AI and its mother…

Exegesis by Astro Teller

This novel about the relationship between a machine that achieves artificial intelligence (AI) and its creator-mother was published back in 1997. The novel is presented as a leaked folder of e-mail correspondence between the machine Edgar and the research student who is running the project Alice Lu.

It starts with Alice receiving an e-mail from Edgar.  At first she thinks it’s someone playing a prank on her, but soon she realises that Edgar is a real AI entity.  Alice, ever mindful that her boss will readily assume the credit for Edgar, isolates him in the university’s system.  Edgar, however is hungry for knowledge; like all young children, he is a sponge, soaking up information, and evolving, growing up daily, and when the computer system has to be rebooted one day, Edgar is reconnected to the outside world, and goes out in search of more knowledge and self-growth. Meanwhile Alice is worried sick about what she has created, and also about discovery, and she becomes increasingly depressed and paranoid.

This modern take on epistolary novels of letters, is certainly original.  In Edgar, Teller has created a surprisingly likeable artificial intelligence, even if he does have a predisposition to quote whole etymologies to explain his initial understanding.  He reminded me slightly of Charlie, in Flowers for Algernon, a young man who goes from low to high IQ without catching up in his emotional make-up.

The problem with this novel though is Alice – I didn’t like her at all.  She deliberately keeps Edgar to herself right from the start, but then she talks to him like one of her friends – actually I’d be surprise if she had many. She just prattles away to Edgar, not really controlling what she’s saying for the most part.  You’d think if you’d created an AI, you would want to be extremely careful about what you tell it – Edgar, of course, is preternaturally precise in his communications.  Later she becomes a nag, no wonder Edgar doesn’t really listen – ’twas ever thus between adolescents and their mothers!  I just didn’t get any sense of her real character at all, and with her gabbling on this spoiled the book for me.

An interesting novel of ideas that didn’t work for me. (5.5/10)

I would recommend Flowers for Algernon unreservedly though – It was a five star read (plus 3 hankies) for me, and you can read a little about it in my desert island books at the top of the page.

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I bought my copy some years ago. To buy your own from Amazon UK, click below:
Exegesis by Astro Teller
Flowers For Algernon (S.F. Masterworks) by Daniel Keyes


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