Sunday, July 28, 2013

working theory

A Working Theory of Love is Scott Hutchins's first novel, and if things continue along like this, Hutchins has a bright future.

A Working Theory of Love imagines a time in the very near future, maybe 20 minutes from now, when the next phase of intelligent machines is being developed by a small private corporation with an eye toward beating--or maybe more accurately, meeting the requirements of--the Turing Test. The Test itself is offered annually at the Loebner Prize Competition, altho the competition isn't named specifically in the book that I recall, and is essentially Turning's own Imitation Game in which a computer has to imitate human conversation with a human judge, who must be fooled into believing that he or she is conversing with a human being, at least 70 percent of the time. Alan Turing, who developed these ideas in 1950, felt that this could be achieved in about 50 years time, but 2000 has come and gone, and artificial intelligence isn't there yet.

The small group chasing the prize in Working Theory has developed a method of building an artificial personality by adding the diary information of a real person to the basic response algorithms and general knowledge database components that make up an artificial intelligence. Its obviously more complicated than that, but this is essentially a story of people, and the artificial intelligence is one of the characters in the story. The crux of the story is that the small band working on this particular AI consists of a retired AI professor, and young, southeast Asian coder, and the son of the deceased diarist used to create the AI. The son is not a computer programmer, but was hired on to help debug the system, by essentially talking to... an emergent virtual copy of his dead father.

The premise is fascinating, and the story leaps from there, becoming a very complex and introspective look at the relationships of adult children to their parents, with a somewhat spooky peek at the possibilities of a second chance to interact with loved ones who have died. A very real look at what the idea of the Singularity may mean for people, you know... if we still have people in the Asimov tradition of setting the scene in which the technology exists and then exploring what happens.

Read this book!

And Scott Hutchins, I'm talking to you son, get your ass busy and give us another one!

amber room

Okay, so lets get busy. I'm way behind because I've been in Italy for 4 weeks. I know, poor baby. I brought the book I was reading, this one and the two on my 'next up' list, and then bought two more while I was there. I just finished those two, so I've got 5 books to write about.

I've read a number of Steve Berry's books, each of them about his recurring character, Cotton Malone. The Amber Room is not a Cotton Malone story, and I'm pretty sure its Berry's first novel. Both of these facts may help to explain the poor character development; I just didn't feel that I knew, understood or could even connect with any of the characters in this story.

As an adventure story centered around an estranged couple, unwillingly thrown into a world of art theft, Nazi secret stashes,* secret organizations, and post-war legacy making by the Germans, Russians, and others, the story was pretty good. It hung together, and kept me reading, but I didn't love it. You can see Berry getting his legs under himself in this story; he does tell a pretty good story. And character development may be a little easier when you have multiple stories to fine tune who your characters really are, à la Cotton Malone. But in the end, this reads like a first book.

Fun, intricate, interesting but a little flat overall.

* You really ought to click on that link. Check this one too.