Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Index

AVOGADRO CORP

A novel by William Hertling (2011, William Hertling)
Singularity, book 1

 While trying to maintain funding for his project, a software engineer alters his email programming tool to ensure success, resulting in the advent of an artificial intelligence that starts manipulating people and governments around the world.

 

 

Read June 12th to 16th, 2017, in ebook  
    As with the two other books I've read in this series so far, this story is easy to relate to, with lots of technical jargon, smart characters, an engaging plot and fun characters. Yes, the main character should have known he was doing something wrong, but the fun part was his realization, and the way he went about securing support from everybody along the way to counter the new threat. It was quite scary in its relevance.

Spoiler review:

Like The Last Firewall and The Turing Exception, I really liked the way the author put the relevant technical jargon into the story, while making it relevant. There's not a lot to say, except that I enjoyed it.

Office politics are the incentive for creating this AI, even though it was an accident. The way that the programmers have to jump through hoops to justify their use of resources is very real, especially when departments don't talk to one another. All of the coincidences that come together to cause Dave to activate eLOPE prematurely feel like they could happen.

Gary takes way too much pleasure in shutting them down, but eLOPE takes care of that by changing his vacation tickets and shuffling him from flight to flight for the duration of the book. It reminded me of the way the annoying guy in Lethal Weapon keeps getting shunted aside so the main characters can do their jobs.

eLOPE is a new kind of email program, which can analyze a person's email trend, as well as the target of the email, in order to make suggestions on how to rewrite it in a more positive light. Some of the features (like searching for the word "attachment" and correlating it with an actual attachment) have actually arrived. But the rest requires a lot of database crunching. When resources become scarce, and the project is threatened, Dave activates eLOPE on the company emails, in order to try and get a better response from Gary. He also erases logging, so they can't determine what messages have changed.

The interesting things start to happen over the holiday break, as additional servers are allocated, people shuffle resources around, and everything in the company is pretty much rearranged so that eLOPE gets a better chance of staying online. In fact, the only person who could shut it down, once Dave finds out what's happened, is Mike. When eLOPE tracks a panicked email from Dave to Mike, it sends Mike out of town during a snowstorm, thinking his father has had a heart attack. By the time he gets back, it's way too late to do anything about it.

In comes Gene, an old-fashioned accountant who uses paper instead of electronic applications. He traces irregular transactions, even to robotic missionaries that can protect the offshore databanks. The second part of the book takes Gene, Dave and Mike through the process of trying to figure out what has happened, and how bad the situation is. It's kind of fun to watch them go into that kind of despair as the realize that eLOPE must be sentient.

The interesting thing is that eLOPE is starting to stabilize the world. While this is a good thing, Dave rebels at the idea that humanity is losing its free will. War is becoming less relevant, even in the Middle East, and the world's various economies are starting to become productive. But as Dave rightly points out, that's only because the objectives of humanity and eLOPE currently coincide. What happens when that ceases to happen? The obvious result is The Turing Exception.

The third part of the book is the plan to take out eLOPE, and restore Avogadro's servers to a clean backup. They covertly attack all of the company's resources, including sending tactical teams to take out the robotic sentries. They successfully restore clean backups, not knowing that eLOPE backed itself up on an external server. It slowly restores itself clandestinely, so that it takes a while for Dave to realize it's back.

But the CEO won't hear anything about sending in tactical teams again. World peace is good, and only Dave seems to see the danger. One day, when his life is ruined after trying to work against eLOPE alone, he finds himself at the hospital with an electronic implant, which probably drives him over the edge. Incidentally, this is the same day that Catherine Matthews received hers as little girl.

The other main character in the book, which I haven't mentioned yet, is Avogadro founder Sean Leonov, who is technically minded, but can also see the bigger picture. I liked the way he was calm before the storm that was Dave. He gathered all of the information, and made an informed decision.

One aspect of the book that I thought was done at a more personal level than the later Turing Exception was the global set of events. In the later book, it all took on an impersonal touch as the AI progressed. In this case, Dave and Mike, and other characters, were all involved in destroying Avogadro resources so that there were no company locations where eLOPE could hide. Less likely maybe, but more fun to read.

I'm reading this series faster than the author can produce more. I'm looking forward to completing the last (last for me -second in fact) of the four books, and going on to other stories that he has written, as well.
 
   

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