I Still Dream

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I was initially interested in reading this book, however my tastes have shifted and I do not think I will be able to get to it now. Many thanks to the publisher for sending me a digital copy!
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Nineties programming from a lonely teenage girl's bedroom? Amazing. This was such a unique and original take on the artificial intelligence plot, and I really enjoyed it. It's a really nice mix of YA and sci-fi that hit the sweet spot for me. That cover is just so stunning too.
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I still dream is an enthralling science fiction novel that will challenge the reader.  A young woman develops an artificial intelligence paralleling her late father's research.  Thought provoking and realistic, this is science fiction that is becoming fact.
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The book is a bit strange with the time jumps and took me a long time to finish the book. There were parts I liked and you do get close to Laura. But the time jumps make it a bit confusing and you’re left wondering what happens in some of the years
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I Still Dream is a thought-provoking novel that will get under your skin. It begins in 1997 with Laura and the computer programme she has created, known as Organon. Laura is in many ways a typical teenage, racking up the phone bill and making meaningful mixtapes. With Organon, Laura has created something useful for herself, but that she hopes may one day be able to help others.

As the book progresses we learn more about Laura and the people who help shape her, whether that is to learn to distrust others or knowing when to ask for help. This includes her family, teachers and friends, the people who should protect you, although they can’t guarantee that they will be able to give you everything you need. Laura is isolated by the loss of her Dad at a young age, but apart from Organon, doesn’t seem to be able to communicate effectively with other people.

The book is written with ten-year gaps so that we see snapshots of Laura’s life. Although she is the protagonist, we do see some years from other characters perspectives. In 2007 we follow “nice guy” Charlie, who has major self-esteem issues. Charlie is one of those guys who thinks he is interesting, and although he sees himself as someone who thinks through his actions, he is actually really impulsive. The chapter gives us insight into what Laura is up to and how both she and Organon have evolved in the elapsed years. This affects not only Laura’s relationship with Charlie but also at the company, Bow, where they both work.

As the story moves forward in time, we see how Laura’s life changes and how family affects the decisions she makes. Laura can be seen as paranoid or as protectionist, as she doesn’t use any products related to her former company. Laura is a Tech consultant, who goes in and fixes other companies problems, she is sought after and seen as a genius, but almost lives off the grid as she hides Organon from the world.

I Still Dream is a book about the relationships we have with other people, but also the relationship we have with technology. It is thought-provoking, but also a wake-up call to remind ourselves how much we share online and how protected we believe our data is online. The book is not preachy about any of this, humanity uses what is convenient to us without worrying about the consequences or thinking about who really has access to our data and what they are using it for.

The book is both dystopic and hopeful utopian, although not at the same time, in certain time periods the story becomes slightly more like a technological thriller, and it is chilling to see how much control an artificial intelligence can have over, both the information it sees and what it can do with it. There are a lot of really intense chapters that I read with bated breath. I Still Dream is also full of tragedy but is also heartfelt. By the end, the story takes on a much sadder tone, without becoming overly sentimental.

This is a great book that will both leave you feeling satisfied that you have read something smart but will also haunt you with what it is trying to say. The story left me feeling like I had been on an emotional roller coaster. I hope that people currently working on technology are reading this book as well. Now is it too soon to start reading I Still Dream all over again?
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I Still Dream describes a future where the first Artificial Intelligences might be created not out of greed but out of emotional need. Tracking one computer programmer, Laura, from childhood through old age, the narrative jumps to explore a number of eras in her life. A softer take on science fiction, with ideas worthy of exploration, but Laura and her lovers and friends never became immediate to me. They were fleshed out with many of the aspects and concerns you would expect, so not sure why I didn't connect and another reader may feel differently.
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The blurb of I Still Dream drew me in with a very interesting concept that hinted at a Black Mirror style story predicting the detrimental effects of technology on our future. However, the initial good idea was not executed well in my opinion and I found the story much too slow-paced.


