Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Book Review: WWW: Watch

This review is about the second book in a trilogy. The review of the first book is here.

I read pretty much everything Robert J Sawyer puts out. His book "Calculating God" got me hooked and the TV series "FlashForward" is based on another of his novels. All of his books are near future science fiction. That is, he takes the world we know, changes one thing, and examines how that change will effect the individuals closest to it and society as a whole.

In this trilogy he's having an artificial intelligence develop on the internet. No programmer or home servers. It is made up of rogue packets on the internet (to put it painfully simply).

There is also a girl who was blind, but now has a device that allows her to see. It also allows the AI to see.

And there's a chimp/bonobo hybrid that is learning to talk via sign language. He makes a friend at another research institution via webcam.

That pretty well covers the first book. See the link at the top for this post for more.

In the second book, "WWW: Watch", we find out about a US government organization called WATCH that monitors the internet for threats. And just like how we have a plan for what to do if intelligent life in outer space is discovered they have also thought about what to do in the case of a digital intelligence. They want to make sure there's no SkyNet or Matrix. The plan basically says "kill it", but they still want to talk to the President first.

The eye technology improves so that the WebMind can hear as well as see through the girl's eyes. It can even send text messages right into her line of vision. It can also start to view videos online instead of just text. After WebMind witnesses a suicide broadcast via webcam she and her family start trying to teach it right from wrong.

The people at WATCH can't figure out how to kill WebMind. They can't question the blind girl's family directly so they get the Canadian FBI to do it for them. Same with the Japanese and the researcher there.

It's decided that the best way to keep WebMind safe is to make it publicly known. Maybe the government would think twice if they couldn't just kill it in secret. Sure, some people would be scared, but many would oppose killing it. So he announces himself by eliminating all spam for a day and sending out an e-mail to everyone whose spam he's removed. He says he hopes he can benefit mankind in many more ways. He quickly becomes a Dear Abby sort.

Then there's the primate. Having hit puberty, his violent chimp side has started to come out. But WebMind gets onto his webcam feed and explains who he is and the decisions he has to make in life.

The book is an engaging read. Some books drag and you wonder why so little has passed after what feels like so much reading. This is the opposite. I find myself amazed at how much book has blown by.

The third book in the trilogy, "WWW: Wonder", recently came out. I wasn't able to find a copy of "WWW: Watch" in book stores until just a few weeks ago. Now I have to keep my eye out for a third. I recommend these and pretty much everything that Sawyer has done.

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