I want this page to be a useful resource. If you have any suggestions (relevant to Automatic Lover) or would like to offer me a reciprocal link (anything legal), please get in touch.
1. Calling all women engineers! If you are not already a member, I cannot recommend the Women's Engineering Society too highly. My first WES Conference proved the perfect antidote to the feeling I developed when I started out in the profession: "I am not a man (like 90% of the people I meet) and I am not a 'normal' woman - so what am I?" I discovered I was a member of a wonderful sub-group of people who are creative, broad-visioned and, from having experienced being seen as "odd" themselves, with a far greater capacity than the average population to accept quirks in others. Then when I gave up my job to raise my family, I found WES friends valued the totality of my life experience and still saw me essentially as an engineer, in contrast to male former colleagues who considered me effectively dead. WES events give women from different fields of engineering and at different stages of their careers a chance to get together and draw strength from one another. I see the friendship which develops between Wendy and Andrea as a microcosm of WES.
2. Science fiction has always been the genre in which ethical questions have been most intensively examined. I consider it no coincidence that many of our most influential science fiction writers to date have also been prominent Humanists. It is much easier to follow a train of thought to its logical conclusion if you are free from belief in "God" and the authority of holy writ. American Humanist Isaac Asimov was undoubtedly the writer who made most extensive use of the robot story to examine ethical questions in general; indeed, the creation of a machine intelligence comparable to our own possibly presents the greatest challenge to the way we think of our place in the Universe. I find Humanism gives me a useful framework for tackling ethical questions large and small, whilst British Humanist Association membership brings access to a wealth of relevant information and the fellowship of others who are similarly interested. There are also local Humanist groups around the country (and around the world). For historical reasons, many of the older ones are known as 'Secular Societies'. The oldest in the world is Leicester Secular Society, which is also unusual for having retained its original building, the magnificent Secular Hall.
3. The development of artificial intelligence benefits when people working in the field share ideas. Globally, many organisations exist to bring AI people together. The two principal British ones are the British Computer Society's Specialist Group on Artificial Intelligence and the independent Society for the Study of Artificial Intelligence and the Simulation of Behaviour. They have slightly different emphases: BCS SGAI focuses more on contemporary developments in and uses of AI, whilst AISB focuses more on 'blue sky' research and the ethical/philosophical side of AI. Nevertheless, they have a large overlap of membership and areas of interest. Both run annual conferences which are friendly and entertaining as well as informative.
4. The ability to learn is vital for any artificial intelligence that is to operate in the real world. Rollo Carpenter pioneered learning within conversational AI with his program Jabberwacky, which uses only learned utterances from the human beings that chat with it. Later commercial versions, marketed through the companies Icogno and Existor, necessarily added some scripting. Rollo's improved learning program Cleverbot regularly fools on-line conversation partners that it is human, although it has not yet passed a Turing Test under controlled conditions such as the Loebner Prize contest.
5. Humanoid robots truly capable of sharing human living environments are still some way off. David Buckley makes enough of a living from mechatronic and animatronic effects for shows to enable him to develop some ingenious and exciting innovations back in his workshop.
6. At the opposite end of the budget range from David Buckley's machines is NASA's Robonaut. Developed to work alongside a human astronaut, or to work alone in situations too dangerous for a human being, Robonaut could be seen as a precursor to the H-type Companion Robots. He has his own Twitter feed @AstroRobonaut, whence he will no doubt break many hearts.
7. It's every author's worst nightmare. You have dotted the last i in your manuscript, crossed the last t, and sighed with satisfaction. Then the very next day you discover that somebody else has just published the same work. Happily, David Levy's book Love and Sex with Robots was non-fiction, so had the potential to co-exist with mine peacefully, even symbiotically. ("It could have been so much worse," my daughter Sophie told me, "JK Rowling could have just published a book about sex with robots.") David's ideas on robot lovers came from the same place as mine: a Loebner Prize winning chatbot. His book carefully argues that it is indeed possible for human beings to fall in love and enjoy sex with robots.
