Monday, June 11, 2018

Review: Autonomous

Autonomous is Annalee Newitz's novel about pharmacological pirates set in a world where reverse engineering drugs has been made illegal. It's had amazing blurbs from famous science fiction authors such as Neal Stephenson and William Gibson on the cover, and the author is an editor for Ars Technica, so she's familiar with technology.

The novel switches between two perspectives, one of Jack the Pharma pirate with a heart of gold, and the mercenary robot/human team that's been tasked with hunting her down after she pirated a drug that turns out to have addictive side-effects.

I think one of the biggest problems with science fiction in the modern era is that humans tend to anthropomorphize everything, including robots. As a result, the robot in the story, Paladin, works at human speeds instead of superhuman speeds, and isn't nearly as sharp as I would expect for an AI with human-level intelligence. (It's also quite unlikely that AI tech would stay at human-levels for any significant period of time, but that's another discussion for another time)

The core plot isn't really interestingly enough to drive the story, though along the way we get a really dystopian view of a society of capitalism run amuck, where humans indenture themselves to corporations or other humans so as to better compete with otherwise autonomous robots, which are required to serve an indenture period to pay off the cost of manufacture. Unfortunately, the morality and movement behind these movements are never explored, and would have been more interesting than the novel we got.

I'm afraid I can't really recommend Autonomous: the happy ending is forced, and some of the technology (i.e., the use of human brains inside robots to provide certain functions such as facial recognition) seems highly unlikely.

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