By: Shaun O McCoy
“What all of us have to do is to make sure we are using AI in a way that is for the benefit of humanity, not to the detriment of humanity.” –Tim Cook, CEO of Apple
Johnny– Hello Shaun, thank you for taking the time to talk with me about your book, where did the idea for Electric Blues come from?
Shaun– Ha! I don’t think I’ve admitted this before, but I wrote this story right after smartphones were coming into the mainstream. I had a little android phone that I adored, and I wondered what it would be like if it was sentient.
Johnny– LOL, that’s pretty cool. Did you by any chance hang on to it over the years?
Shaun– I did! In fact, even seven or so years later, it still works 😀
Johnny– That is awesome! And it still works… that’s pretty cool. The opening lines in your book reads: “I can’t love. That’s okay, if you ask me, most humans can’t either.” That is profound, what is Arty telling us in this opening line?
Shaun– Well, first, let’s all hope that Arty is wrong there. The world is a lonely enough place as it is! It’s a little hard to answer this question without dorking out completely, but essentially, I imagine Arty here is dealing with the fact that most people have a romanticized view of love—and even Arty can tell that the people around him don’t have that Romeo and Juliet stuff at their disposal. Like all of us, I hope, Arty, as he meets new people and sees more relationships, will grow in his understanding of what human love really is.
Johnny– Just so you know, dorking out is completely allowed, in-fact is very much encouraged here, lol. Tell me more about Arty, he seems interesting. He lives in a storage unit due to his unemployment circumstance; it sounds like he is improvising, adapting and overcoming his current situation, which is rather amazing since he seems to be running on a rather dated program.
Shaun– Well, to be fair, he’s running a pretty darn advanced program compared to what we have today 😀 It just depends on your perspective, I suppose.
Johnny– I’m constructing that question from Arty’s narration, I guess; he had mentioned that other A.I. models having a more updated programming than he. As a reader he just seemed like what he lacked in his program he made up through improvising. Was this intentional? Or is Arty pulling a Captain Kirk during his ‘Kobayashi Maru’? (LOL)
Shaun– Ha! I don’t feel Arty is winning the unwinnable Kobayashi Maru scenario here. Certainly, a Denizen H could come up with the plan that Arty did, and perhaps even a more cost effective one. That being said, I did envision Arty’s AI as sufficiently complex to display a level of creativity. To use human beings as an analogy, the ability to succeed and be employable is more complex than just how good our pattern recognition (intelligence) is or how good our education is. Those things help, but they’re not the end all be all. So too, for an AI, I don’t think that processing power and updated software are always going to win the day. Maybe most days, but not all of them!
Johnny– There are so many good points to talk about in this book I’m having a hard time choosing one to start with, we know where the idea came from, what was your motivation to write Electric Blues?
Shaun– While I started with the idea of my phone, the story really is a reflection of a lot more than that. As a child who moved a lot, I’ve definitely lived the fish-out-of-water story, which, to an extent, Electric Blues is. And, as an analytical person, sometimes I find myself confused, or even occasionally estranged by the people around me who are more intuitive. Arty, as a robot, works as a pretty good vehicle for getting that estrangement, and the eventual catharsis of finding a way through the world, across. Social situations are hard, insanely complicated, and yet, people are expected to understand them perfectly. So, I think it’s easy for a lot of us to feel for Arty because so many of us have walked that same path.
Johnny– I love the dialog between Arty and the Veterinarian, is Arty starting to develop a personality or is he being logical?
Shaun– Oh yes! I don’t think you can really have intelligence as we think of it WITHOUT having personality or character. And, a lot of those character points are going to look like emotions. That may sound crazy to say about an AI, but hear me out! Our emotions serve certain purposes. Anger helps us keep boundaries for our emotional and physical safety, affection helps us treat our friends well, sadness helps us reflect on our life choices, etc. etc. Arty may not feel anger, but he has to develop habits which keep his boundaries. He may not feel sadness, but he has to look back on his choices, and his relationships, and see if he can learn better ways, he can handle his next set of choices and relationships. So, while Arty doesn’t feel like we do, it’s sort of a moot point because he’s thinking in the ways that are the root of our emotions. I think this is one of the reasons why people can empathize with how Arty feels, even though he isn’t really feeling. And THAT, I believe, gets back to the first line of the book where Arty says most people can’t love. What that’s really about is the misconception of what love is, and maybe we all have a bit of a misconception of what it means to feel.
