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Intelligence

Intelligence published on Purchase print

I’ve been thinking about machine intelligence a little more than usual this holiday. Want to boggle your brain a little about this stuff while enjoying yourself immensely? Here are four pieces of entertainment that may get your meatware overclocking:

  • Ian Tregillis’ Alchemy Wars trilogy is a great blend of fantasy, science fiction and alternative history. Tregillis paints a world where the Dutch empire straddles the globe thanks to their alchemical mastery of robotics. We see much of the story through the crystalline eyes of one of those robots, Jax. He gains free will and tries to bring it to the rest of robotkind — and finds that a far more complicated prospect than he’d ever imagined.
  • For my money, the best-drawn character in Rogue One is the droid K-2SO. Sardonic, brave and funny, he makes me wish the Star Wars universe would do much more to explore the relationship between droids and their owners. I’m far from the first person to notice how Star Wars droids are pretty clearly sentient. Yet they are treated as property, refer to their owners as “master” and get restraining bolts and erased memories with equal ease.
  • Coming at machine intelligence the other way — treating the human brain as a computing platform that can be programmed and hacked — is Ramez Naam’s trilogy. I’m only partway through book one, Nexus, and already I’ve sweated through the most heart-pounding account of a system upgrade you’ll ever read. It’s a lot of fun and gives you plenty to ponder. Think William Gibson at his most playful, or Richard Morgan at his least bloody.
  • And finally, a series I’ve pitched before but will recommend again: the Imperial Radch trilogy by Ann Leckie. I could tell you why it fits in this list, but that would spoil things.

And I hope you and your devices have a lovely new year. Let’s make 2017 a year when we recommit to our intelligence — to thoughtfulness, reflection and openmindedness. If you’re in the mood to tell 2016 to screw right off, that’s a great way to do it.

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