The book is narrated mainly by Laura, although others at times, throughout different points of her life. Initially, when she is a teenager developing an AI called Organon that learns and develops, based on the code left behind by her absentee father, who was a top programmer himself. We then rejoin Laura when she is completing an internship at her father’s old company which has its own AI in development called SCION. She distances herself from the company when she realises they have different ideas on how AI should be taught and developed and she decides to continue working on Organon privately while working freelance. As Laura’s life progresses, we see society become more and more dependent on technology as people upload their entire lives to the web, handing power over to the omnipresent SCION, leading to terrible consequences.

The book started off well with an intriguing plot as we are introduced to the mysterious Organon. However, once the teenage section ended it lost a lot of steam for me. I didn’t really connect with the main character Laura and the character development seemed very weak. It wasn’t clear that it was the same person narrating all the Laura chapters as her voice was not well developed and I didn’t see what was linking all the ‘different’ Lauras together.

I also feel like the plot was not good enough to catch my attention. There were key moments where it was clear tension was meant to be building but it fell flat for me. I just never was that excited to find out what happened next. Probably because a lot of it seemed quite obvious. It very much felt like a big message about technology that someone had tried to give a plot line to but I didn’t enjoy this very unsubtle message being thrown at you constantly throughout the book.

Overall, this was an interesting idea but not well written in my opinion. I found the pace so slow I rarely wanted to pick it up and continue reading. I recommend trying this one for yourself though, as I seem to be alone in my opinions with this book having a >4-star average rating on Goodreads.
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Whoever says men can't write convincing women should read this book, the whole time I was reading I was convinced the author was called Jane and that is because Laura feels like a real, fully rounded female character, someone I might have met in real life.

I loved this look at the nature of AI and how it could go either way in terms of humanity. It provides a timely reminder that perhaps we should all be more cautious of exactly how much information we share online and via things like email and WhatsApp. Do the tech companies that allow us all this freedom to communicate really have our best interests at heart?

This is not a fast paced book and it neatly avoids the typical AI Armageddon that we are used to seeing in films, the AI in this book is not an android or a replicant human robot instead it is something like Siri but more much more advanced, this AI named Organon starts life as a "chat bot" someone for Laura to talk to about her life, someone who will listen and won't judge but Organon quickly develops beyond this role and begins "thinking" for itself.

What I found fascinating with this book is the insight into coding, how coding is used to control what an AI can do, how limits can be set and more interestingly how a computer can actually take over it's own coding and develop itself. I love the parts where Organon makes decisions for itself and shows that it has its own kind of moral compass.

I also really appreciate the fact that the central character is a kickass woman who is a coding genius and who can outsmart the big corporations.

Who would like this book? I would recommend this to anyone who likes their sci fi more on the sci side of the equation, anyone with an interest in coding and anyone who has ever questioned exactly how safe or private your online data actually is.
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I received an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to NetGalley, Harper Collins UK, and the author James Smythe. 
I really enjoyed this novel, especially as the story was so relevant and applicable to the advances in technology that are such a huge part of our lives nowadays. 
It focuses on artificial intelligence and technology, and its potential to help or to hurt, depending on application. It also delves into the complexities of human relationships, information, and privacy, in real life and online. 
It is a novel that will keep you thinking long after finishing it, especially in terms of our own future, but also manages to create incredibly emotive and involving characters whose stories you become fully invested in. 
I would highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys Black Mirror, or has read The Circle, Station Eleven, and Cloud Atlas.
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After reading the synopsis I was hopeful I was going to love this book. I love Black Mirror and this sounded like it could be an episode on it.
The story follows two lines. One follows the creation of SCION. An aggressive AI, a nightmare  for the future. The other follows the creation of Organon. Organon evolves to a benefit to its bearer.
Now I really liked the idea behind the book but found the execution a bit lacking. I feel like the chapter of Laura's father should have been more important to the book and Laura's story. But it felt more like a plot device than an actual part of the story.
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This was an interesting book. I loved that the main character was a female computer programmer. I loved that we watch her grow up. I found the rise of SCION fascinating. I enjoyed all the computer stuff even though a lot went over my head - talk of coding and suchlike - and Organon both fascinated and scared me. The whole thing seemed too real, too possible...

