Published by Lightning Books on July 23rd 2017
Genres: Crime, Fiction, Thrillers
Source: Ruth Killick Promotions
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A schoolboy accused of a brutal murder. A retired lawyer with secrets to hide...
A 15-year-old schoolboy is accused of the murder of one of his teachers. His lawyers, the guarded veteran, Judith, and the energetic young solicitor, Constance, begin a desperate pursuit of the truth, revealing uncomfortable secrets about the teacher and the school. But Judith has her own secrets which she risks exposing when it is announced that a new lie-detecting device, nicknamed Pinocchio, will be used during the trial. And is the accused, a troubled boy who loves challenges, trying to help them or not?
The Pinocchio Brief is a gripping, very human thriller which confronts our assumptions about truth and reliance on technology.
As part of her first ever tour for her début novel The Pinocchio brief, author Abi Silver is here talking about the science behind the story.
In its 2017 report, the independent think tank, Reform, argues that 250,000 public-sector workers could be replaced by smart machines and autonomous robots by 2030. Reform also calls on the Government to replace 90 percent of Whitehall’s admin staff with “artificially intelligent (AI) chatbots,” along with 90,000 NHS administrators and 24,000 GP receptionists.
“Such a rapid advance in the use of technology may seem controversial, and any job losses must be handled sensitively,” its co-author said in a statement. “But the result would be public services that are better, safer, smarter and more affordable.”
In The Pinocchio Brief, Raymond Maynard, “aged 15 years and 9 months, 3 days, 6 hours and 22 minutes” is accused of murdering his teacher, Roger Davis, at his boarding school. His lawyers, the veteran Judith Burton (back from retirement) and the youngster Constance Lamb (convinced of his innocence) face an uphill struggle to craft a defence for him, particularly when they are told that Pinocchio, some new computer software, is to be piloted at Raymond’s trial.
I was inspired to write TPB (in part) by a piece I had read some years back on a psychological profiling system (this morphs into Pinocchio in my story) which analyses non-verbal cues (minute facial movements) to assess the credibility of the target. It claimed considerable successes and far in excess of conventional lie detector techniques; the polygraph has been around since the 1920s – albeit it is still routinely rolled out on daytime TV shows as categorical evidence of participants’ infidelities.
Judith’s view in TPB is that the main driver behind the introduction of this technology is cost rather than reliability; the Government is influenced by the promise of £2 billion savings by its promoter, Dr Gregory Winter, at a time when the police force is stretched and the criminal justice budget squeezed. And Judith’s instincts tell her that you can’t replace years of experience in evidence gathering and cross examination with a machine (although, of course, she isn’t entirely objective in her assessment).
But even Dr Winter admits Pinocchio is “not like a person…Pinocchio won’t go back at the end and reassess things, like we do…Pinocchio is all black or white and instant, no technicolour, nor even grey for that matter.”
Pinocchio’s level of sophistication is probably outside that referenced by Reform. And although some researchers believe that AI will be better than us at writing a book by 2049 (!) it’s generally understood that where AI will excel is on well-defined tasks focussing on the cognitive aspects of intelligence.
Since I completed TPB, however, there have been further reported advances in the AI arena with computers being programmed to try to mimic emotional intelligence. A team at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania has recently launched a competition to create a chatbot that can understand a news article and then talk about it to a human in a meaningful way. And at the University of California they are training “Baxter” to watch humans interact and “learn” how best to respond appropriately to improve human/robot collaboration. So perhaps a “technicolour” version of Pinocchio is not that far away even now.
Thanks ever so much to Abi for this thought-provoking piece. As tech is progressing it’s increasingly clear that what was science-fiction is fast becoming science-fact, and it’s an issue I think we should all be aware of.
You can grab a copy of ‘The Pinocchio Brief’ using the links below, and I’d love to know what you think of it. Be sure to follow myself and Abi using the social media links on the page.
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