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Artificial versus Human Intelligence
on February 5, 2010
When planes start dropping out of the sky and when people and their electronic equipment - computers and cellular phones - are baked and fried from a deadly energy pulse, the CIA, FBI, Homeland Security, and the President of the United States discover they are helpless against their own technology, which has been commandeered by a group of terrorists and turned against them. Without any plausible way for the government to prevent the terrorists from destroying the lives of millions of people on the East Coast - unless the government meets their demands - Dan Riker, a family man and an IT Security Expert, finds himself in the middle of a technological war that will remind the reader of the many patriotic exploits of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan. If you like Jack Ryan, you'll love Dan Riker.
Policastro's second novel, Dark End of the Spectrum, is a blockbuster of a story, with nonstop action that will keep you turning the pages. You will be swept away not only by the nonstop action that is typical of such authors as Tom Clancy, James Rollins, and Harlan Coben, you'll be captivated by Dan Riker's wife, Amelia, and his daughter, Kaileigh, who are abducted and held hostage by the terrorists to prevent Riker from helping the government. You will be reminded of one of the more classical and memorable lines of Bogart when he says to Bergman at the end of Casablanca: "The problem of three little people don't mount to a hill of beans in this crazy world." And this is significant because Bogart expresses the same sentiments Riker feels throughout the story, especially when he is forced to choose between saving the lives of millions of unsuspecting people or saving the lives of his beloved wife and daughter. Since reading Dark End of the Spectrum, I've often asked myself how would I respond if I woke up one morning and found myself facing a similar, undesirable situation or predicament as Dan Riker.
Creating fascinating prose, a wrenching human drama, and nonstop action is not an easy feat for any writer to accomplish, but Policastro succeeds superbly. He manages to explicate in layman terms the intricate workings behind modern technology, including PDAs, ultra wide band frequencies, heat seeking projectiles, direct energy weapons, direct energy pulses, global positioning systems, eye scans, computer chips with artificial intelligence, cellular phone technology, and the Internet. You will be more than a little fascinated by the workings of the neural bracelet that Riker and Takara wear on their wrists to communicate without the help of words their inner thoughts, emotions, and desires to one another over distance.
Dan Riker will find his way out of several interesting and deadly situations. For instance, Policastro will have him trapped in a buried school bus with Jake Stone, a former CIA agent and IT expert who will help Riker escape from the terrorists. Riker is also sent on a 150-mile trek across North Carolina to Wilmington in search of his wife and daughter, and falls into another trap. Your heart will be racing and pumping adrenaline as Riker narrowly escapes heat seeking projectiles, and cellular phones that are used by the terrorists to deliver deadly energy pulses.
Policastro portrays Riker as a well-rounded American male, whose life may be described as normal, serene, and unchallenging. However, all of this changes when his family is abducted and he becomes obsessed with the idea of revenge and doing whatever it takes to get his wife and daughter safely back home. While driving back to Raleigh from Wilmington, he recalls how he had argued with Amelia at the end of what had begun as a pleasant day-trip to the beach, and he feels both guilt and remorse, as he looks across at the empty seat where Amelia would've been sitting if she hadn't been abducted and if he hadn't thought he was the only man who could stop the terrorist and save his country.
Policastro skillfully breaks up the pacing and rhythm of the action by introducing comic relief at crucial moments in the characters of Jeanine Braggloisi and Gary Stakhower. You will find their repartee to be comedic, delightful, and promising. It is a wonderful touch to a fast-paced story.
The author also brings into discussion major themes and conflicts that keenly differentiate between old and new technology, and human and artificial intelligence. Happily for mankind, the author creates a world in which human intelligence with all its flaws still has the mental wherewithal to outsmart the artificial intelligence it strove to create through computer silicon chips. It is the old technology of radio vacuum tubes and the courage of Hildy Grummenweurkes that eventually outsmarts the artificial intelligence of the computer chip that was growing exponentially stronger or more intelligent with the passing of each day. The scale representing human intelligence on one side and artificial intelligence on the other side is shifting. Riker, Friedheld, Sanchez, Motega, Bastille, Braggloisi, Stakhower, Taraka, Grummenweurkes and others are able to thwart or slow down the shift in balance, keeping it, for the moment, in favor of humanity. But, the author has made us aware that a shift in balance is occurring, and that a day might arrive when the balance of power might shift in favor of artificial intelligence. If this should occur, will humanity becomes slaves of machines with higher artificial intelligence? I don't know. But, I am thankful that we have authors like Anthony Samuel Policastro who raise our awareness to these possibilities, and create interesting characters like Dan Riker who will strive to keep the balance of power in favor of humanity.