Behind the Screens: Tuesday Author Interview

Every Tuesday, get to know a bit about the stories behind the books you love, and discover your next favourite novel.

Beyond Human Cover

Emma: Anna Otto is contributing with a short story in Lower Decks Press forthcoming anthology Beyond Human: Tales of the new us. Anna, how did you come up with the idea to your story? What inspired you?

Anna: In my non-writing life, I’m a psychiatrist. Seeing the proliferation of online and computerized treatment options for mental health has been interesting and puzzling – I had always felt that humans preferred a connection with another human and believed this to be the necessary part of healing. And yet, as a past programmer, I could also envision the possibility of creating an advanced program capable of assessing human facial expressions, breaking down emotions to 0s and 1s, and responding accordingly. After all, one highly effective treatment for anxiety and depression is cognitive behavioral therapy, which at the core is a series of algorithms and “if-then” statements. As a writer, I dreamed big and created Gabriel, the AI therapist anyone would like to have. Read my anthology story, “A Work in Progress”, to see if you agree.

Emma: As you mentioned, the main character in your story, Arthur, regularly sees an AI therapist. Is it something you see will happen in the foreseeable future or is it a utopia? Is it even desirable?

Anna: While I don’t see this happening in the immediate future, I believe that humans can create AI that is smarter and has far greater capacity for understanding human emotions than what we have right now (the recent publicized stories of “creepy behavior” by AI concern me as much as anyone else). Is it desirable? The psychiatrist in me wants to say no, as I’d like to think myself indispensable to my patients, current and potential. I still believe in the human connection and mutual regard as the necessary ingredients for healing, however messy and unpredictable humans are (and therapists are human and imperfect). However, I can also see the advantages to the computerized model of treatment. AI is not subject to the negative human emotions or uncomfortable countertransference that may impact the treatment efficacy. Further, with the current shortages of mental health professionals, I see many people being forced to turn to alternatives such as AI when this becomes a possibility. My preference would be for training more psychiatrists though.

Emma: Can we look forward to something more about Arthur in the near future? What writing projects are you working on at the moment?

Anna: If I were to write more about Arthur, I fear I’d write a neat resolution – and I don’t favor those in my stories. I love him, the hopeless human that he is, and I have the best hopes for him – but I will let the readers imagine what his ultimate ending is.

I’m forever working on my series of a post-apocalyptic North America, the first novel of which is titled The Face of the Snake. The setting is but a background to messy human relationships. I’ve written two sequels – all before editing and publishing the first book. This is where all my effort is going now. I’m looking forward to sharing it with the world.

Emma: I loved your story about Arthur, and I’m looking forward to reading The Face of the Snake! Where can Night Beats readers find “A Work in Progress”?

Anna: The Face of the Snake isn’t published yet so you’ll have to wait. But you can find the anthology for pre-sale at the Lower Decks Press website!

A Work in Progress Art
Art for “A Work in Progress” by Marten Norr

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