Exegesis Paperback – Aug 19 1997
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In Exegesis, Astro Teller deals with the issues of emerging machine intelligence without the usual simplifications and moral generalizations. It's the story of an artificial intelligence researcher and her creation, a program named Edgar, who develops self-awareness and must come to terms with its own existence. Through their e-mail--their only means of interaction--we watch them deal with the ramifications of Edgar's development, which includes the government's desire to capture Edgar and our cultural fear of Frankenstein's monster. Yet, while Exegesis draws upon the Frankenstein mythos, as well as the myth of Pygmalion, this isn't the story of science creating a monster. Instead, it's an exploration of what it means to be aware, of how humanity may interact with other forms of intelligence, of scientists' responsibilities to both the world and to their creations, and humanity's responsibilities in return. We do not see the scientist playing God so much as endeavoring to be a good parent. That parenting comes complete with all the hopes, fears, and uncertainties involved with bringing something precious and new into the world, and guiding it to an unknown and largely uncontrollable independence. Edgar, unlike such intelligent computer characters as HAL, Colossus, or Mycroft, is a fully realized, well-defined protagonist--familiar due to its human programming, yet alien in its mode of perception and thinking. Although it's impossible not to view this as a cautionary tale against a day when we will truly have to face the issue of self-aware machines, it is also a touching love story and pulse-quickening thriller--a complex story told very simply.
What if . . . artificial intelligence (AI) gurus achieved their holy grail? What if . . . the machines that process our words and crunch our numbers began to talk back? If AI mimics the operation of the human mind, would an AI agent have a personality, quirks, free will? And how would ordinary folk--and authority figures--react to this new, alien "being" ? A first novel by a grandson of nuclear physicist Edward Teller offers one set of answers. Exegesis consists largely of e-mails between Berkeley graduate student Alice Wu and "Edgar," a cyber pen pal seemingly "created" by Alice's AI doctoral research. Edgar is an entity consumed by an overwhelming need for information and is resistant to the efforts of both Alice, who is struggling to replicate her "invention" to protect her academic "ownership" of the breakthrough, and the anxious National Security Agency operatives, who are trying to "make [Edgar] human" and to "teach [him] how to hate." Edgar may be the most likable "character" in this involving debut novel. A featured selection of Book-of-the-Month Club and Quality Paperback Book Club. Vintage plans aggressive promotion. Mary CarrollSee all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
In this novel we follow the work of Alice Lu, a student working on her doctoral thesis. From the first message, the two simple words, Hello, Alice!, we slowly learn about Alice's project EDGAR, a program meant to read news groups, analyze the information and send messages to Alice. Until that simple two-word message all Alice had received from EDGAR was garbage. Alice first suspects a joke but slowly learns that somehow her modifications to the project have caused it to become self-aware.
Once the truth dawns on Alice she scrambles to keep EDGAR a secret until she can recreate the experiment. Because EDGAR has been posting to news groups Alice disconnects the system from the outside world. EDGAR quickly runs out of things to read and asks for more. Alice feeds EDGAR a few disks while trying to recreate the experiment on a host of other machines. No luck. Even worse, the Ethernet cable gets reattached and EDGAR flees the system. Now Alice has no proof other than her communications.
As EDGAR continues to read all that it can, it manages to catch the attention of the FBI and the NSA. Alice, whose personal life is one of the worst, becomes very afraid and begins thinking of dropping out of school. EDGAR is the only thing keeping her going, even after EDGAR becomes trapped in an NSA machine.Read more ›
The book has no romance in it (well one email from an ex-boyfriend, but I don't think that it fits at all into the book), no violence, only a very minimal number of characters, and no scenery. It sounds like it has nothing, but all it really needs are EDGAR and Alice and the very few people they come in contact with. The book does have a lot of technically things which went right over my head, but this does not prevent one from understanding and appreciating the story. I would recomend this book to anyone who wants to read something totally different from the norm.
"Exegesis" is a fast and compelling read, though there are parts in the middle in which the book does tend to drag, a result that seems to be due in large part to the structure of the novel. Through much of the novel, Alice serves as Edgar's tutor, and the lessons do become somewhat mundane. In addition, the more compelling character is Edgar. Alice, by contrast, is at times a bit too obtuse for comfort. "Exegesis" is not unduly technical, though a reader without familiarity with e-mail or with the Usenet might find some of the going a little bit confusing. Even with these shortcomings in the story, though, I very much enjoyed "Exegesis," and I can give it a qualified recommendation.
Astro Teller asks all of these questions, which are as old as science fiction itself (remember Mary Shelley?), but it asks them in a metaphor which is extremely relevant to our information- based pre-millenial society. Although the plot and characters are not as fleshed out as I would have liked - the story is told in the form of e-mails between main characters (again similar to the journal/epistle style of <I>Frankenstein</I>) - this is in keeping with the "morality play" nature of the tale. It is the ideas which are important here, not so much the characters. This is a story written to make us think (and feel) about issues which may not be fiction in a matter of years (or even hours).
Like most science fiction, this asks the same old ethical and epistemological questions with which many scientists don't seem to concern themselves. Like most good science fiction, it doesn't give us quick, easy solutions for these profound dilemmas, but forces us to think about them long after the book is back on the shelf. Like most GREAT science fiction, this story is not about the far future on Betelgeuse, but about tomorrow in Anytown, USA. You need to read this and Astro Teller needs to submit this as his thesis in "Philosophy of Sci-Fi"!!
Most recent customer reviews
This book was very unique. It had a good plot and kept me interested. He did something different than other people. Read morePublished on May 28 2003 by Andy Mackinder
I liked how the author wrote the book in e-mail messages. It made you fill in the blanks that he left because he didn't describe anything. Read morePublished on Jan. 9 2003
I first have to admit the main reason I chose to read this book was because it appeared to be a fast and easy read. To my surprise it turned out to be a very good book. Read morePublished on Jan. 8 2003 by Jim Adams
This was an excellent book and interesting read. From a computer geek's perspective, the email conversation is exactly like it would be (fortunately the editor didn't ruin that... Read morePublished on March 16 2002
The :) on the front is what first got my attention when my boyfriend showed Exegesis to me. It was an amazingly quick read for me... 3 1/2 hours. Read morePublished on April 14 2001 by Amy
From a philosophical standpoint, this book really presents an interesting view. The idea that the AI system could have thoughts without senses flies in the face of Hume's theory of... Read morePublished on Dec 22 2000 by Brian
I don't usually go for these kind of books, but this one caught my eye. It held on to my attention from the start- and being entirely written in e-mail, it was a fast read. Read morePublished on July 11 2000 by Elizabeth McDonald
This isn't a bad piece of fiction. Its just very easy. The plot seems vaguely familiar, even if you aren't much of a sci-fi fan (woman creates intelligence, intelligence rebels,... Read morePublished on Feb. 15 2000 by Unabridged Chick
I'm waiting for the day when popular media (books, movies, tv) can convey e-mail communication realistically and without continually jabbing the viewer in the side to say, 'see me? Read morePublished on April 24 1999