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January 27, 2020

In his debut novel, Zero Percenters, Grusky optimistically takes on the daunting issues of artificial intelligence and humanity’s future in what our reviewer called an “ultimate fantasy for those who cherish the hope of no-cost universal interconnectedness and peace.”

How did your own background in technology inform the book?

Having been a coder for more than 20 years, I’ve come to view artificial intelligence as an extension of the human mind, rather than as a separate entity. Unfortunately, the very term “artificial” connotes a division between humans and AI agents, an us-versus-them mentality, which encourages bias. While the doomsday scenarios seem all too plausible, I wrote Zero Percenters because I wanted to push past the bias to explore some questions about AI and consciousness that I couldn't find discussed elsewhere. To my surprise, the answers I stumbled upon gave me cause for far more optimism than I had expected. Such optimism, however, hinges on our addressing the difficult question of where we want to go as a species. If we don’t establish a clear objective, then we can’t complain about the outcome.

The BookLife Review describes Zero Percenters as a “fable of how technological liberation from the flesh might lead to mass enlightenment.” Can you expand on that?

Contemporary culture continuously reinforces the idea that we are defined by our bodies, our egos, our thoughts, and our emotions. Some of us are supermodels, others are not. Some of us are pop stars, others are not. Some of us are rich and powerful, others are not. Some of us have voices that get heard, others do not. Not surprisingly, we often believe that there must be some coherent explanation or meaning underlying these enormous differences. But when the inhabitants of Zero Percenters digitize their bodies and enter a new world of equal opportunity for all, they find a way to step beyond this belief, which opens the door to a revised understanding of “self.” Ultimately, they come to realize that the illusion of being separate entities is what caused their suffering in the first place. Thus, they decide to leave behind the trappings of their so-called identities.

If you could pick anyone to give this book to, who would it be and why?

I would choose Bill Gates, not only because of his staggering breadth of knowledge but also because he famously asked the question (which I’m paraphrasing): “What will give our lives meaning in the future?” I’d like to think Zero Percenters offers at least a partial answer, but it certainly would be interesting to see if Gates agreed. In a world where there is no need to work, no need to eat or breathe, and no need to consume material stuff, humans at last have the chance to discover what truly matters—or so the book posits.

What is the one thing you most want to tell readers, booksellers, publishers, or agents about your book?

It’s written for people who reject the idea that our destiny as humans must involve aggression and war. For those who feel satisfied by conventional portrayals of good versus evil and who enjoy epic battles fueled by greed, corruption, and intolerance, Zero Percenters will likely not deliver. But for those open to relaxing their hidden biases about “who we are,” I’m pleased to report that a comforting possibility awaits.

What’s next for you?

Eternal loving-kindness! That’s an inside joke for readers of Zero Percenters. Seriously though, my next novel, while not a sequel, will continue to focus on the possibilities of meaningful companionship between humans and robots. It’s the year 2044 and climate change has forced humans to live at high altitudes. Tired of being confined to her alpine village, a teenage girl stows away on a spaceship piloted by a robot whose mission is to deflect the overpowering heat of the sun.