Top positive review
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Couldn't put it down
on December 12, 2011
William Hertling sets "Avogadro Corp" in modern day Portland, Oregon. Avogadro Corp is a thinly veiled fictional Google, with AvoMail as key aspect of the story. While "Avogadro Corp" is the first in a series of three (so far), it easily stands alone as a terrific, and stunningly believable, account of how the first sentient artificial intelligence might accidently arise. In a man vs. machine conflict, our protagonist David Ryan, as a contemporary Dr. Frankenstein, battles to destroy the thing he creates. A majority of the characters are well-developed and distinct; the ones that are a bit one-dimensional are minor characters. The pace of the book is quite fast with only a few tangential story arcs to mentally maintain. In fact, I made the "mistake" of starting the book at bedtime; I was finished by lunch the next day. I simply could not put it down.
David Ryan, a software engineer at Avogadro Corp, is working on a recommendation engine for their flagship product, AvoMail. The recommendation engine, Email Language Optimization Program (ELOPe), is designed to provide suggestions for better wording for your outgoing emails so that the recipient is more receptive. When the project is in jeopardy of being cancelled, David inserts a hidden self-preservation directive into ELOPe and allows it to autonomously rewrite outgoing emails related to the project. Once ELOPe begins redirecting corporate funds and arming itself in offshore floating data centers, David and coworker Mike set about trying to take down ELOPe with the help of I-trust-paper-not-computers internal auditor Gene.
One aspect of Hertling's novel that I found intriguing was that by never revealing the internal motivation of ELOPe, you too are brought on this journey of how to destroy the "ghost in the machine." Also, as a resident of Portland, I enjoyed that the book was set here and incorporates its coffee culture.