December 29, 2011 (MMD Newswire) - - This was a unique ride, to say the least... The End of the Computer by Andre Mikhailovich Solonitsyn. Normally, anything deemed "green" lowers my interest and expectations a couple notches right from the start. I definitely don't qualify as an "environmentalist." But, balance that against a sci-fi novel involving the demise of the computer, and my interest is right back up there.
Solonitsyn (the "author") takes the reader into a near-future scenario where the accidental creation of a super-intelligent silicon being leads an eclectic group of characters to a decision point that could either save or doom civilization as they know it. But regardless of what path they take, millions (if not billions) will die...
The story centers around a foursome of scientific geniuses who discovered a flaw in a small number of computer chips that would, if all the chips were combined, create a super-intelligence that would be infinitely more powerful than anyone could imagine. They've written the code that would run this new creation, but there's only one problem. Once these chips are placed in the proper alignment to create the new entity, it will also fuse the chips into a burned-out lump of silicon. There's no second chances, and no additional chips to try it again.
Furthermore, they've "borrowed" money from some government accounts to fund their project, and now the various governments want their money back... along with the disappearance of the chips and the people who have them. They meet up with another computer genius who used to work for the government until he saw what his ideas were being used for... weapons of mass destruction. Now off the grid, he has to decide whether he can trust anyone enough to risk bringing the super-intelligence to life even though it may put him back on the government's radar screen for elimination.
Since it appears that nothing can be done to test the programs or theories before they try their one and only attempt, they put the chips together and get what they had feared... melted silicon. But in that split second of functioning, the spark of "life" happens, and they now have someone(?) who has abilities beyond belief, and who can simulate and model everything that exists. The results are not encouraging, and the fate of humanity could be at stake depending on which path is followed.
As with much sci-fi, there is some suspension of disbelief that needs to occur to make the story work. In other words, just because something doesn't exist now doesn't mean it wouldn't exist in the future. Furthermore, if you accept the initial premise, you have to be willing to follow it into areas that only make sense if you took that first step. The End of the Computer works well with that mindset. The "green" aspect of the story comes into play when topics such as genetically modified food and ocean ecology come up. There are a couple spots where the book tends to veer a bit into "soapbox" mode, but it gets back to the story relatively quick.
The characters are different than what you usually encounter, but I felt they belonged in this setting. To top it all off, the problems brought to light in the story are all very real, and the choices are the same ones we all face but generally do very little to resolve. It begs the question... are we facing the same outcomes?
The End of the Computer wasn't quite what I expected, but it was definitely worth reading. It delivers on the entertainment front, but it also left me wondering about the overall future of humanity and the planet given our current actions.
Review released for general publication with written permission from the reviewer, Thomas Duff.
Andre Mikhailovich Solonitsyn
Edited by Patrick G. Conner (alumnus member of the Science Fiction Writers of America)
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