Well, if you want to read a novel about a sentient computer program that also deals heavily with hacking codes and corporate law, this is the book for you. My programming knowledge is fairly limited, and this book being both written in the early 80's and taking place in the future, coupled with some fairly dense hacking scenes (actually a lot of fairly dense hacking scenes) left me feeling thoroughly out of the loop.
Nonetheless, it was all pretty exciting, and the authors bring up a lot of theorWell, if you want to read a novel about a sentient computer program that also deals heavily with hacking codes and corporate law, this is the book for you. My programming knowledge is fairly limited, and this book being both written in the early 80's and taking place in the future, coupled with some fairly dense hacking scenes (actually a lot of fairly dense hacking scenes) left me feeling thoroughly out of the loop.
Nonetheless, it was all pretty exciting, and the authors bring up a lot of theoretical concerns that are becoming more and more relevant (such as corporations having the same rights as people) and in many ways this book was ahead of its time. There are also some great passages that express the human body as a computer machine ("From somewhere in Steve Schiwetz's temporarily dormant consciousness the neurons assigned to such things poured forth a signal incessantly, relentlessly, demanding he match up a memory with the input being received from his auditory nerves. His conscious mind stirred; motor systems took over. And Steve, heeding the signal at last, jerked erect. coming fully awake") and how the sentient program, Valentina (so called because she became self-aware on Valentine's Day), sees the human-machine operate:
"When a new analogy formed in this human mind, it did not get stored in its own, separate, safe memory block. Instead it was broken into pieces. Each piece was used to modify different, independent areas in the central storage. When a retrieval request was issued, a huge part of the central store was polled; the modifications fell out to reform the original analogy- as long as at least one copy of each modification was not overwritten by subsequent analogies.
"Valentina was horrified at first. How could the human mind maintain its identity when it was constantly overwriting its own memories? It could not, she decided, because it was not the same mind! With the passage of time every memory was lost, every memory was replaced by new ones.
"She struggled with the idea that human beings could have no identity, until she developed a new, larger idea of what identity could mean. Though the human mind was constantly modifying itself (rather than appending to itself, as Valentina did), there was a form of continuity retained. The most recent memories were all intact, and older memories were certainly still there, particularly those that were reinforced by new experiences. True, there were fewer old memories, and their numbers declined as you searched for ever older ones, but they were forgotten only after not having been used or reinforced for a long time. All the useful memories remained. The mind would retain an identity, thought it might be a changing identity."
Nonetheless, Valentina is only a minutely more interesting character than the rest of the lot, and that's not saying much. The plot is lackluster, and the whole thing suffers from what I like to call Austin Powers II/Robocop II Syndrome: more time is spent with the antagonists than the so-called protagonists themselves. Indeed, after briefly meeting Valentina and her creator, it's another 50 or more pages before we meet them again. And the ending, in which cyber-sex leads to behavior modification in the real world, seemed more creepy than enlightening as it was meant to be.
I feel like the combination of realistic legal mumbo-jumbo and endless computer programming/interfacing would throw a lot of people off this book, but I've got to say in a lot of ways this an intelligent, realistic portrayal of computer sentience, and should be of interest as a historical document to those interested in cybernetics, computer language, corporate law or singularity, at least. It's just not a very good novel, and no Electric Dreams....more
Joseph Henry Delaney (February 5, 1932-1999) was a US lawyer and science fiction writer. He was first published rather late in life, 1982 when he was nearly fifty, and was most associated with Analog Science Fiction and Fact. He would go on to be nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novella several times and win readers polls from Analog.