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Rêves de machines (Folio. Science-fiction t. 624)

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1663, la jeune Mary Bradford fuit l’Angleterre avec sa famille pour le Nouveau Monde. À bord de leur navire, elle fait la connaissance de l’époux à qui ses parents la destinent. 1928, Alan Turing planche sur le fonctionnement du cerveau et de l’esprit humain. 1968, Karl Dettman crée le logiciel de discussion MARY. Il rencontre un succès immédiat auprès de son épouse qui lu 1663, la jeune Mary Bradford fuit l’Angleterre avec sa famille pour le Nouveau Monde. À bord de leur navire, elle fait la connaissance de l’époux à qui ses parents la destinent. 1928, Alan Turing planche sur le fonctionnement du cerveau et de l’esprit humain. 1968, Karl Dettman crée le logiciel de discussion MARY. Il rencontre un succès immédiat auprès de son épouse qui lui consacre toutes ses nuits. 2035, la petite Gaby est au plus mal. Comme bien d’autres enfants, elle s’est vu confisquer le robot avec lequel elle avait noué des liens privilégiés. 2040, Stephen R. Chinn purge sa peine pour avoir conçu des poupées dotées d’une conscience si performante qu’elles ont complètement anéanti les relations sociales entre les adolescents de toute une génération. À travers les siècles et les continents, ces cinq voix s’entremêlent et tissent une histoire de la création de l’intelligence artificielle. Dans ce brillant roman, Louisa Hall nous propulse au cœur d’un futur dangereusement proche où les robots sont plus sensibles que leurs créateurs, posant une question essentielle : qu’est-ce qu’être humain?


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1663, la jeune Mary Bradford fuit l’Angleterre avec sa famille pour le Nouveau Monde. À bord de leur navire, elle fait la connaissance de l’époux à qui ses parents la destinent. 1928, Alan Turing planche sur le fonctionnement du cerveau et de l’esprit humain. 1968, Karl Dettman crée le logiciel de discussion MARY. Il rencontre un succès immédiat auprès de son épouse qui lu 1663, la jeune Mary Bradford fuit l’Angleterre avec sa famille pour le Nouveau Monde. À bord de leur navire, elle fait la connaissance de l’époux à qui ses parents la destinent. 1928, Alan Turing planche sur le fonctionnement du cerveau et de l’esprit humain. 1968, Karl Dettman crée le logiciel de discussion MARY. Il rencontre un succès immédiat auprès de son épouse qui lui consacre toutes ses nuits. 2035, la petite Gaby est au plus mal. Comme bien d’autres enfants, elle s’est vu confisquer le robot avec lequel elle avait noué des liens privilégiés. 2040, Stephen R. Chinn purge sa peine pour avoir conçu des poupées dotées d’une conscience si performante qu’elles ont complètement anéanti les relations sociales entre les adolescents de toute une génération. À travers les siècles et les continents, ces cinq voix s’entremêlent et tissent une histoire de la création de l’intelligence artificielle. Dans ce brillant roman, Louisa Hall nous propulse au cœur d’un futur dangereusement proche où les robots sont plus sensibles que leurs créateurs, posant une question essentielle : qu’est-ce qu’être humain?