Johnny– You seem like a pretty philosophical person so I’m really interested in hearing your thoughts, Knickers basically tells Arty to go help the underprivileged in order to keep his Government assistance, (how revolutionary is that?), do you consider that to be socialism or maybe, responsible, creative government? Or, is it something else?
Shaun– I wasn’t trying to make a point about governments there! For many people getting government assistance in the US, their assistance is contingent on them looking for work. I just updated our current laws as if a legislative body were to try and get them to encompass AI. BUT SINCE YOU ASKED, I think the fact that AI might be able to take jobs from us in a way that automation never could before, we really should be ready to transition to a universal basic income if the need arises 😀
Johnny– I read on your social media profile that you are a former MMA fighter? How did you get started in that? Was this something you did full-time?
Shaun– OH! Those were beautiful days 😀 The beginnings of that were pretty tragic though. I was nearly killed by an infection when I was 20. I was in a coma and hospitalized for two weeks. When I came out of it, I had trouble walking more than 100 yards. My Aunt and Uncle, Tori and Barry Polinitza, agreed to let me stay on their horse ranch during the day and train at their martial arts dojo in the nights. I fell in love with the puzzle of fighting, and eventually just had to try it out in practice.
I never did do MMA as a living/full time though. I think it’s entirely possible I could have opened up a studio and taught, but though I won all my fights, I don’t think I was good enough to live off of the purses.
Johnny– That an amazing story Shaun, thanks for sharing, very inspirational! What discipline did you practice?
Shaun– I studied quite a few disciplines! Shootfighting, Jiu jitsu, Wrestling, Boxing and Mui Thai were the arts which helped me the most. Almost everyone I was training and competing with had learned one art a youngster, so it was always a puzzle for me to make sure I had the skills to avoid or neutralize what my opponents were bringing to the table.
Johnny– Do you still train and/or compete?
Shaun– I do a little boxing, but I’m retired from fighting now! I play tournament chess to satisfy my competitive drive.
Johnny– Which is more vicious? I’ve heard chess tournaments can be downright brutal. Are they that competitive?
Shaun– Brutal is certainly the right word for competitive chess! Imagine taking the Bar to become a lawyer, but that the exam is taking you back. You’re thinking as hard as you can for over five hours at times, and the toll it takes is difficult to explain. The brain is a top calorie using organ in the human body, and when measured, it apparently eats up as much calories in a professional chess game as an NBA basketball player’s entire body will burn in their game. Which is more vicious? Definitely MMA! After a few days rest, you’re going to be recovered from almost any chess game. That’s not true for huge number of fights!
Johnny– What made you want to become a writer?
Shaun– I feel like I have a million answers to that question, and maybe they all come together into one giant answer! My father and grandfather told me stories growing up which lit my mind on fire. My mother would always find time to read to me. My friends and I would play make believe growing up, so storytelling was baked into my early socializing. I played a ton of dungeons and dragons and had to run and write the campaigns for my friends. I read the entire fiction section of my middle school library in sixth grade and it started to leak out of my ears in prose. There are ideas I experience which are so beautiful I feel like I have to share them with other people. I feel alive after I write.
But, if there’s anything the research on consciousness I did for Electric Blues has taught me, it’s that people are particularly terrible at giving the reasons for why they do things. So, who knows?
Johnny– Ha! Fair enough, have any of the stories told to you by your father and grandfather ever made it into any of your writing?
Shaun– Not the stories themselves, but my father’s world building and my grandfather’s way of building a character certainly come through a good bit in what I do.
Johnny– Was Electric Blues your first book?