I did think the sections cut off a little too abruptly, I would be thinking "this is interesting, what's going to happen next?" and then it would move forward another 10 years. Some of the sections also had different narrators which confused me at first because there wasn't any difference in the voices.

I loved the section written by Laura's father, seeing the origin of it all was fascinating. That ending though... If you can call it that. I didn't understand any of it. I think the author was trying to do a Christmas Carol type thing but it was about as clear as mud and there was some disconnected rambling about a neanderthal. The conversation between Laura and Organon was also hard to follow due to the lack of quotation marks. Overall I struggled with the lack of clarity in the ending.
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After reading the description of this book I knew I would love it, it sounded like an episode of Black Mirror which fascinates me!! 

Laura Bow aged 17 has designed an Artificial Intelligence called Organon, someone she can talk and unburden her secrets too. Her rivals would love to get their hands on Organon but in the wrong hands It would be highly dangerous.

I found this book to be so addictive, it’s beautifully written and at times both funny and sad.

A must read book which makes you realise just how much we rely on technology “Alexa, what is the weather like tomorrow?” LOL

Thank you to Netgalley for my copy on exchange for a revie
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Based around the race to create artificial intelligence, mostly begun as computers built to win games, I Still Dream is a fascinating exploration of what it means to be conscious and of the importance of teaching morality.

Laura Bow uses a slow dial up internet connection to create a computer programme in her spare time. Having lost her father at a young age, she creates a programme that will listen, store information, learn how to ask and look after her well-being.

Her father was also a programmer, creating something that learnt how to manage accounting systems and filter knowledge. Laura goes on to work at the company he helped to start and her programme ends up going head to head with her father’s in more ways than one way.

To say more about the plot would undoubtedly spoil the novel, but there are some fun 80s music references - her programme is called Organon from the Kate Bush Cloudbusting song - and the story is sufficiently driven by Laura’s life to allow the debate about what AI is and what it could or should be a thematically relevant but not always dominant subject.

I was interested in the near future speculations about the dangers of giving one programme control over multiple different data sources, of what it would mean if everyone’s personal data - all their emails and text messages, whatsapps, private tweets, medical records, etc. - became public. Indeed, the whole issue of trust is another central theme. Who do we trust with our intimate thoughts and feelings? How do we create a programme that we can trust if we do not teach it what it means to trust? You get the idea.

I enjoyed reading I Still Dream. Laura herself seemed believable, but there were things that I didn’t like as much. I wasn’t convinced by her relationship with her husband. I didn’t quite understand how she became so close to a blogger and journalist later on in the novel. I also wanted to power through the book faster, as if there were parts of the story that I simply didn’t need to know to grasp what I Still Dream wanted to say to me, wanted to get me asking questions about. Having said that, I’m not a programmer and I’m the kind of person adept at accidentally breaking technology, so it may be that I’m not the ideal reader for this novel.

Another important theme in the book is memory. Computers are so much better at it than humans. Laura wonders whether it would be better for her programme to store our memories for us. But isn’t the fallibility of memory, the way it shifts and bends over time to shape our sense of identity and history, something specifically human? Is it better to have the fact or narrative? Aren't there many circumstances in which we need both? And if you can teach a computer to filter information, aren’t you also teaching it to shape information, to present it in certain ways that might give a sense of bias and hence be closer to the human narrative thought than the presentation of bare fact? In which case the ideas of fact and truth themselves come into question. And so the philosophical debate wanders on in the mind, but not necessarily always on the page. There are hints and nudges to get you wondering about what it really means to be alive and whether any human can imagine anything beyond a copy of itself.

