A review of Amped, by Daniel H. Wilson
@@@@ (4 out of 5)
Some of the very best science fiction explores the unintended consequences of breakthroughs in technology, and not those that are merely fanciful but advances that can be seen years ahead by observers of contemporary science. Amped is such a book.
Amped ventures into the near future — sometime around 2030, it seems — to depict American society in upheaval over the brain implants installed in half a million of its least fortunate citizens. The implants “amplify” the brains of the elderly and infirm, accident victims, and those with severe mental illness and mental retardation, allowing them to focus clearly and to make the most efficient use possible of their bodies. These “amps” are smarter, quicker, and stronger than the average bear — and the vast majority of Americans don’t like it one bit. They’re especially upset about the few amps who began with superior intelligence and outstanding physical abilities and have been turned into superbeings. Nobody likes a smartypants, it seems.
But this novel is not speculative nonfiction thinly disguised as fiction, with lame dialogue used to “explain” and cardboard characters created for the sole purpose of illustrating different points of view. Amped is, instead, a skillfully written novel of suspense that charges ahead with breakneck speed. In fact, the book can best be described as a thriller, with enough action, suspense, and plot twists to sate the desire of any Hollywood producer.
Amped’s author, Daniel H. Wilson, sports a Ph.D. in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University, which some consider the epicenter of the field. This is Wilson’s seventh book. His previous works include Robopocalypse (reviewed here) and How to Survive a Robot Uprising.
A review of Robopocalypse, by Daniel H. Wilson
@@@@ (4 out of 5)
If you’re imagining ranks of humanoid robots marching in lockstep as they trample on humanity and all else that we’ve created, you’re on the wrong track. This is a science fiction novel, to be sure, and as the title suggests it depicts an apocalyptic future, but it’s a future with a difference. This is a treatment of robots and automation from an entirely different perspective. It’s engaging. And it’s very, very scary.
Daniel H. Wilson is the author of this novel and of an earlier book, How to Survive a Robot Uprising: Tips on Defending Yourself Against the Coming Rebellion. He comes to his subject matter armed with a Ph.D. in Robotics from Carnegie-Mellon University, frequently cited as the nation’s leader in robotics and artificial intelligence. The speculation in this novel is grounded in a genuine understanding of the world of automata and the possible futures they may create for us.
The book is structured as an oral history of sorts, a succession of vignettes from varying points of view about the origins and the progression of the “New War” between “Rob” and the human race. You can read this book as a straightforward sci-fi thriller — fodder for Hollywood, which indeed will be churning out a Steven Spielberg film of the novel in a year or two. However, it’s also a thought-provoking portrait of what could conceivably happen a few decades down the road when the relentless advance of science and technology takes us to a profound discontinuity: the point at which artificial intelligence outstrips human intelligence. There are very, very smart people who have done a lot of thinking about this coming event. Some see the upside. Not everyone, though. Apparently, not Daniel H. Wilson. And not I.