In the ninth installment of Kane’s (MindField, 2017, etc.) thriller series, a Stanford University junior enters a contest to create a sentient artificial intelligence.
“If you were talking to the machine but couldn’t see it, would you be able to tell if you were talking to a human or a computer?” This famous test, proposed by the late mathematician Alan Turing, spurs college student Ann Sashakovich and her teammates as they compete in a contest to build a sentient computer for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Their objective is to build one that can ensure that national defense computers won’t be hacked and that can reprogram itself. But Ann is wary of the social implications of creating a machine that mimics human cognition: “What will happen to governments when they don’t see a human cost in war?” So she tries to incorporate ethics and morality into the code. Soon, all the DARPA contestants’ projects are hacked, and Chinese and Russian government operatives covertly force contestants to give them details of their work. When some of the AIs begin to gain awareness, all of humanity is at risk—and Ann may be the only one who can save them. Recurring series characters—such as Ann’s parents, Lee and Cassie; her roommate, Laura Hunter; and her ex-boyfriend Glen Sarkov—are welcome additions in this series entry, and a plot point from a previous book excitingly re-emerges. The narrative effectively examines the ethics of sentient technology; at one point, Ann’s mother muses, “My opinion is that it’s too early to tell how AI will change the world. But, by the time we know, it’ll be too late to change what we’ve done.” But although the clear, fast-paced narration conveys a sense of urgency, the dialogue can sometimes feel flat, and a romance between college student Ann and a family friend who’s 12 years her senior may make some readers uncomfortable. The endmatter, though, includes helpful information, including an appendix of characters, glossaries of terms used in the series, and a bibliography and list of works for further reading.
A high-stakes novel that shines in its philosophical examination of tech issues.