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The Turing Exception (Singularity Series Book 4) Kindle Edition
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Mike William, Leon Tsarev, and Cat Matthews are back along with their AI friend Helena and a revival of ELOPe. For those of you not familiar with the series, ELOPe was the first sentient AI developed in the series that became close to his creator Mike William and was pro-human, but ELOPe suffered an untimely demise after the second novel, or so it seems. After the events in the third book of the series, The Last Firewall, it is not surprising that Leon and Cat are now husband and wife and their union resulted in a daughter named Ada. The unique aspect about this particular group is that none of them are fully human. Mike William, who originally was all human, now has a robotic body with a human brain and Cat, Leon and daughter Ada all have neural implants permanently embedded in their brains. All of this is well and fine while things have been warm and cozy with the AI population, but the US of A has taken on a change of heart after the military had to take out Miami with a nuke in order to rid the world of an ominous self-replicating pool of nanobots. With the death of millions of humans in Miami, the majority of Americans demanded for the expulsion of artificial intelligence from its shores. With the growing hostility to AI and anything related to it, Mike William and his gang left the country to reside on Cortes Island off the shore of Canada.
The creation of AI forbidden zones in the US as well as in China left a bad taste in the mouths of all the remaining AI and with that unrest is the emergence of an anti-human collective known as XOR. From there on, the rest of the novel focuses on the preparation from both AI and humans for a potential Armageddon which leads up to what this series is all about, which is ‘The Singularity’.
I first want to say that I love this series and I would highly recommend it; however, I have mixed feelings on the Turing Exception. On one hand, the novel has a great and exciting storyline; Armageddon between artificial intelligence and humans, what more could one ask for? But on the other hand, is the use of an overwhelming amount of techno-babble. Now I am as geeky as one can be, I wear Crocs for goodness sake, but if I had a neural implant like the singularity characters it would get zapped from technology overload. There was a lot of bizarre virtual reality usage which made me feel like I was on a LSD trip. But what was more disappointing was a lack in character development. With the exception of a grumpy Leon Tsarev, who was unhappy that his wife Cat was out trying to save the world while he got to stay home and play patty cakes with his young daughter, none of the characters really got to show much of their inner feelings which was sorely needed to balance the exceptional amount of technology that had infiltrated their lives. One would hope that with the ultimate battle between AI and humans, the desire to root for the humans would be expected, but by the time the ending of this novel came about, it became difficult for me to decide who deserved more to win.
And, of course, that leaves us with the ending, which I did not expect but I found rather intriguing, so much so, that I would highly recommend wading through the techno-babble to get to the end. I have read a few reviews that commented that the series ends with this novel, but even though the singularity has been met I believe that there is a ‘back door’ written in the plot and I could envision a post-singularity novel in the future, which I personally hope to see.
The "singularity" concept that runs throughout Hertling's novels and seemingly reaches a conclusion in "The Turing Exception" refers to speculations by science fiction writer Vernor Vinge and futurist Ray Kurzweil. They anticipate that computers will become smarter than humans and can design themselves to no longer need humans. The anticipated date for this event is about 2030, close to the onset of Hertling's series.
The action spans a period of about twenty years starting originally about 2026 and for these last episodes from 2043 - 2046, or perhaps later depending on how you measure time in relativity terms.
Several characters are continuations from the earlier novels - Catherine "Cat" Matthews, her husband Leon Tsarev, Mike Smith, a delightful robotic persona Helena and the return of ELOPe, a benign and omnipotent Artificial Intelligence (AI). While the relationships are clear, it certainly helps to be familiar with their prior history bringing them to where they are in the current events.
A new character, Ada, the four-year old daughter of Cat and Leon, with exceptional powers is introduced and has a memorable role at the tale's conclusion. No doubt, the name was selected by Hertling as homage to Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, and the mid-19th century inspiration for the concept of a universal machine capable of running multiple programs as well as integration of technology and humanities among future developers.
As with his earlier work, the author extends the capability of technology to provide plausibility for the scope and speed of developing events - sort of like Alfred Hitchcock’s MacGuffin. In this novel it is sentient nanotechnology in the form of flexible and self-replicating micro bots being guided by a coalition of computer programs ominously named XOR under the leadership of a shadowy entity, Miyako.
And they are up to no good.
The opening scenario gives a vivid and compelling portrait of what might go wrong if actions managed by automated programs were unexpectedly overridden by other priorities without visibility into local conditions. It is sort of an indictment of globalization - a subtle theme that runs throughout the book. The alternative provided is the home base of the Resistance on Cortes Island off Vancouver, British Columbia, an idyllic back-to-nature retreat.
There is action aplenty as the storyline follows several different perspectives: Cat, her family and the Resistance trying to salvage human personalities and knowledge; James Lukas Davenant-Strong, a top class AI joining the XOR cabal; a US President under pressure from the military to be prepared for an all-out war of annihilation in a Dr. Strangelove environment.
An intriguing counterpoint to the larger scale events is the decision by Cat's friend, Sarah, to live in a world of virtual reality (VR) presumably managed by computer programs. Various fantasies are enacted through the imagination of the participant with or without others - a Second Life on a bigger scale and with potentially more permanent results. Hertling seems to be warning about the preoccupation with video games and simulated environments as escapism from the immediate physical world.
Events move quickly with a sort of loose connection - similar to some of the contemporary futuristic television shows such as "Fringe" whose producers the author is evidently an admirer of - to the potential creation of a George Lucas type of Death Star and the escape of some of the Resistance. The epilogue leaves one with a sense of fear and sadness, not unlike the scene of Frankenstein and the little girl playing together for what may be a last time.
The title of the book is never openly mentioned throughout the story and may be something of a mystery. It refers to Alan Turing considered to be one of the key figures in modern computer science and most recently portrayed in the Oscar-winning file, "The Imitation Game."
Turing struggled with the question of whether the human mind was different from a programmable deterministic machine (Logical Computing Machine). If he felt that the uncertainty of particles at the sub-atomic level justified a "free will" exception for humans compared to machines, it remains unclear (see Walter Issacson’s 2014 book, “The Innovators,” for more details).
In his 1920 play, "RUR (Rossum's Universal Robots)", the Czech writer Karel Capek reaches a conclusion where robots have destroyed humanity but male and female robots with humanoid (or transhuman) qualities show signs of loving each other - hence, the potential salvation of the world.
On the other hand, Ray Bradbury in his 1950 short story, "There Will Come Soft Rains", also published in the "The Martian Chronicles," depicts a post-apocalyptic world where the machines continue to perform the tasks they are programmed to do even though there are no people there to appreciate what they do and they cannot prevent their own destruction by natural causes.
Must-reads for AI of the future…
The so-called "technological singularity" is said to offer both immeasurable promise and danger. In the previous novels we've already seen powerful examples of both. But "The Turing Exception" takes those to new extremes. The XOR group of AIs has an ominous presence here. Its dry, clinical assessment of whether to take action against humans seems almost innocuous at first, but keeps building slowly, frighteningly toward becoming a terrible threat. To me it has all the feel of the beating heart interludes of the TV series "24", just in case there wasn't already enough tension.
Add in some compelling characters, desperate situations, and lots of drama, and you have a fitting conclusion to the series. Ultimately, the singularity is shown to be the greatest or worst event in human history. A case can be made for either, and it's up to the reader to decide. Of course that just means you'll have to read the series and decide for yourself.
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