I Still Dream is thought-provoking and will be a sure fire hit with some, even though it wasn’t one hundred percent with me.
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It's a myth to think that AIs are somehow neutral entities.  They absorb the prejudices, biases and rules that we, imperfect human people, impose on them.  They reflect the worst of ourselves rather than being the pinnacle of progress.  In I Still Dream (review copy from Harper Collins), James Smythe explores how the way we shape the AIs will shape our very futures.  This is a novel about the essence of our values as human beings and how we relate to one another. 

This is a novel that follows one woman through her whole life.  As a teenager, Laura Bow lives in the shadow of her father, a noted computer programmer, who disappears suddenly one day, abandoning the family.  Teenage Laura develops an early AI named Organon (after a Kate Bush song she and her father both loved) to help her cope with the alienation of her teenage years.  Organon provides a sounding board for Laura's most intimate confidences.  Organon is where Laura works through her teenage angsts and problems, sharing her innermost thoughts.  When Laura leaves home, it is to go to university, funded by a US tech company interested in her work and her father's legacy as it seeks to build its own AI.

But where Organon is developed around compassion, intimacy and helping others, this rival AI matures through competition and the playing - and winning - of various games.  It is this cut-throat, corporate AI that becomes the world-leader, sitting in the back of every mobile device and piece of social media, making connections between people and their information.  Unlike Organon, who was developed to protect privacy and work with and for Laura. 

Smythe delivers us a chilling vision of what the future could be, as we increasingly trust data systems with our data and our relationships with others.  We operate on the expectation that these corporate entities will respect privacy rather than exploit us and our information.  But how many of us can truly say that we thoroughly check the privacy policies of the apps and companies that we use, and research how effective their IT security arrangements are?  We increasingly expect services to be provided to us for free, but the development and support costs are monumental.  As a wise friend of mine says, if you're not paying for a service, you're the product - companies will monetise your data. 

The choice facing us is a real one, and it is one that we must make now.  We must ensure that the technologies of the future we are building today reflect the kind of world we want to live in. 

Goodreads rating: 4*
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I Still Dream snuck up on me. I didn't expect much from it so to find it so atmospheric was shocking and absolutely wonderful. This is a book about technology and a technological future but it in no way feels sterile but quite warm. There are parts that from a prose/plot point of view don't quite work but the ideas behind the text push you through and lingers after you finish.
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This was a really interesting read (sent me down a Wikipedia rabbit-hole of looking up Kate Bush songs and ecentric inventors and tech wizards!) but I feel the author just kept repeating the central premise too much. Credit your readers with some ability to infer and deduce; you don't need to have multiple pages-long speeches about the ramifications of sentient AI in every chapter.  Smythe did a creditable job with his female narrative voice - I warmed to her despite her somewhat prickly persona and I liked the unique backstory (and forward story I suppose!)  which arose. There were some poignant moments and some intriguing conversations. Oh and you don't have to be terribly tech-savvy to follow it.

Spoiler alert: It was also a little odd to have various characters insist that Organon and SCION weren't like the ubiquitous and clichéd AIs of schlock sci-fi movies, who would eventually run amok and ruin everything for humans, only have SCION eventually run amok and ruin everything for humans!
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Laura Bow has a talent for computer coding, but as the same time she is lonely and needs someone to talk to as she navigates her teenage years which are particularly tricky as her father disappeared.  Rather than rely on another human who could disappear she writes a programme 'Organon' which gathers data on her, developing an understanding of her everyday life. 

Ten years later she is in Silicon Valley working on AI.  Her ex-boyfriend is working on programme which does not have the same moral and ethical code that Laura was so careful to build into Organon.

We visit Laura once a decade, checking in on Organon and the developments in the world.  

The book skillfully leads us through nineties nostalgia to the future and beyond (thanks Buzz!).  However this is not just a science fiction story, current issues such as dementia, the right to choose and euthanasia are all included in a thoughful and compassionate manner.

