Kirkus Reviews QR Code
12 BYTES by Jeanette Winterson


How We Got Here. Where We Might Go Next

by Jeanette Winterson

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-8021-5925-0
Publisher: Grove

A vigorous, sharp mind probes the world of computer science and more.

Hot on the heels of her recent, critically acclaimed novel, Frankissstein, the prolific Winterson offers 12 bites of the apple known as artificial intelligence, a key topic in the novel. These essays probe the past, present, and future of computer technology. The author begins by going back to key historical figures from her novel—Mary Shelley and Ada Lovelace, both of whom, “in their different ways…saw [AI] coming.” Mary had her electric-powered literary life-form and Ada her dazzling, pre-computer mathematical skills. Winterson is excellent at compressing a great deal of technical, scientific, philosophical, literary, and religious material into digestible, witty, and provocative essays. She hopscotches with aplomb from vacuum tubes and transistors to the internet, Wi-Fi, issues of privacy, smartphones, AGI (artificial general intelligence), and robots, along with the Gnostics, Buddhism, and cryonics. In “Hot for a Bot,” the author discusses the history of automata sex dolls and AI–enhanced love dolls: “Men do seem to think that a woman can be manmade, perhaps because a woman has been a commodity, a chattel, a possession, an object, for most of history.” In “Fuck the Binary,” she posits the intriguing question of whether “AI could be a portal into a value-free gender and race experience.” Chronicling the contributions women have made in the so-called “hard” sciences—“Don’t you love the language?”—Winterson bemoans the fact that, today, the “number of women taking computing-science degrees is falling.” Despite all the incumbent dangers AI might hold, the author is optimistic and hopeful: “I am sure that our future as Homo sapiens is a merged future with the AI we are creating. Transhumanism will be the new mixed race."

Tucked into the corners of these erudite essays are multitudes of fascinating facts and thoughtful what-if speculations.