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Exegesis [Paperback]

Astro Teller
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 19 1997 Vintage Contemporaries
Date: Sun, 16 Jan 2000 14:27:39 (PST)
From: edgar@cyprus.stanford.edu
To: Alice@cs.stanford.edu
Subject: Hello

Hello, Alice.


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Product Description

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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.

From Booklist

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 Carroll

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Enter EDGAR May 5 2004
Format:Library Binding
EXEGESIS by Astro Teller is a new entry into the classic tales of super computers and smart programs that seem to get a little out of control. The entire novel, except for the introduction and epilogue, is in the form of e-mail messages. Using letters to tell a tale is not a new idea. Two excellent examples are Helene Hanff's 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD, subject of an excellent film, and DADDY LONG LEGS which inspired the Fred Astaire movie of the same name.
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.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Exegesis Aug. 10 2003
By Sarah D
The book is written mostly in emails (there are a couple regular letters), and it is very interesting. Not a whole lot actually happens, but the story is very interesting and compelling. EDGAR, a computer program invented by a student named Alice, takes on a life of its own, and all it really wants is to learn about people. It wants to understand emotions and feelings and life. The end is very sad as EDGAR has really done nothing, and there is no reason for what has happened to happen.. it is sad for EDGAR and Alice, and the reader, at least it was for me. I enjoyed the book. It was fast moving (took me about 3 hours to read) though there was some vocabulary that I did not know. It was probably the most unique book I have read as I have never seen a book written in this form or with a plot like this.
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.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A fast and compelling, albeit flawed, story Jan. 24 1998
By P. Mann
Astro Teller's first novel, "Exegesis" consists almost entirely of e-mail exchanges. The story begins when Alice Lu, a 24-year-old doctoral candidate at Stanford, receives a cryptic e-mail containing only the message "Hello, Alice." Soon, she realizes that the sender is Edgar, an artificial-intelligence program on which she was working. What follows is a series of e-mails in which Edgar becomes increasingly more sentient and begins to cause more and more trouble, both for itself and for Alice.
"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.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Exegesis: (n) idea-driven novel for 21st century Aug. 27 1997
Artificial stupidity has been around for quite some time, and it seems that artificial intelligence (the "grail" of modern cognitive science) looms just over the horizon. But are we prepared to face the possible consequences of AI? "Artificial free will"? "Artificial temper tantrums"? Would an artificially intelligent program be "alive"? Could it be owned? Would this constitute slavery? Could an AI program love or be loved?

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"!!
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars < E X E G E S I S > _A s t r o T e l l e r_
This book was very unique. It had a good plot and kept me interested. He did something different than other people. Read more
Published on May 28 2003 by Andy Mackinder
4.0 out of 5 stars Exegesis
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 more
Published on Jan. 9 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars The :) Review
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 more
Published on Jan. 8 2003 by Jim Adams
4.0 out of 5 stars What does it mean to be alive?
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 more
Published on March 16 2002 by "gustavbenjava"
4.0 out of 5 stars 2 days flat? Try 3 1/2 hours...
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 more
Published on April 14 2001 by Amy
4.0 out of 5 stars Philosophically enthralling
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 more
Published on Dec 22 2000 by Brian
5.0 out of 5 stars unique and imaginative
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 more
Published on July 11 2000 by Elizabeth McDonald
3.0 out of 5 stars Simplistic, basic, and tolerable
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 more
Published on Feb. 15 2000 by Unabridged Chick
1.0 out of 5 stars I'm glad I read it in the store instead of buying it
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 more
Published on April 24 1999
1.0 out of 5 stars Not worth the 2 hours
Exegesis is, thankfully, a quick read. Though the story is easy enough to follow, it is painful to read as one can easily pick out the holes in the story. Read more
Published on Feb. 26 1999
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