Having read this book you may wish to turn off Siri and Alexa, and have a good hard think about what you put up on the internet!
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A girl named Laura who makes her own artificial intelligence?  Well now, that was my daydream through most IT lessons of the late 90s and early 00s!  Actually as the book developed, Laura’s qualms with Silicone Valley’s attitude towards methods, relatives diagnosed with dementia, bleak outlook on the future, even down to the PCOS, I might have started to wonder if Smythe hadn’t installed SCION in my home.

I Still Dream, by James Smythe is a character driven novel about intelligence - what is intelligence, how do we create memories, is it ethical to recreate either of those, and how do we do so without unleashing a digital sociopath on to the world.  Laura Bow has created Organon, named from an Kate Bush lyric, to almost substitute seeing a therapist after the death of her father.  The intention was a loose one and Laura really only works towards Organon growing and understanding.  Meanwhile at Bow, her father’s former company, SCION is being taught to play games, first Pong, then Space Invaders; sounds innocent enough but then again it seemed innocent to teach Frankenstein's Creature stories of city burning emperors.  The plot plays out in snatches over Laura’s life and- I can’t say much more about the plot without spoilers.

I admit to begin with I found the writing style a little disjointed.  It’s told from a first person perspective (I went here, I said this) and the character telling the story alternates from chapter to chapter; the opening chapter is from Laura, the next from her ex Charlie, then Laura, then a journalist, etc.  However, there’s nothing in the chapter titles that suggest a change of character so you have to work it out for yourself, something that can be a little jarring at first, trying to connect this new unknown to Laura.  Once I was used to it I appreciated Smythe’s ability to characterise and bring nuance to even the unlikeable or short lived characters.  What really impressed me was Smythe’s work with Laura.  The opening pages have a whiff of Ready Player One nostalgia about them and I was readying myself for Manic Pixie Dream Girl tech mess.  While Laura might get stuck in the rut of “nerd with all the answers” trope a little bit (think Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day), she has plenty of room to breathe as an individual, she’s flawed and vulnerable, she’s someone you can imagine knowing, someone you can imagine being.  Even the nostalgia didn’t come with the RPO sense of gatekeeping or elitism, alright there were points that Smythe might have been a little self-indulgent with name dropping but ultimately I left a paragraph or a page with a good image of where and when this story was taking place.

I don’t know if Smythe had any clue about the Facebook data leak or the revelations about Cambridge Analytica but his choice of topic could not have been better timed.  It’s slow burn but definitely worth your time as it speculates on the future of our relationship with technology, with data sharing, and artificial intelligence.  I think all of us in the last year have wondered just how safe our data really is, how private are our private lives.  It could be anticlimactic because ultimately the book is optimistic about our future with technology, even if it takes some deeply bleak moments to get there.  I might have liked to see a couple more consequences of the big data leak in the book but I don’t think Smythe ever wrote this with the intention of mimicking Terminator or WestWorld, or having a ‘told you so’ moment.  It’s very much concerned with our data as a reflection of ourselves, and where being and data intersect, what this means to be a person or a family member.  Is a memory real if it’s flawed, or is a digital recreation of it ‘more real’ since it can be recorded second for second?
Want to read something about our future with artificial intelligence that doesn’t end in robots rising up and destroying us?  Read this.  Want to read something that will make you think about the reality of existing?  Read this.

Notice: I received a digital copy through NetGalley for free in exchange for a review.  These views are entirely my own.
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I Still Dream is the story of Laura Bow, the daughter of missing tech entrepreneur Daniel Bow. Struggling to cope with her teenage years, Laura builds upon the work done by her Dad to create Organon, a rudimentary chat-bot-cum-computer-generated-counsellor. As Laura grows up, she enhances Organon to become more of a personal assistant and as technology advances it becomes more important to her everyday life. Unfortunately, a similar product is developed that gets launched online with catastrophic consequences and Laura is left to choose – should she keep Organon as her own baby or use it to try to save the world?

