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Stockbridge Author Explores AI in New Novel

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff
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STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. — Author Joan Cohen's debut novel focused on the difficult intersection of personal decision-making and data; her second takes it a step further by questioning whether the data we depend on is even real. 
 
In "The Deepfake," protagonist Sylvie uncovers corporate malfeasance while working for an artificial intelligence company in Boston. And when she falls in love with someone who fears and hates AI, she begins to question everything she knows. 
 
Cohen wants the novel to start a conversation surrounding AI by illustrating Sylvie's inner conflict.
 
"In 'The Deepfake,' I'm very troubled about how we proceed. It's a very hard issue. So, I wanted to make my readers think about that," Cohen said. 
 
"I wanted them to see somebody struggling with it … So it's not as if it's a cocktail party conversation and then she goes home and puts on a TV. She is living this and being torn about it." 
 
Cohen draws from her own background in marketing and as an executive for technology companies, and a corporate decision that she refused to condone because it "felt borderline illegal."
 
The novel also explores other ethical and sensitive topics such as people-pleasing, sexual assault, and other prevalent issues in society. 
 
"When I write, perhaps like a lot of people, I don't know if it's like a lot of writers, I procrastinate. I avoid sitting down and doing the hard work and I find that writing about some moral issue or ethical issue keeps me in my seat. It's interesting," she said. 
 
AI allows people to put very convincing images or videos of others on the internet doing or saying things they did not do, Cohen said, and while she doesn't know the answers, discussions need to start happening on the impact this technology has and possible safeguards. 
 
She's heard people she considers intelligent and educated say they don't understand AI or that they are not going to worry about it yet. 
 
"I'm just surprised to hear that they don't know that it's already here and that they don't know that they're using it necessarily, but they are," she said. "And it's something that we should be jubilant about and it's something that we should be terrified of. Those are two difficult states to be in at the same time."
 
She does have "one terrible fear" about AI and it is not robots taking over the world -- it is conspiracy theories and the speed of disinformation. 
 
"My hope is that people who are a lot smarter and more knowledgeable than I am are thinking about how to solve some of these problems. If they're not, I mean, that's pretty scary," she said. 
 
"I don't know who reads my book, but I just hope it gets people thinking and I hope it gets them going to the internet, as I have and reading articles by experts because we have different opinions from one another. But that's how we solve problems."
 
Cohen's father encouraged her to read the op-ed pages in newspapers because they had a range of views, she continued. "That was very good advice but when I look back on it, it seems quaint."
 
Today there isn't an op-ed page, rather people look up topics online and will get information supporting the point of view they already have, Cohen said. It's confirmation bias, she noted, where you take in all the facts that support the point of view that you already have and reject all the facts that don't support it. 
 
"We might go to MSNBC on TV, if we prefer something that is more liberal, or we might go to Fox, we prefer something that's more conservative," she said. "I mean, yes, there are a few newspapers left but I don't think they're long for this world. That's critical thinking though."
 
Cohen said she learned about how to persuade people during her careers and it was interesting to see how people's perception changed. 
 
"Then when I left the technology world, I drew on a lot of what I had seen, and some of it was wonderful and some of it was not so wonderful," she said. "Some of it was people who took advantage of the system and often they were very high up in companies. It's kind of 'what can I get away with' and 'this is business' and 'this is what we do. So, don't be a Girl Scout.'"
 
Sylvie is a people pleaser, and she is not aware of the downside of it. This trait leads her to "some very sticky ethical situations," Cohen said. "I don't think it's sexist to say that that's much more common among women than men because of how we're raised."
 
Cohen hopes that young people will read her book and think about whether they have people-pleasing tendencies and how it affects their life. 
 
"I have kids, obviously, they're grown and I don't know if they've learned from my books. I think all kids believe their parents are born 40. I have two minds about that. I would like to think that I'm having a positive impact on young people but, I truly don't know," she said. 
 
Cohen and her husband have had a vacation home in the Berkshires since 1977 and moved to the area full time when they retired about seven years ago.
 
The people, atmosphere, and cultural venues prevent her brain from going stale, she said, because they draw a range of people and the community is welcoming to newcomers. 
 
"Lots of interesting people, lots of interesting conversations," she said. 
 
Her debut novel, "Land of Last Chances," a 2019 finalist for the National Indie Excellence Awards, delved into the life of an executive facing a late-life pregnancy and a genetic conundrum.  
 
Cohen will sign books at the Pittsfield Barnes & Noble on Saturday, April 20, at 1 p.m. and a launch party will take place at The Bookstore in Lenox on May 4 at 4 p.m.

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MassDOT: South County Construction Operations

LEE, Mass. — The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is announcing crews will be conducting daytime and overnight hour guardrail repair, drainage work, pavement marking, and bridge repair operations at various locations and times on I-90 eastbound and westbound during the week of Tuesday, May 28. 

Lane closures will be in place during the construction operations and traffic will be able to travel through the work zones.  The schedule for the work and lane closures will be as follows:  

Otis/Blandford  

  • Guardrail and drainage work will be conducted on I-90 eastbound and westbound between mile marker 21.0 to 26.2 from Tuesday, May 28, through Thursday, May 30, from 7:00 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. the next morning. The work is expected to conclude by 5:00 a.m. on Friday, May 31. 

Otis 

  • Bridge repair operations will be conducted nightly on I-90 eastbound and westbound at mile marker 22.5, from Tuesday, May 28, through Thursday, May 30, from 7:00 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. the next morning. The work is expected to conclude by 5:00 a.m. on Friday, May 31.  

Stockbridge/West Stockbridge 

  • Guardrail and bridge repair work will be conducted nightly on I-90 eastbound and westbound from mile marker 4.5 to 7.0, from Tuesday, May 28, through Thursday, May 30, from 7:00 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. the next morning. The work is expected to conclude by 5:00 a.m. on Friday, May 31. 

Stockbridge 

  • Bridge repair operations will be conducted daily on I-90 eastbound and westbound at mile marker 7.5, from Tuesday, May 28, through Thursday, May 30, from 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each day. 

West Stockbridge 

  • Bridge repair operations will be conducted daily on I-90 eastbound and westbound at mile marker 0.6, from Tuesday, May 28, through Thursday, May 30, from 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each day. 
  • Bridge repair operations will be conducted nightly on I-90 eastbound from mile marker 2.0 to 3.0, on Tuesday, May 28, from 7:00 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. the next morning. 
  • Bridge repair operations will be conducted on I-90 westbound from mile marker 2.0 to 3.0, on Thursday, May 30, from 7:00 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. the next morning.  

Lee 

  • Pavement marking operations will be conducted nightly on I-90 eastbound and westbound from mile marker 7.5 to 15.0, on Tuesday, May 28, through Thursday, May 30, from 7:00 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. the next morning. The work is expected to conclude by 5:00 a.m. on Friday, May 31. 
  • Bridge repair operations will be conducted on I-90 westbound from mile marker 10.0 to 11.0, on Wednesday, May 29, from 7:00 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. the next morning.  

Appropriate signage, law enforcement details, and messaging will be in place to guide drivers through the work area.  

Drivers traveling through the affected areas should expect delays, reduce speed, and use caution.   

All scheduled work is weather dependent and subject to change without notice.  

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