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Beautiful Intelligence (SF) - Stephen Palmer ****

Some science fiction novels feel like more of the same. They can provide an enjoyable new twist on a story, but we've seen their like before. However, Beatiful Intelligence gives us a whole new take on the development of artificial intelligence. Two teams have broken off from a Japanese AI lab to go there own way and are on the run - they are as likely to be killed as sued. All this takes place in the context of the nexus, a next-generation internet that is far more immersive and intrusive, tracking and noting every activity of everyone.

Although this is fiction, Stephen Palmer does treat the reader to a fair amount of discussion of the nature of AI, how it might be achieved, and whether it's possible to distinguish true artificial intelligence and consciousness from a simulation of it. That is interesting enough in its own right, but the attempts of the two teams to keep concealed despite the nexus, and their very different approaches to creating AI are both engaging and fascinating. There's plenty of tension as the Japanese company's obsessive head attempts to track them down - and some surprising twists and turns.

There are inevitably some aspects in a relatively near future SF book, driven by technology, that could be questioned. Japan has never been strong on software development, and it seems an unlikely source (as opposed to China) for the development of the nexus - and for that matter, the acceptance of the total lack of privacy afforded by the nexus is hard to take on board, even given the collapse of Western economies that seems to have taken place. Also I'd have preferred more of an ending to the book to what feels more like a short story ending. But overall, this is a very effective SF thriller with plenty of action but also good deal of thought-provoking exploration of the implications of artificial intelligence.

You can buy the book (and many other titles) on the publisher's website or from the links below.

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Review by Brian Clegg


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