William Hertling's "Singularity Series" of three sequential novels is a fast-paced and entertaining look at how the relationships between people and their technology creations might evolve over the next 50 years:
* Avogadro Corp.: The Singularity is Closer than it Appears
* A.I. Apocalypse
* The Last Firewall
The approach goes way beyond traditional sci-fi robotics to the essential technology programming that changes into much more advanced forms than anticipated. And that's where the fun comes in.
A central concept to this series is "singularity" which takes on different meanings as the broad story develops. The convergence of people and technology reaches a surprising state by the conclusion.
Each book of Hertling's trilogy is reviewed individually with a common introduction (on its Amazon site location) but with references to the other books since the storylines and the four main human characters - Mike Williams, Rebecca Smith, Leon Tsarev and Catherine Matthews - play central and, to some extent, on-going roles in specific books.
One other note: throughout each of the books there are technological terms and discussions, which add the patina of plausibility to the immediate story and characters. Do not feel overwhelmed or try to grasp the meanings unless so inclined. Their immediate value is to provide a "what and how is it happening" at the moment - an updated twist on Alfred Hitchcock's MacGuffin.
During the mid 20th century the long-held idea of mind and body as separate entities coming into coincidental existence at birth was rejected in favor of a more evolutionary explanation for the development of the brain. The earlier view was characterized as "the ghost in the machine." Hertling's creations give this debate a fresh perspective.
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"The Last Firewall" is the third and presumably last book in William Hertling's "Singularity" series of near-time futuristic novels. The time is approximately seven to ten years after the conclusion of "A.I. Apocalypse", approximately 35 to 45 years in the future from the events of the first book, "Avogadro Corp.: The Singularity is Closer than it Appears."
The end of the second book is referred to as YONI, the Year Of No Internet, in this final installment due to the massive systems outages caused by a rogue virus, Phage, and the ensuing destructive repercussions for humans and Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems.
Unlike the bleak post-apocalyptic scenario presented in Walter M. Miller's now classic1960 futuristic novel, "A Canticle for Leibowitz," Earth is continuing to thrive, thanks to a framework of cooperation between humans and AIs of various capabilities incorporated into an independent regulatory body, the Institute of Applied Ethics. Both groups rely extensively on robots of all shapes and sizes to execute their plans.
From the prior novels Mike Williams returns as the head of Institute's Ethics Department primarily in charge of creating AI behavior guidelines. Leon Tsarev reappears as the head of the Institute's Architecture Department, responsible for implementing the guidelines through an AI peer self-regulatory system. This arrangement is critical for mutual cooperation: AIs have greater, faster capabilities but are dependent on humans for their power sources to expand and execute. Ex-President, Rebecca West also shows up as a liaison between the Institute and the heads of the U.S. and other world governments.
Due to this cooperative arrangement AIs are actually participating in some of the planning and mainly the executing of all functions necessary to provide a stable, prosperous environment for humans. They also support the human lifestyles through a form of taxation so that humans do not work but have the options to play, study, make love, and pursue whatever they want under a sort of state support system.
To achieve this nirvana, most humans are wearing neural implants allowing a more holistic form of communication in neutral space between themselves as well as within their internal mind perceptions, a sort of structured "higher consciousness."
As the story opens, all is not so happy in this valley of seeming contentment. Some mysterious deaths are occurring as well as a growing anti-AI political movement among people who feel displaced and actually (gulp) want to work. This sets the stage for the plot development.
A major new character to the trilogy, Catherine Matthews, with unusual and initially undetected capabilities involving her neural implant, is introduced. She quickly becomes entangled in a "chase and be chased" sequence to uncover what's going on. The action ranges along the West Coast of the U.S. in an updated Alfred Hitchcock's "North By Northwest" style.
Additionally, two human characters, Tony and Slim, are mixed in, first as memory thieves and dispassionate killers. As the action progresses, they become more entertaining and comic in a Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello fashion. And there is Helena, an AI in Transformer guise, who has got attitude and you do not want to cross.
Once the adversarial forces and their motivations are revealed, the sequence essentially leads to a classic pursuit, confrontation and showdown.
However, despite the seeming conclusion of the series the question of "singularity" remains. Hertling appears to provide several options for its meaning to ponder:
* A convergence of humans and robotic components, or eventual replacement of humans by robots evolving human emotions, much as Czech writer and creator of the word "robot", Karl Capek, contemplated in his 1920 play "RUR" and more recently explored on Science Channel's "Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman" ("Are Robots the Future of Human Evolution?" episode)?
* A convergence of humans and biochemistry through nanotechnology to replace failing biological components with new more durable ones?
* A convergence of humans and AI into some form of expanded mental capability and higher consciousness?
* Or all of the above?
It would appear that the "ghosts in the machines" are, after all, still ourselves.