Crash and the Human Continuum – A Baha’i-Inspired Novel About AI

AI and the ethics behind it is a super relevant topic. We’ve shared a little bit about it on Baha’i Blog when Ruha Benjamin asked if technology is our slayer or our saviour and when Matt Weinberg spoke on the BWNS’ podcast about how our values, our aspirations, and our needs are integrated into the design, development, and use of technology. I love when art and creative endeavours also contribute to the discourse and in this interview, we hear from writer James (Jim) Connolly about his novel Crash and the Human Continuum whose protagonist is a robot.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Writer James Connolly

I am Australian, of Irish decent, and am very much both, but in saying that, people have always been people to me. I grew up in country Queensland, mostly working with cattle, and now have my own small business. I have two grown children, whom I cherish. 

I love understanding and symbolism. I have always sought out answers to the nature of human beings, and our life here. Most probably because of my own internal struggles, and those in life. But I also sought answers out of pure interest, and maybe because my Catholic upbringing imbued me with aspects of spiritual truth that I could not let go of. I was definitely a world-watcher before becoming Baha’i.

The Baha’I Faith certainly was a…revelation, and I have been a Baha’i now for over 35 years; a love affair that has been hard, amazing, and wonderful. It inspires all my art and writing. Its themes are those of all my books, with a little life experience thrown in, as well as some of the joy of symbolism and adventure.

I began writing when I found myself unwell, and unable to be in the teaching work for a while. All my books are a teaching initiative; one by which seekers anywhere, of any means, can have a non-threatening Baha’i conversation; an interaction with some of the core themes, and the evolving culture and community building; through enjoyable stories. Also, that the stories may be inspiring for Baha’is and maybe lead to some self-reflection.

I have written 11 stories, since finding a natural affinity for writing later in life, and I have made all my novels available for free download on jamesdconnolly,com.

Can you tell us a little bit about Crash and the Human Continuum?

Crash is an AI crash test dummy, who wakes up on his shelf late one night after a hard day of testing. A small amount of damage creates a change in his programming, and he heads off out into the world with some night cleaners. He wanders within himself, as well as in the world of humans. But as he is a robot, he just sees input as input, and so, all his experiences as such. 

He is a lovely fellow, and he sustains some big hits out in the world. Crash wants to learn more about humans so he can crash-test better, but he finds that they are prone to much more than crashing, and that they are somewhat more unfathomable than even his enhanced programming can understand. But these things do not stop him, as his main task, and the fact that he doesn’t fall to human emotional struggles, see him venturing on in the Human Continuum.

What inspired you to write this book?

It was the bourgeoning AI wave of change that I wanted to explore, and one particular idea that was rising in the wider conversation of our future with AI. It was the question of the rights of robots, AI, etc. It did alarm me a little. The seeming sentience of a program or robot needed to be explored a little, in light of the human reality. I found a few important understandings or realities, when exploring the limits of, boundaries required for, and station of, these wondrous human creations, while I was writing. But what inspired me to continue was the magnificence of human life.

What was something you learned in the process of compiling this book?

I learned that our being is amazing. Our station is far beyond mere high-speed access to data and its useful rearrangement; that human intelligence is much more nuanced, intricate, and intuitive. I continually asked, ‘How would an AI see this, in comparison to a human?’ What this question did was make the book’s theme more about…what it is to be human. The wondrous reality of seemingly small and insignificant parts of our being, as well as how lost we can become due to our lower nature. Crash made very clear the foibles of our lower nature, of which he had none, and the magnificence of our higher nature, which he struggled to understand. 

Also, personally, and not explored so much in the book, was that just as a plough created an agricultural revolution, and as computers created a wave of change and greater possibilities, AI too will unleash great change, greater exploration, and enhanced creativity. I can’t begin to imagine the human potentials these tools and super intelligence will unleash in the future. So, I did not try to foist my lack of vision on the book. 

But sadly, AI development has also already created more life-taking weapons, making killing more precise. It, like most new technology, will also be misused beyond war, and only God knows what mess we could have until we mature and learn how to use it healthfully. 

Who is its audience? What do you hope your readers will take away with them long after they’ve finished reading?

Its audience is all ages, most definitely. I do believe it is more valuable to youth, but not because the book talks only to them or is just written for them.

Crash is for everyone; for seekers to gather understanding, and maybe lead to self-reflection for Baha’is. For youth, it is more so that they are exploring and have the potential to gather and act upon ideas. They are where the future rises in our world, and I wanted to share some understanding and perspective in this noisy world.

What I really want readers to take away is an enhanced view, and a feel, for our amazing human reality, as well as a greater understanding of the nobility in that station. Maybe that they see more in themselves and have greater respect for others. 

Thank you, Jim, for taking the time to share this with us!

You can find Crash and the Human Continuum, as well as Jim’s other books and his blog, on his website.

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Sonjel Vreeland

In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a stay-at-home parent and a bookworm with a maxed out library card but professionally she is a museologist with a background in English Literature. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she’s driving at night.

Sonjel Vreeland

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