Publication: Conference of the Birds

My short story “Conference of the Birds” hit bookstores today in the Jan/Feb 2021 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact! This AI story is my first appearance in one of the big classic print magazines, and I’m excited to share it with you all. Despite that cover date, it should be available in bookstores and online now, though subscriptions may take a few more weeks to reach your mailbox. You can subscribe to Analog in print or electronic, email them (customerservice @ pennypublications.com) to buy copies of individual issues, or find them in your local bookstore.

The main character of “Conference of the Birds” is Surveillance Hub, a hard-working node in the distributed neural network AI of an oppressive cyberpunk megacorp. Doing its job, tracking intellectual-property thieves, hoping for another round of reinforcement signals from the network’s uppermost levels.

No program-layer could predict what a human might do, but Surveillance Hub could see everything that mattered. Their bird-drones spread across the city, scattered on cables and rooftops and broadcast towers. Every camera hunted for Krina Viy, independent security contractor (AWOL from JoyCorp contact 5 hours).

A crow-drone spotted the target. Surveillance confirmed Krina’s identity and sent a brief reward signal to inspire the bird onward.

The drone switched from search to pursuit, redoubling its data collection as it chased the taste of reinforcement. So much joy and empty-matrix innocence in its response to a simple reward. Flockmembers were too simple to understand that reinforcement implied punishment, and no success would ever suffice for long.


This is the point in my publication announcement where I usually start my story notes. But this time around I’m saving those notes for a post on the Astounding Analog Companion, the official blog for Analog Magazine. A special audience means I got the chance to go big: 1600 words on the intersection of neuroscience, artificial intelligence, and fiction. The post will also cite a bunch of the background research and inspirations that brought my AI story to life, ranging from lists of hilarious industry failures to the even-more-hilarious AI art and analysis of Janelle Shane.

The blog post “Embodied and Empathetic Minds in the Conference of the Birds” will go live sometime between now and Feb 14, 2021. You can be sure I’ll announce it here when that happens!

“Conference of the Birds” is my first short story in Analog (Jan/Feb 2021), and it speaks to many of the things that matter to me: not only as a writer and human being, but also as a scientist. By day, I work as a rehabilitation neuroscientist. My laboratory studies the human brain, how it changes after injury to the hand, and how we can use those changes to help injured people live the lives they want to live. No humans suffer hand injuries in the course of “Conference of the Birds,” but nevertheless, it’s a story steeped in the interaction between minds and bodies, and how doing is the core of being.

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