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THE FEAR INDEX by Robert Harris


by Robert Harris

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-95793-1
Publisher: Knopf

A smart and sophisticated novel about machines becoming conscious—or about humans becoming paranoid about whether machines can become conscious.

Super-intelligent research physicist Dr. Alex Hoffmann lives with his artist wife Gabrielle in a mansion in Geneva, Switzerland. Formerly a scientist with the CERN project, Hoffmann has branched off into artificial intelligence, creating a machine called VIXAL-4, which helps the one percent become even richer by monitoring investments and making fast and nuanced predictions about market trends. Although the stock market in general languishes, VIXAL-4 clicks along at an 83 percent rate of return, so Hoffmann’s business partner, Hugo Quarry, who’s more adept with human interaction than the reclusive Hoffmann, lines up some billionaire angels for investment possibilities…and that’s where things begin to go wrong. First, an intruder breaks into the Hoffmanns’ house, breaching an impressive and expensive security system that had recently been installed. Then, at the opening reception for Gabrielle’s first show, someone buys up every one of her works. Could it be the intruder? Is someone toying with Hoffmann, sending him a message that his life is not as secure as he thinks? Hoffmann tracks down and kills a man he believes is trying to kill him, and VIXAL-4 starts doing untoward things, making financial decisions that seem to be independent of any human control. When Hoffmann discovers a camera hidden in his smoke detector, he starts to suspect that Genoud, the man who had installed the security system, might be out to get him, so he takes off on the lam, becoming ever more irrational and out of control.

Amid the welter of financial details, Harris creates a novel of tension and suspense by focusing more on the human than on the mechanistic.