Shaun– Not by a long shot! The first book I wrote was in seventh grade. I don’t know that anyone should read it though. My first full length novel that was published is Even Hell Has Knights.
Johnny– What writing plans have you got for the upcoming year? Any projects in the works?
Shaun– Oh yes! Wasteland, a book in my Hellsong Universe, is in its final editing stage. It should be a beaut!
Johnny– Oh sweet, any release date ETS’s?
Shaun– We’re working on late first quarter next year! That gives you guys plenty of time to catch up! You can start the series here:
Johnny– Who inspires you?
Shaun– I have a ton of heroes! Some from the sports I’ve competed in. Garry Kasparov in Chess, who branched out to fight for fair elections in Russia and who helped move his home village to safety during regional unrest. Mirko Filipović, a fighter who got elected to the Croatian Parliament. Epicurus, who’s philosophy is so strangely modern! But it’s not just my heroes who inspire me! I have a friend who quit his job and gave up his dreams because he felt what he was being asked to do was unethical. And I have friends who are actually raising decent human beings! How the crap are they doing that? I could never do that!
Johnny– Who is your favorite author/writer?
Shaun– Frederik Pohl, I think, is amazing. I really think his material is right up there with Asimov and Bradbury, but he’s not as well known. I’d recommend Gateway to anyone looking to get into him.
Johnny– Do you have a sequel planned or written for Electric Blues?
Shaun– I do! There is a sequel out now for Arty called Binary Jazz. I have a third one planned, called Digital Muse, which is on the backburner. I feel that it wouldn’t be a good Arty story if the theme didn’t in some way tackle an emotion. Electric Blues deals with depression, while Binary Jazz is primarily about how positive and negative emotions build friendships. The third story will touch on the idea love and how human beings in love look from Arty’s perspective.
Shaun– They’re not! Electric Blues is the only one so far! I agree that Gabe did a fabulous job on the audio. Getting someone to be monotone for that long and still keep the story exciting to listen to was no easy task!
Johnny– Absolutely! Her monotone was nothing short of phenomenal! (I’ve included a link above for anyone wanting to listen to this amazing performance). Shaun, what is your process when you begin writing a book from an idea?
Shaun– For me, it seems different for each story. Sometimes there’s an image or scene that burns its way into my consciousness, and I play the detective to see what came before it and after it. For the Hellsong series, the setting came first, and the story-lines emerged as I imagined how people would handle that particular damnation. At other times there’s a concept or emotion I have that I want to share, and the story is just the best way to communicate it with another person.
Johnny– Any advice for inspiring writers, cage fighters, or chess players?
Shaun– All three pursuits straddle the line between science and art. They require both phenomenal discipline and unfettered passion. Most people I meet have one of the two requirements down. My advice to anyone who is chasing one of these three endeavors is to find the area you are most lacking, whether it be discipline or passion, and feed the weaker of the two.
Electric Blues is a fun futuristic tale of an A.I. that is looking for his purpose. In doing so Arty teaches us all the possible meaning of life. To think that this whole story came about because of a smartphone blows me away, and so does this book.
With plenty of room for this franchise to grow I can hardly wait to see what Arties next adventure will be.
Dynamic narration is necessary to make this book work for the reader. Logical and engaging dialog are entwined presenting a believe-ability that will easily hold your interest to the end. Shaun has done a wonderful job with Electric Blues.
Personally, I love the fact that coping with his current reality Artie is teaching me the basics principles of philosophy. While searching for his purpose in an ever advancing world, Artie has taught me that adapting is surviving, when one door closes another opens, it’s just depend on how one chooses to view it.
I’m giving Electric Blues five stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ on both Goodreads and Amazon because of it is original, humorous, and intelligent. I walk away from this book feeling both amused and charmed, but most importantly, entertained.
Shaun proves that sometimes the little things that come into our lives can provide some great opportunities. He also proved that with hard work and determination you can overcome adversity. Good luck 🍀 with all your endeavors Shaun, I’m a Fan! 🙏
Be on the look-out for these other books by Shaun McCoy.
Be sure to follow him on Twitter