8. But do you really want a robot lover? Philosopher and ethicist Blay Whitby thinks that even if you do want one, it may not be good for you, or for wider society, if you actually have one. His views provide an interesting foil to David Levy's.
9. Maybe the intelligent machines of the future won't love us at all, but will keep us as farm animals. This is the disturbing but thankfully rather implausible vision of Kevin Warwick. I mischievously quote his book title, March of the Machines, in the penultimate chapter of Automatic Lover - Ten Years On. But he impressed me at the 2006 Loebner Prize with his assertion that advanced machine intelligence would not and could not be exactly like human intelligence; something I have always believed myself.
10. For an intelligent machine to do anything at all, somebody has to write the code: a message I make central to the Automatic Lover stories. Amidst all the enticing and alarming predictions, Adrian Hopgood's mission has been to demystify artificial intelligence. (Artificial Intelligence Demystified was the title of a very popular public lecture which he recently toured.) With his work on Blackboard Systems and his 'spectrum of intelligence' (from low level control to high level expertise; the elements in the middle such as common sense being the most difficult to simulate), he has contributed much to both the practice and the philosophy of AI. The Third Edition of his textbook Intelligent Systems for Engineers and Scientists was published in December 2011.
11. Public fascination with AI and robots often tempts the media to exaggerate their current capabilities. Alan Winfield campaigns against this sort of irresponsible journalism and for the consideration of ethics in the development and deployment of these technologies. If you are interested in the progress of contemporary robotics, his blog and Twitter feed @alan_winfield are well worth following.
12. Breastfeeding advocates in our bottle-feeding culture are working hard to get the slogan 'Breast is Best' dropped in favour of 'Breast is Normal'. As a Breastfeeding Counsellor and Breastfeeding Counsellor Tutor, I took great pleasure in creating a character for whom breastfeeding is an everyday part of raising a child, whilst her passions and problems lie elsewhere. Breastfeeding is natural but, like most human behaviour, not instinctive, and good quality information is essential for any woman wanting to do as well at it as Wendy. The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers is a particularly inclusive and baggage-free organisation dedicated to helping mothers and babies get the very best out of their breastfeeding experience.
13. Brompton bicycles? You can't spend more than five minutes in London without seeing one! I've had my Brompton since 1992, and have become convinced that if I were restricted to owning only one bicycle, this would be it. The bicycle technology references in relation to my robots, especially those which drew inspiration from the 2005 Brompton catalogue, started out as a joke. But consider this: bicycles and humanoid robots are both human scale structures bearing human scale loads, so some cross-fertilisation of technology may well be beneficial to the development of both. You heard it first here!
14. Oxy-whatsit? If you'd like to know more about this interesting feature of the human program, Wikipedia has a good bit on oxytocin.
15. Fabulous designer bunting for every home and every occasion but not at designer prices! If you think you are HCR-328's Number One Fan, you're in competition with Kate Wood who runs the British Bunting Company. Kate has now taken down her web site, but still enjoys making bunting. She is also a versatile artist and potter; tapestries being a speciality. If you are interested in Kate's work, please contact me in the first instance.
16. To have one's work hailed as an act of courage is a wonderful thing, especially by a man who is both a petroleum engineer and a Samaritan. So I have no hesitation in recommending the wonderfully clever technical solutions offered by Brian Moffatt's petroleum fluids consultancy, Petrophase.
17. Being written by a woman engineer, the Automatic Lover stories have not just a technological but a female voice. This was recognised and appreciated by Texan feminist artist and film-maker, and big SF fan, Jennifer Lane. Jennifer had plans to make a film of my book, but they had to be shelved to allow her to attend to a more important project: her new son Moses. Other film-makers need to be warned that Jennifer will continue to have 'first refusal' over the rights to my work.
18. One of the few pleasures to rival a finely tuned robot lover is top quality chocolate. Artisan chocolatier Pete Gardner is constantly innovating, not only in the flavours he offers his customers, but in the services he provides from his shop/cafe Chocolate Alchemy in Loughborough, Leicestershire. He was the Automatic Lover book's first retail stockist through the late summer of 2011.
19. If you would like to find out a little more about me, I have a personal web page giving biographical information.Updated June 2012