About a year ago I wrote about the „Avogadro Corp“ by William Hertling, the first book of his Singularity Series. A week ago I finished reading „The Turing Exception“, the fourth and final instalment and a worthy close to the series.
The Turing Exception follows common patterns of the series. Avogadro Corp was set in 2015 with its sequels taking place 10 years later each. With The Turing Exception we’ve now arrived at around 2045 and in a world that in some respects still seems familiar but mostly is very different from today’s, even alien: The Singularity has long since occurred with technological progress taking an ever faster pace. Artifical intelligence is by far the most dominant life form on Earth, only reined in by a carefully calibrated reputation system that makes sure that – however intelligent they are – AIs still act to the benefit of humanity. Technology has progressed tremendously with nanotech allowing creation of almost any piece of hardware or machinery – no matter how large or small – literally out of thin air. This is the world of smart dust, augmented human beings and post-scarcity economics.
Hertling has a wonderful way of creating a world of vastly superior technology that at the same time seems believable. While certainly fantastic from today’s point of view those inventions and breakthroughs are far from being far-fetched. It’s hard for any futurist or science-fiction author to accurately predict future technological development. In the end we’re all children of our time with the narrow perspective of this time. Still, there are some visionaries who some to be able to look beyond these limits and whose predictions at least in some cases are uncannily spot on. Jules Verne and William Gibson particularly come to mind here.
In some way some of Hertling’s predictions for 2015 have already materialized: This year a new app called Crystal was released, which (or shouldn’t I rather say ‚who‘?) analyzes the personalities and emotions of the participants in an email conversation and makes recommendation regarding how to continue in order to successfully communicate your goals. In Hertling’s words Crystal is half of ELOPe, the first AI from Avogadro Corp (side note: On his blog, the author also reviews the technology introduced in his books, which also makes for an interesting read.).
So, while technology serves both as thought-provoking backdrop and central theme what I found most intriguing about The Turing Exception are the more philosophical questions arising from rapid technological progress, such as questions of identity and reality. I also really liked the abundant cultural references (warning: Minor spoiler ahead if you don’t want to miss a laugh or two while reading the book) such as:
- Cory Doctorow – of all people – having become the CEO of Disney.
- AI contemplating conspiracy theories about humans and the ‚actual‘ origin of AI. Maybe, conspiracy theories are an inherent trait of intelligence after all?
- Molly Millions making a cameo.