In university and corporate laboratories both in China and the US, as well as many other countries, computer scientists are struggling to advance artificial intelligence. Again and again, we learn about big improvements in the field. However, many informed observers seem to think that what is known as artificial general intelligence (AGI), or AI that’s equal to or greater than human intelligence, is far off in the future if not impossible. But there’s another possibility, or at least that’s what programmer and science fiction author Will Hertling seems to think: that AGI will simply evolve by accident from an unwitting attempt by humans to accomplish something altogether different. And he’s written at least two novels to dramatize that theme.
In Hertling’s first novel, Avogadro Corp: The Singularity Is Closer Than it Appears, a brilliant programmer charged with enhancing an email program sees it spiral out of control as it acquires the ability to understand and manipulate human thoughts and actions. The sequel, A. I. Apocalypse, posits a very different scenario. A brilliant teenage gamer is forced to engineer a virus that will enable the Russian mob to control millions of computers worldwide. His creation, grounded in evolutionary biology, results in spreading colonies of viruses that go to war among themselves — and eventually the human race as well. And humanity is only saved in the end by the super-intelligent AGI created by Avogadro Corporation.
A. I. Apocalypse (Singularity #2) by William Hertling (2012) 264 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)
Neither one of these novels was a candidate for a literary award, and no wonder. The topic is timely, with interest rising in artificial general intelligence, and the ideas in these novels are provocative. But the style and execution are much weaker. And A. I. Apocalypse especially suffers from the lack of an editor and proofreader. No matter. I enjoyed the play of ideas, and if you’re a science fiction fan, you probably will, too.
For further reading
You’ll find my review of the first book in the Singularity series, Avogadro Corp: The Singularity Is Closer Than it Appears, at A cautionary tale about artificial intelligence, as well as the third, The Last Firewall , at A grim view of life after the singularity. I’ve also posted Two dozen good books about artificial intelligence reviewed here.
For more good reading, check out:
- The ultimate guide to the all-time best science fiction novels;
- Great sci-fi novels reviewed: my top 10 (plus dozens of runners-up); and
- The top 10 dystopian novels reviewed here (plus dozens of others).
And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site, on the Home Page.