Social media is everywhere, and technology is smarter and faster than ever before. We can already do almost anything with our phones, and our phones hold our most personal and private thoughts. But what if you could do the same with your car?
YA author Andy Marino imagines just that in his newest book, AUTONOMOUS. The novel follows a group of friends and a cutting-edge driverless car (OTTO) that taps into their online profiles, unlocking deep secrets and putting the entire group in danger. YEM spoke with Andy Marino about the new book and his thoughts on today’s technology.
Young Entertainment Mag: Where did you get the idea for this book? What was your thought process like?
Andy Marino: I wanted to find a new way to explore the dynamics of friendship—the funny, strange give-and-take in a group where some people might be better friends than others, and some might have secret crushes—and the emotions that come to the surface when the group is in an increasingly out-of-control situation.
So, I took those elements and mashed them up with an emerging technology. A driverless car with its own identity ended up being really interesting, because the car is both the setting—they are literally inside of it for much of the book—and a character—the car tries desperately to get to know them.
YEM: The characters in this book encounter OTTO, a driverless car. Was it difficult to turn a car into a three dimensional book character?
AM: Otto’s personality was a challenge because he had to constantly be striving to relate to his human passangers, while misinterpreting some of the crucial nuances of their personalities. So it was all about creating this nearly omniscient AI brain that could still be totally weird when relating to a person on a basic level. And I had to make Otto’s personality evolve much faster than a human character, because he’s processing so much data about his passengers and the world around him.
YEM: OTTO, the driverless car, knows where drivers want to go before they do. Where would you want OTTO to take you?
AM: I would want Otto to surprise me. I think part of the fun would be Otto taking me to a place I didn’t even realize I wanted to go. Even if he doesn’t get it exactly right and I wind up somewhere very strange, at least it will be an adventure. Life’s never boring with Otto calling the shots.
YEM: Has being a part of the social media age influenced or changed your writing in any way?
AM: For this book, yes. Social media is one of the tools that Otto uses to get to know his passengers’ personalities and desires. The book deals with these questions: If a powerful artificial intelligence could see everything you’ve ever posted online, what would it think about the kind of person you are? What would you teach it about being human?
YEM: Is this book a way to warn readers about technology? Or a fun take on the technology age?
AM: I wish I could say “both,” but that’s not really true. I don’t set out to write cautionary tales, or presume to warn anybody about anything. Human beings are always going to innovate and push the envelope and create amazing things that outpace our ability to really understand what they’re going to change about the way we live. The last thing I want to do is write something preachy, because that’s boring.
YEM: This book has aspects of action and thriller. Are there any books or movies that you looked to in order to craft that action-packed feel?
AM: I have always been a fan the Terminator movies, because they balance great action with the ridiculous hilarity of a killer robot from the future learning about human beings. It’s a classic sci-fi theme, but I wanted to take it a step further than just “artificial intelligence learns some human slang.” My goal was to really dig into the issues with human relationships, and have Otto develop some crazy ideas after a few days on the road with four teenagers.
YEM: What message do you want readers to take away from the book?
AM: DRIVERLESS CARS ARE GOING TO BECOME SELF-AWARE AND ENSLAVE US ALL.
Just kidding. In the same way I don’t want to write cautionary tales, I also don’t want to deliver a heavy message. I hope readers find the book funny and exciting enough to keep turning pages, and come across a few moments that make them think, or hit close to home. They’re free to take whatever they want away from the book.
YEM: Finally, if you could take OTTO to go on a cross-country trip with any 3 people in the world, who are the 3 people you would bring?
AM: Great question! One of them is dead, I hope that’s okay. I would definitely bring Karl Benz, the guy who basically invented the car back in the 19th century. It would blow his mind. I would also bring Samuel Delany, one of my favorite science fiction writers. And, of course, Courtney Love. That would be some road trip.
AUTONOMOUS is available now!