Why Advertising Icon PJ Pereira Wrote a Novel About Kung Fu and AI

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While Pereira O’Dell co-founder and creative chairman PJ Pereira may be best recognized as a leading creative in the ad industry, fellow Brazilians know him better as a best-selling author.

Pereira has published four fantasy novels in Brazil, one of which—an edition in his Gods of Both Worlds trilogy—spent a month at the top of the country’s best-seller list. The Dictionary of Literary Biography recently listed him as a top Brazilian author of the 21st century.

Now, Pereira is looking to break into the U.S. market with his first English-language tome, a still-untitled manuscript that revolves around the unlikely combination of artificial intelligence and kung fu, the latter of which is a decades-long passion of his. Pereira is currently in talks with various agents to shop the story to a publisher.

While Pereira wouldn’t reveal too much detail about the book’s plot for fear of spoilers, he says it centers on a character who discovers a new style of martial arts with inspiration from AI, pitting ancient Chinese tradition against sentient robots.

“In the same way that independent masters from the past created styles inspired by different animals, I thought if masters are making a new style of kung fu today, maybe they would take inspiration from technology. That’s when everything clicked, like, ‘Now I have a story,’” Pereira told Adweek.

“I liked the contrast of those two worlds: kung fu, tai chi and Taoism, combined with and clashing with artificial intelligence and neuroscience,” he added.

“I liked the contrast of those two worlds: kung fu, Tai Chi and Daoism combined with and clashing with artificial intelligence and neuroscience.”

The particulars of the plot took about three years to hammer out during whatever free time he had from his from his day job at the agency, then another three to write, Pereira said. He pulled material from his own experience as a black belt-level martial artist and an early career as a coder.

Pereira was particularly drawn to the concept of an AI-influenced martial art as an analogue to his own advertising career, in which he tries to engage emerging tech in the creative process whenever possible. “Understanding technology as a creative tool has always been one of my signature moves,” he said.

While most experts agree that sentient, general-functionality AI of the type featured in the book is still a long way from being realized, Pereira believes such a future will come to pass eventually, citing experts he interviewed while producing a Werner Herzog-narrated branded documentary in 2016 called Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World.

“One of the scientists we interviewed said we may not know when AI is finally awake, we may not know that it’s there because it may decide not to reveal itself to us,” Pereira said. “I think we’re going to need to learn to live with that.”

Aside from acquainting himself with the technology at the heart of his novel, Pereira said his agency work also gave him skills that prepared him for a literary career in other ways: the ability to tell complex stories in succinct scenes, the discipline to pace out long-term projects and working as a creative team, which came in handy when juggling notes from agents, editors and publishers.

“It’s like my work as a novelist helps in the advertising world because it gives me a much deeper understanding of characters and plots and everything. And the work in advertising also helps as a novelist,” he said.

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