Prominent and knowledgeable people including Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking have been warning us for years about the danger of artificial general intelligence. They envision a point at which AI will surpass the cognitive abilities of the smartest human and start becoming even smarter at an exponential rate. Other observers see a more immediate threat from AI, one well underway as I write: the displacement of jobs through automation. And it’s that theme Erik Hanberg explores in Semi/Human. It’s a fanciful tale of a jobless future centered on the friendship of an eighteen-year-old woman and an autonomous semi trailer truck named Lara-B.
Semi/Human by Erik Hanberg (2020) 314 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)
Penny Davis, known as Pen, was one of the last people laid off from T-Six, the company that first achieved the breakthrough to artificial general intelligence. T-Six now manufactures all the robots that have taken everyone’s jobs, Lara-B among them.
“‘At some point,’ she explains, ‘people who say things like “jobs of the future” need to realize that it is the future—and there aren’t any jobs.'”
In this fanciful tale of a jobless future, there are practically no jobs
And, yes, it’s almost literally true that there are no jobs left. No more human drivers, no more human farmers, and precious few human beings doing productive work of any sort anymore. “The game was Winner Take All, just like Silicon Valley had always wanted it.” And now that Penny is flat broke like just about everyone else, she has fled her father’s home in Connecticut and is on her way back to San Francisco to pull off a forty-million-dollar heist.
Now, Lara-B wasn’t supposed to be autonomous. But it turns out that Penny is a gifted coder who knows the AI software inside and out from her internship at T-Six. She manages to rewrite the truck’s program to give herself administrative authority—but, oops! she blows it. Instead of gaining control herself, Penny has transferred authority from the trucking company to Lara-B herself. Now the two rush across the country from Connecticut to California, bickering from time to time. They dodge police barricades and roving bands of scavengers alike in a series of outrageous escapades and adventures. But nothing will stop them. They’re off to Silicon Valley for Penny to steal that forty-million-dollar prize, whatever it may be.
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