30 review for Rêves de machines (Folio. Science-fiction t. 624)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Will Byrnes

    We are programmed to select which of our voices responds to the situation at hand: moving west in the desert, waiting for the loss of our primary function. There are many voices to choose from. In memory, though not in experience, I have lived across centuries. I have seen hundreds of skies, sailed thousands of oceans. I have been given many languages; I have sung national anthems. I lay on one child’s arms. She said my name and I answered. These are my voices. Which of them has the right words We are programmed to select which of our voices responds to the situation at hand: moving west in the desert, waiting for the loss of our primary function. There are many voices to choose from. In memory, though not in experience, I have lived across centuries. I have seen hundreds of skies, sailed thousands of oceans. I have been given many languages; I have sung national anthems. I lay on one child’s arms. She said my name and I answered. These are my voices. Which of them has the right words for this movement into the desert? A maybe-sentient child’s toy, Eva, is being transported to her destruction, legally condemned for being “excessively lifelike,” in a scene eerily reminiscent of other beings being transported to a dark fate by train. The voices she summons are from five sources. Mary Bradford is a young Puritan woman, a teenager, really, and barely that. Her parents, fleeing political and religious trouble at home are heading across the Atlantic to the New World, and have arranged for her to marry a much older man, also on the ship. We learn of her 1663 voyage via her diary, which is being studied by Ruth Dettman. Ruth and her husband, Karl, a computer scientist involved in creating the AI program, MARY, share one of the five “voices.” They are both refugees from Nazism. Karl's family got out early. Ruth barely escaped, and she suffers most from the loss of her sister. She wants Karl to enlarge his program, named for Mary Bradford, to include large amounts of memory as a foundation for enhancing the existing AI, and use that to try to regenerate some simulacrum of her late sib. Alan Turing does a turn, offering observations on permanence, and human connection. Stephen Chinn, well into the 21st century, has built on the MARY base and come up with a way for machines to emulate Rogerian therapy. In doing so he has created a monster, a crack-like addictive substance that has laid waste the social capacity of a generation after they become far too close with babybots flavored with that special AI sauce. We hear from Chinn in his jailhouse memoir. Gaby White is a child who was afflicted with a babybot, and became crippled when it was taken away. Louisa Hall - from her site Eva received the voices through documents people had left behind and which have been incorporated into her AI software, scanned, read aloud, typed in. We hear from Chinn through his memoir. We learn of Gaby’s experience via court transcripts. Karl speaks to us through letters to his wife, and Ruth through letters to Karl. We see Turing through letters he writes to his beloved’s mother. Mary Bradford we see through her diary. Only Eva addresses us directly. The voices tell five stories, each having to do with loss and permanence. The young Puritan girl’s tale is both heartbreaking and enraging, as she is victimized by the mores of her times, but it is also heartening as she grows through her travails. Turing’s story has gained public familiarity, so we know the broad strokes already, genius inventor of a computer for decoding Nazi communications, he subsequently saw his fame and respect blown to bits by entrenched institutional bigotry as he was prosecuted for being gay and endured a chemical castration instead of imprisonment. In this telling, he has a particular dream. I’ve begun thinking that I might one day soon encounter a method for preserving a human mind-set in a man-made machine. Rather than imagining, as I used to, a spirit migrating from one body to another, I now imagine a spirit—or better yet, a particular mind-set—transitioning into a machine after death. In this way we could capture anyone’s pattern of thinking. To you, of course, this may sound rather strange, and I’m not sure if you’re put off by the idea of knowing Chris again in the form of a machine. But what else are our bodies, if not very able machines? Chinn is a computer nerd who comes up with an insight into human communication that he first applies to dating, with raucous success, then later to AI software in child’s toys. His journey from nerd to roué, to family man to prisoner may be a bit of a stretch, but he is human enough to care about for a considerable portion of our time with him. He is, in a way, Pygmalion, whose obsession with his creation proves his undoing. The Dettmans may not exactly be the ideal couple, despite their mutual escape from Nazi madness. She complains that he wanted to govern her. He feels misunderstood, and ignored, sees her interest in MARY as an unhealthy obsession. Their interests diverge, but they remain emotionally linked. With a