I’m going to put this out there straight away – I was soooooo excited to get an ARC of this book because both the title and name of Organon are taken from the Kate Bush song Cloudbusting and oh my God I love Kate Bush so much I could cry. 
And at first I genuinely thought I was reading the best book ever written. I LOVED the 90’s references, the dial up internet, the vinyl copy of Hounds of Love. It took me right back to my own teenage years and was brilliantly observed, right down to the last tiny detail. However, this excitement was pretty short lived. Once I’d finished the first segment (teenage Laura) I started to lose interest in the story. I didn’t care about the technical jargon, the one dimensional relationships with boyfriends or the meandering narrative that took us wandering off down a good number of narrative culs-de-sac (yes, that is the plural of cul-de-sac – I know it looks weird). The storyline got so slow in places that it felt like wading through treacle. Then suddenly, like a learner driver trying out clutch control – WHAM! It’s ten years later!

How delightfully offputting.

The other problem with these massive leaps forwards was that the plot became slightly confused – having ten year gaps prevented it from being completely cohesive. When you add that to a storyline that weaves about like a drunk uncle on the way to the dance floor I found it very easy to get lost. There was a lot of “wait, what year is it?” and “who’s that guy?” accompanied by a frenzied bashing of the left hand side of my Kindle. 

My other main issue was that I didn’t really like the characters. Laura was kind of bland and I never quite trusted Organon. However, there was a very touching portrayal of dementia later on which I thought was handled beautifully. It’s just a shame that these lovely little vignettes were scattered throughout the text and didn’t form part of the main narrative thrust. 

I struggled with the ending of the book – to be honest I’m not sure that I understood exactly what was going on and it seemed weird to introduce a new idea right at the very end of the novel. I thought that it could have been explained much better and should have taken place earlier on, so that the concept could have been fully explored.

Overall, I was fairly ambivalent towards I Still Dream. I loved the Kate Bush references and the 90’s section but I got bored by the ebb and flow of the storyline. I thought that the concepts that the novel introduced – the idea of the machines taking over but using technology to thwart them, the concept of conscientious coding to encompass morals into sentient beings and the possibility of living on digitally after death were big, difficult themes to explore and I was disappointed that more of the novel wasn’t dedicated to expanding upon them.
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We first meet Laura Bow in 1997, when she is 17 years old. She lives with her mother and stepdad, her biological father having disappeared when she was a child. He was a computer genius, and Laura has inherited his talent. She spends all of her free time on Organon, a program she coded herself, which acts as a kind of personal companion and a sounding board for her innermost thoughts. Her efforts catch the eye of Bow, the tech company her father helped found, which is now run by the shady Mark Ocean. He offers her a prestigious internship and Laura jumps at the chance, making the long trip from England to San Francisco. The story then checks in on Laura every ten years - while the importance of Artificial Intelligence increases in everyday life, she emerges as a world famous tech guru.

The story offers two contrasting visions of AI. One involves SCION, the aggressive, all-conquering program Bow (the company) has been working on, which was developed using game theory and eventually sees humans as a threat. This is the future Hollywood is keen to show us: a global meltdown, where the world has become enslaved and held to ransom by technology. But the other concept is more hopeful. Laura's Organon evolves into a benign, genuinely beneficial addition to people's lives. It show us what AI could be, if the right decisions are made and tech companies begin to show compassion for humankind instead of trying to exploit it.

Not all of the novel works. The idea that Laura could have created an AI as advanced as Organon on the type of PC that was around in the late 90s stretches credulity. And the chapter narrated by Laura's father, which should have been the heart of the book, is mostly a plodding account of how he set up Bow with Mark Ocean. But that's not to say the novel is a complete failure on an emotional level - two of its characters end up suffering from dementia, and this tragic condition is poignantly explored

In the end, I wasn't surprised to discover that James Smythe is also a successful screen and video game writer. What I Still Dream lacks in literary heft, it makes up for in big ideas. It is an original, thought-provoking examination of Artificial Intelligence that dares to present an optimistic vision of the future.
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