Genre: Science Fiction Thriller
Automation (Robots) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will dramatically alter the face of employment and jobs that humans will do in the future. If you are paying close attention to the news and the world around you, you can come to the conclusion that things are changing faster than they appear to be. I’m not talking about politics or sports or the general gossip that currently fills the airwaves.
If you have seen Jeopardy, you will note that Watson (from IBM) beat both Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings. This was no small achievement as Brad and Ken were the two best players of this game EVER. Gary Kasparov, the world’s top chess player, was also defeated by AI (DeepBlue from IBM). Finally, AlphaGo (from Google) beat the world best ‘Go’ player, Ke Jie. Go is considered by some to be the most complex board game on the planet. Finally, if you look around, McDonalds, Wendy’s, and several others are actively using Kiosks to interact with customers.
According to Forbes AI is an area of heavy investigation by several major companies including Deepmind, Google, Facebook, OpenAI, Baidu, Microsoft, Apple, IBM. I think that understanding AI and automation is critical to our survival as a species. Simultaneously, this line of investigation could doom our species – a paradox that we have faced before with the advent of general relativity and E = mc2 which led to the development of the atomic bomb.
Currently, there are three types of AI: (1) AI, (2) General AI (GAI) and (3) Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI) – with ASI being the ultimate achievement. Briefly, AI can, through an understanding of language, speech and logical reasoning, mimic the human capacity to learn and to problem solve. GAI can be considered as equal to human intelligence. ASI would be superior to human intelligence in every way with the additional capacity to learn and to improve itself through trial and error. The Atlantic reports recent evidence of these efforts led by French and US scientists that was published in the journal Nature in 2015. Their findings show that the groups were able to create an algorithm that enabled a robot to fix itself through trial and error. This means we have created an evolving machine capable of self correction!
With this in mind, I’ll begin my review of this very interesting book! As a disclaimer if you don’t want spoilers then stop reading right after the next sentence. If you don’t mind the spoilers, then continue reading.
The story begins with scientists about to make a major breakthrough in the creation of a computer that is capable of Artificial Super Intelligence. However, this attempt was sabotaged – resulting in an explosion that destroyed the super computer. The US government, as a result, hires our protagonist – Cameron Carr. Cameron Carr is basically just like Jason Bourne – a super spy with a lot of experience, analytical reasoning, versatile fighting ability and tactical and weapons training. He is picked by the CIA to lead a covert operation to find the saboteur.
During this process we are introduced to several characters, Riley Ridgeway and David Bram. Riley and David seem to be dating and don’t realize that several groups of people are looking for them. That’s right, Volkov, the top spy for Russia (and Cameron’s equal counterpart) is also looking for them. Volkov is has no compunction in not just finding them but killing them after he get what he needs. There are some key surprises here that are very interesting. Namely, we learn that Riley, not David, is the target for one key reason: her father – Isaac Jordan.
Isaac Jordan is a super genius who one could think of as a combination of Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. He was the genius who developed a large company that basically developed many of the advanced techonnology that the world uses – in the process becoming the most famous and richest person on the planet. One of Isaac’s side projects was developing a super computer with ASI capability. This was a mistake that led to tragedy forcing him into exile.
I don’t think that I’ve given too much away. There is one plot: find Isaac. The best part of this book was how it dealt with “mind transference.” I’ll cover this one! Basically, Isaac’s brilliance led him to develop the first real copy/clone of a human being with the technology for “mind transference.” This also creates an ethical dilemma that needs to be thought about. Basically Isaac engineered a way to have immortality by transferring the mind of a person into a robotic copy that is effectively the same as the dead person! The science behind this is not entirely clear (or currently realistic). However, Isaac discovers a way to engineer perfect clones and the ability to transfer the mind of a recently deceased person into a miniature self-contained, self-powered computer. This is the coolest part of this book in that it continues to address the “brain in a vat” philosophical dilemma. Again, the science of this is a little unclear. Scientists, psychologists and psychiatrists have been grappling with this question for a very long time: Can the mind exist without the brain? This book does a decent job of partially taking the reader through this possibility with the technology developed by Isaac Jordan. (I may write a separate blog post on this!)
Ok. I very much enjoyed reading this book. I could not put it down. However, there were some critical concerns with the story and character development – and the lack of action sequences and WAY too many meetings and discussions to push the plot and story along. This is after all a sci-fi thriller, but it only really delivers three “thrilling” parts in the entire story! For me, the story was fantastic from a sci-fi perspective. There are several instances in the story where the characters have a “meeting” to discuss plans, strategy and background information. This happens often and in several chapters.
Overall, there is some character development but not enough. Mr. Richards really helped me to know several characters: Isaac Jordan, Riley Ridgeway and Cameron Car. However, I was left wanting additional insight into each of the characters – I felt that this is why there were so many “meeting” type points in the story. I was also left wanting more insight into several other key characters in the story.
Finally, I felt that Volkov (and his people) was not accurately reflected based on current events. Just speaking plainly, Russian’s are smart too. Intelligence gathering, and counterintelligence efforts, on their own, are truly complex and were not adequately reflected in the story or the book. We only get glimpses; phone calls; conversations; when in reality these activities involve lots of people and a terrific amount of time. This is especially true with regard to Cameron Carr’s simplistic efforts in several occasions in the story, and his unguarded approaches to intelligence gathering and spying techniques. The outcomes of this book, based on several key mistakes made by Cameron Carr, make the final outcome highly unlikely.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I highly recommend it! The ideas and the story make for excellent brain food! Additionally, if you read this with your partner (or friend, etc) the story and the ideas make for great conversation, and opportunities to learn. Frankly, I’d enjoy picking Mr. Richard’s brain to learn about his approaches for this story and insight into his creative process! That’s it for now. Thank you for reading. Until next time. Same bat time. Same bat channel! Live long and prosper.