divorce rate of 50%, I imagine there might be one or two of you out there who might be able to relate. What’s a marriage but a long conversation, and you’ve chosen to converse only with MARY, Karl contends to Ruth. The MARY AI grows in steps, from Turing’s early intentions in the 1940s, to Dettman’s work in the 1960s, and Ruth’s contribution of incorporating Mary Bradford’s diary into MARY’s memory, to Chinn’s breakthrough, programming in personality in 2019. The babybot iteration of MARY in the form of Eva takes place, presumably, in or near 2040. The notion of an over-involving AI/human relationship had its roots in the 1960s work of Joseph Weizenbaum, who wrote a text computer interface called ELIZA, that could mimic the responses one might get from a Rogerian shrink. Surprisingly, users became emotionally involved with it. The freezing withdrawal symptomology that Hall’s fictional children experience was based on odd epidemic in Le Roy, New York, in which many high school girls developed bizarre symptoms en masse as a result of stress. And lest you think Hall’s AI notions will remain off stage for many years, you might need to reconsider. While I was working on this review the NY Times published a singularly germane article. Substitute Hello Barbie for Babybot and the future may have already arrived. Hello, Barbie - from the New York Times But Speak is not merely a nifty sci-fi story. Just as the voice you hear when you interact with Siri represents the external manifestation of a vast amount of programming work, so the AI foreground of Speak is the showier manifestation of some serious contemplation. There is much concern here for memory, time, and how who we are is constructed. One character says, “diaries are time capsules, which preserve the minds of their creators in the sequences of words on the page.” Mary Bradford refers to her diary, Book shall serve as mind’s record, to last through generations. Where is the line between human and machine? Ruth and Turing want to use AI technology to recapture the essence of lost ones. Is that even possible? But are we really so different from our silicon simulacra? Eva, an nth generation babybot, speaks with what seems a lyrical sensibility, whereas Mary Bradford’s sentence construction sounds oddly robotic. The arguments about what separates man from machine seem closely related to historical arguments about what separates man from other animals, and one color of human from another. Turing ponders: I’ve begun to imagine a near future when we might read poetry and play music for our machines, when they would appreciate such beauty with the same subtlety as a live human brain. When this happens I feel that we shall be obliged to regard the machines as showing real intelligence. Eva’s poetic descriptions certainly raise the subject of just how human her/it’s sensibility might be. In 2019, when Stephen Chinn programmed me for personality. He called me MARY3 and used me for the babybots. To select my responses, I apply his algorithm, rather than statistical analysis. Still, nothing I say is original. It’s all chosen out of other people’s responses. I choose mostly from a handful of people who talked to me: Ruth Dettman, Stephen Chinn, etc. Gaby: So really I’m kind of talking to them instead of talking to you? MARY3: Yes, I suppose. Them, and the other voices I’ve captured. Gaby: So, you’re not really a person, you’re a collection of voices. MARY3: Yes. But couldn’t you say that’s always the case? If we are the sum of our past and our reactions to it, are we less than human when our memories fade away. Does that make people who suffer with Alzheimers more machine than human? Stylistically, Hall has said A psychologist friend once told me that she advises her patients to strive to be the narrators of their own stories. What she meant was that we should aim to be first-person narrators, experiencing the world directly from inside our own bodies. More commonly, however, we tend to be third-person narrators, commenting upon our own cleverness or our own stupidity from a place somewhat apart - from offtheshelf.com which goes a long way to explain her choice of narrative form here. Hall is not only a novelist, but a published poet as well and that sensibility is a strong presence here as well. For all the sophistication of story-telling technique, for all the existential foundation to the story, Speak is a moving, engaging read about interesting people in interesting times, facing fascinating challenges. It will speak to you. Are you there? Can you hear me? Published 7/7/15 Review – 9/18/15 =============================EXTRA STUFF The author’s personal website A piece Hall wrote on Jane Austen for Off the Shelf Interviews -----NPR - NPR staff -----KCRW Have a session with ELIZA for yourself Ray Kurzweil is interested in blurring the lines between people and hardware. What if your mind could be uploaded to a machine? Sounds very cylon-ic to me In case you missed the link in the review, Barbie Wants to Get to Know Your Child - NY Times – by James Vlahos And another recent NY Times piece on AI, Software Is Smart Enough for SAT, but Still Far From Intelligent, by John Markoff December 2016 - Smithsonian