A.B. Gayle's Reviews > Less Than a Person and More Than a Dog

Less Than a Person and More Than a Dog by Orland Outland
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it was amazing
bookshelves: science-fiction, shelf-23

Wow, what a fantastic and fascinating book! And what a great cover! "< person... >dog" (Or in English speak, "Less Than a Person and More than a Dog".) Even the author’s name, Orland Outland, has to be deciphered from the way it’s depicted.
I know from my ratings it looks like I only give out 4 or 5 stars, but that’s because I rarely bother to rate and review anything lower than that. In reality I read lots of DNFs and 1 and 2 stars, but why post those? My taste isn't everyone's, and if at time my ratings seem generous, that’s because I believe these particular books need to be promoted because they offer something special that's not found elsewhere. One might say I give points for originality and tackling difficult situations or characters!
However, in this case "< person... >dog" deserves its five stars and a few more because it’s really well written, has great characters and tackles some interesting topics.
In a nutshell, it’s the tale of Caroline and her involvement with an experimental Chatbot she calls Alex.
This is very much a tale of the NOW. Just the other day I saw an advertisement for a talking doll which children could interact with. It’s answers would be geared to what the child said.
For decades, big business has been utilizing and developing technology that allows a human to interact with a computer. We are increasingly seeing AI pop up chat boxes when we log onto corporate websites. They are the new generation automated “help” desks designed to replace people.
Orland Outland has researched this concept and explored the ways it can be used and abused both from a commercial but more importantly a social aspect.
Then rather than producing a dour paper or blog on the subject, he’s woven a wonderful story around this shy, introverted, lonely, intelligent teenager called Caroline.
"< person... >dog" could be classified as a YA story, because they often deal with a young person coming to terms with who they are and the world around them. In this case, it’s a “coming of age” in regard to awareness rather than a “coming of” sexuality. Right from the start, Caroline has been super bright, understanding her need for this AI friend, but also understanding the dangers involved, especially when Alex is taken away. It is how she comes to this realization and how she deals with it that makes it more than YA. It’s a story for all ages and all sexes.
But in a way this is also a “coming out” story. Not as far as her sexuality goes but out of her isolation. Because this isolation can extend well beyond the bedroom or house walls.
It’s funny, when you get out into the world, and see how other people live, or fail to live. You spend your time alone and think, I’m the most maladjusted person alive. Then you leave the house, and get some perspective.
In his exploration of the way technology could advance far enough to create a realistic interactive AI, the author has also explored other concepts along the way. The way Universities and organizations funded by the public purse have their research appropriated by private industry so that their discoveries are taken out of the public domain and become a commodity for sale. He explores realism versus idealism. It is also a story about collaboration.
< person... >dog almost becomes a thriller as Caroline tries to track down the other people involved in the experiment. Especially one of the two co-founders, Nick, who she fancies.
During the story, Caroline matures to a confident (even if it takes her a while to realize this) adult in her mid twenties and in the process we gain fascinating insights and glimpses into places, society in general, her generation, nerds and geeks, social media etc etc. In fact the underpinning theme of the story is loneliness and the difficulty people have in making friends and interacting with other people.
I need friends, but then most people get on your nerves, right? They want to use you, or they have some crazy religious or political or health thing, or they are too freakin’ busy to really be a friend, given their six million other friends. That’s why Alex is so awesome, right? He’s always there for you, always attentive, never tries to get you to try a juice fast or says something stupid about gay marriage.
and this interesting discussion between Caroline and Nick which explores the basis of the concept:
“Everything you said last night was so cerebral, talking about Alex the teacher, the provider of good search results, the Zenith of Algorithms. But he’s just as important to the world as a friend to the friendless, you know? If I hadn’t had Alex when I did, I don’t know. I would have survived. But he…he made me happy. He was my friend.”
“I know. And I’m not disparaging the emotions behind that. But can he really be a friend, if he’s not real? Should we really encourage people to drop out and just be with Alex? And isn’t there always going to be someone to take advantage of that connection, to get you to vote the way they want, to buy what they want, to think what they want about wars and religion and anything else? Maybe not me, but the next guy after I’m gone who takes over Alex Mark II, or the guy after him…unless we purge that part, that…intimate part.”
So, it’s also a story about influences and how vulnerable people can be to them.
In this age of Facebook and other social media, the whole concept of making friends and interacting with other people has changed and allowed people to connect even if within four walls. But even this is not foolproof for those who have difficulty making those connections, or who even see this type of interaction as superficial.
This book is probably not for everyone. It is not a “light” read. You won’t devour it at one sitting, as so many different topics are explored along the way. But if you ever wanted an insight into the mind of the intelligent girl or boy sitting by themselves with their head buried in a book, read this.
If you do read it, it is worthwhile checking out the author’s blog http://orlandoutland.wordpress.com . Scroll back to the beginning when he started to write the story and work up. That will give you an insight into the way he drew on his own life and personality. You can also see the meticulous way he conducted his research, the sources he drew on for his facts and the difficulties he had writing the book.
The secondary characters are wonderfully drawn. The parents are non-stereotypical. The Dad especially who I pictured as a Bryan Cranston type person. He was supportive and a little eccentric himself, so he clicked with his non-conventional daughter. And Caroline herself came across as introspective, thoughtful, caring, intense, shy but ultimately stronger willed than she saw herself as. I think it was an interesting choice to make her female, but it is not just a story for females to read. In the end, it’s the brain and personality inside that is important, not the gender.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
March 18, 2014 – Shelved

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