpoints along the way. They would encounter obstacles, deterrents, and situations that would provoke human emotion and require strategic decision- making throughout their journey. The experiment would last a maximum of two weeks, concluding when the group reached the extraction point, or when the two-week limit expired. The entire experiment would be monitored remotely through stationary surveillance and drone cameras, but under no circumstances would there be any intervention from the outside world.
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