Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins

Neil Bassett is a thirty-something emotional trainwreck: He's a little obsessed with his ex-wife, he's going to strange extremes to hook up with women, and he's been hired to help build an "intelligent" computer ... based on his dead father.

The gist of the story is Neil learning to act like a grown-up and navigate his own emotions and relationships, while at the same time he's helping the computer HAVE emotions and relationships. Since the program is a virtual version of his own father, Neil's got a strange beyond-the-grave opportunity to hammer out his relationship and past mis-steps with his cold, distant father.

There's a point in the book where the computer, Dr. Bassett, begins to explore the missing parts of his "memory" and ask questions. I had an "OH! This won't be good," moment - you really start to think of the computer as a person and worry about its future. The characters do too - Dr. Bassett becomes a sounding board and adviser to nearly every character; the IM small talk and chit-chat they're all having with the computer (to give it form and correct dialog mis-cues) becomes extremely confessional, even though his advice tends toward the kind found in fortune cookies.

I liked this book; I became very emotionally involved with the computer Dr. Bassett, and couldn't wait to see what happened next. While it's not overly technical, I did tend to skim parts where they discussed the artificial intelligence technology and philosophy. And I really wanted to see if Neil could come out of this a better person, or if it would break him permanently.

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