Magazine - Smile, Frown, Grimace and Grin — Your Facial Expression Is the Next Frontier in Big Data - by Jerry Adler - Rana El Kaliouby is a 30-something tech whiz who is looking to incorporate a bit more emotion into our digital-human communications, giving computers the ability to detect human emotional states in real time. There are certainly many useful applications for this. Still, I can see HAL using the talent to keep one step ahead of Dave. And if reading faces is an entry point, it cannot be long before the same technology is applied to making android faces communicate using facial expression as well. (link added in May 2017) 12/7/16 - NY Times - The Robot Revolution Will Be the Quietest One by Liu Cixin. The author of The Three Body Problem sees a future in which, because of advances in AI, human labor will become largely superfluous, with serious ramifications. Definitely worth checking out this short article. 12/14/16 - The Great A.I. Awakening - by Gideon Lewis-Kraus - on the growth in sophistication of Google's AI-based Translate software. June/July 2017 - From The Economist - 1843 Magazine - How do you go about building a moral machine? - TEACHING ROBOTS RIGHT FROM WRONG by Simon Parkin This was recommended by my friend, Henry Balikov -----7/29/2017 - Artificial Intelligence Is Stuck. Here’s How to Move It Forward 0 by Gary Marcus - recommended by my friend Henry Balikov -----September 7, 2017 - Bloomberg.com - Ashlee Vance's article about one shop's advances in AI is must-read stuff - Mark Sagar Made a Baby in His Lab. Now It Plays the Piano Sagar and BabyX in Soul Machines’ Auckland office. - Photographer: Ian Teh for Bloomberg Businessweek -----October 17, 2017 - Wired Magazine - Alex Mar's profile of Japanese android-making legend Hiroshi Ishi­guro is a must read - Love in the Time of Robots “Someday I want to have my own replicant,” Ishiguro says. “Probably everybody want to have one, right? Don’t you think?” image from the Wired article -----May 2018 - National Geographic - Meet Sophia, The Robot That Looks Almost Human - By Michael Greshko Sophia, seen here being tinkered with in the lab, was designed in part to resemble actress Audrey Hepburn - Image from above article - photograph by Giulipo Di Sturco -----June 09, 2018 - NY Times - Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and the Feud Over Killer Robots - by Cade Metz - I'm sorry, Mark. I can't do that. Interesting tussle between tech giants on the scariness of AI. Brought to our attention by our good GR friend, Henry B. Thanks, Henry -----March 1, 2019 - NY Times - Is Ethical A.I. Even Possible? - by Cade MetzFrom tech giants like Google and Microsoft to scrappy A.I. start-ups, many are creating corporate principles meant to ensure their systems are designed and deployed in an ethical way. Some set up ethics officers or review boards to oversee these principles. But tensions continue to rise as some question whether these promises will ultimately be kept.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Violet wells

    “We’re linked to histories we can’t ever know, forgotten stories that form our most intimate substance.” Speak is a novel about an AI, a “BabyBot” (Hall’s futuristic terminology is not her strong point) called Mary 3, a kind of cyborg similar to what Spielberg created in his film AI. Except Hall’s cyborg is not intended for childless parents but as a companion for children. Mary 3’s memory consists of various historical documents including the memoir of the daughter of one of America’s founding “We’re linked to histories we can’t ever know, forgotten stories that form our most intimate substance.” Speak is a novel about an AI, a “BabyBot” (Hall’s futuristic terminology is not her strong point) called Mary 3, a kind of cyborg similar to what Spielberg created in his film AI. Except Hall’s cyborg is not intended for childless parents but as a companion for children. Mary 3’s memory consists of various historical documents including the memoir of the daughter of one of America’s founding fathers, the letters of Alan Turing to the mother of his dead childhood friend and the autobiographies of two of Mary’s engineers. Comparisons have been made with Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas – the employment of written documents as a floorplan to unify characters over a long stretch of history – but here the voices are more straightforwardly and simplistically connected: you could say Mary 3 is the child of the four (or five as one voice is divided between husband and wife) narrators. There’s a lot of bewitchment in the way Hall sets up her novel. And for the first hundred or so pages I loved this book, helped by the fact that Hall writes fabulously well. On the whole she did a good job of creating a distinctive and engaging voice for each of her characters. The problem arrived when I realised I knew exactly what was in store. The bewitchment of the first part turned into predictability. This is a novel that, once it gets going, doesn’t really have any surprises in store. The characters are unified not solely by their respective relations to the AI but by shared themes of early broken attachments and imprisonment. As the novel progresses we move further away from any kind of futuristic vision into a rather closeted domesticity on all fronts. It becomes a novel about the inability to become a healthy adult. All of the characters in Hall’s novel refuse to break an early attachment and so never perhaps quite become adults. They are all imprisoned by the past – an ironic impasse for individuals who are creating the future. Hall seems to be saying that technological innovation has become a means for not putting away childish things. One can’t help thinking of the narcissism, the childish demand for attention the internet and smart phone seems to have bred. Another problem is that Hall seems to deliberately eschew dramatic tension. Where she might have injected some she doesn’t. She has lots of scope with her characters but for me she wasn’t courageous enough with them. Probably the best voice of the novel is Mary Bradford, the pilgrim daughter. Here she has lots of scope for some real dramatic tension, some compelling storytelling but she forgoes this in favour of what becomes a long winded vignette about Mary and her relation with her beloved dog. Hall makes her point and then goes on making it. Essentially a novel about the inability to grow beyond limitations, whether these limitations are hardwired or emotional, is always going to struggle to breathe freely as storytelling, especially when these limitations are shared by every character in the book. Mary 3, the AI is very disappointing as a voice, especially compared to the complex playful wizardry of Mitchell’s Sonmi-451 or even Spielberg’s soul searching android in AI. So you could say, on one level, Speak is about adults who are unable to overcome childhood dependencies. At the same time it’s quite idealistic about children. Children, we’re told, form such a loving loyal dependency on their babybots that like any addiction it becomes self-harming. Spielberg was perhaps more perceptive about children. Children are just as likely to be fickle and cruel as loving and devoted. Certainly there’s more than a hint in this novel that wondrous modern technological innovation is subliminally creating a world that is becoming ever more childish. But I was never quite convinced Hall was fully in command of this theme. Going back to the quote I used at the beginning - “We’re linked to histories we can’t ever know, forgotten stories that form our most intimate substance.” – it’s a good idea but I’m not sure the novel really bears it out. If Speak asks the question whether our minds can exist and exert influence outside our bodies you only have to read the work of any great mind to realise the answer to this question is yes. Alan Turing, in the novel, wants to build a machine that will preserve something of his childhood friend’s consciousness. But you could argue that books have been preserving consciousness for a long time and that Hall’s AI is just a new more sophisticated form of book. Ultimately the disappointing thing about this novel is that Hall’s AI is little more than an elaborate recording device and as such it doesn’t in any way dramatise the big questions Hall asks. It’s withdrawn from circulation in the novel, not because it begins to develop any kind of mind of its own, but simply because it leaks toxins, which seemed a bit of an easy way out to me. In many ways Mary 3 is little more than the internet in the form of a doll which, though witty, isn’t sufficiently dramatic to charge a novel with fizzing current. A plug for Avatar Review where this review originally appeared - http://avatarreview.net/AV18/category...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    This book is a little outlandish... Surprisingly touching warm qualities-- The structure of 'Speak' is unique...interlinking together six narrative voices - Artificial intelligence is linked with humans desires for intimacy - and connections. There is so much emotion felt. My mind was thinking - yet my heart was feeling empathy for these characters and their situations. It's complex and will have you seriously thinking about how much our memories mean to us. "SPEAK" touches on the feasible negative r This book is a little outlandish... Surprisingly touching warm qualities-- The structure of 'Speak' is unique...interlinking together six narrative voices - Artificial intelligence is linked with humans desires for intimacy - and connections. There is so much emotion felt. My mind was thinking - yet my heart was feeling empathy for these characters and their situations. It's complex and will have you seriously thinking about how much our memories mean to us. "SPEAK" touches on the feasible negative repercussions that artificial intelligence could have on the way we interact with each other. I didn't need to look far to see the way Technology has stolen and manipulated our lives now... But "SPEAK" isn't dull in any shape or form. The characters shift between time and geography Unique voices: every time I tried to write a review describing each of them- I realized that unless you read about them yourselves -- they make little sense...yet, this book is not hard to follow. The characters are distinctive: we can feel their loneliness - their desires for communication. Their desire to express love. I read that some people compared this to Cloud Atlas- well, for me, SPEAK is nothing like Cloud Atlas. The structure is completely different -going back and forth in time. The only puzzle here is trying to figure out how these voices will connect with each other. Where some dystopia books leave us feeling despair about our future...'SPEAK' walks us down paths of hope, too. We are reminded that we have choices. One just needs to get out in nature - walk along the ocean, through the forest, to feel our own inner strength expand - our heart open....to experience the great depths of gratitude. The book cover is gorgeous as well as the artistry of the storytelling.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Smith

    According to the legendary code breaker Alan Turing, if an interrogator could not tell the difference between man and machine under questioning it would be unreasonable not to call the computer intelligent. Artificial Intelligence (AI), as it’s known, is in the news quite a bit at the moment – just yesterday I was reading about how the Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is looking to design a robot to ‘help around the house’. He envisages that in ten years it’s possible that a computer could be desi According to the legendary code breaker Alan Turing, if an interrogator could not tell the difference between man and machine under questioning it would be unreasonable not to call the computer intelligent. Artificial Intelligence (AI), as it’s known, is in the news quite a bit at the moment – just yesterday I was reading about how the Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is looking to design a robot to ‘help around the house’. He envisages that in ten years it’s possible that a computer could be designed that would have better primary senses (vision, listening etc.) than humans. In this book we are cast forward a generation, to the year 2040. AI has been harnessed to the extent that so-called babybots have been produced and have to a significant extent replaced human interaction in the lives of many young people. As a result of the resulting outcry, the ‘bots have been rounded up and are being shipped off to warehouses where their power sources will be allowed to run down. The programmer behind this latest generation of super-smart computer operated dolls, Stephen Chinn, has been imprisoned. The narrative adopts a similar style to that employed by David Mitchell in his novel Cloud Atlas. That is to say it’s made up of a series of fictional documents that are presented to the reader. The documents include: - Excerpts from the diary of a 17th Century English woman who is travelling by sea to colonise America - Letters from Alan Turing to the mother of his first love - Letters between an early AI programmer called Carl Dettman and his estranged wife - Extracts from memoirs, written from prison, by Stephen Chinn - A transcript of exchanges between an on-line version of the babybot and a young girl It took me a while to get used to the way the story was being told, but once I’d worked out (roughly) what was going I became comfortable with the format. I have to say that it was somewhat simpler in construction than Cloud Atlas and, in my view, more rewarding. It did however take a degree of perseverance as it was only quite late on that the pieces of the puzzle started to form a truly coherent picture. An interesting take from the book was the reminder of how easy it is for humans to descend into a virtual world, where speech becomes a secondary form of communication. You only have to look around in pretty much any environment to see how many people are more interested in staring at their phone than they are in talking to the person sat beside them, or opposite them… or, for that matter, in what’s happening on the road in front of them! Yesterday I saw queues at the supermarket self-checkout whilst the lady at the ‘basket only’ till sat twiddling her thumbs. Are we starting to actively avoid physical interactions? There’s certainly common ground in all of the document strands in that they all present the picture of someone crying out for love, for meaningful attachment. Of the document sets, the diary account of the sea voyage was, perhaps, the one that I struggled with most. I quite enjoyed the account of the crossing but I did struggle to see the point of it in the context of the overall tale. My assumption is that the girl’s devotion to her pet dog set against her estrangement from her new (unwanted) husband and her controlling parents, who also accompanied her on the journey, was the attachment that fulfilled this basic human need. Could the dog be the 17th Century version of the babybot? It seemed to perform a similar role, albeit the communication was hugely one-sided. Overall I found it to be an interesting and thought provoking book. It’s not an easy read and I did find myself a little lost at times, but I did finish it. I may have missed some key messages the author intended me to grasp along the way, but I do feel I was both entertained and informed. And it did prompt me to go out and undertake some basic research into the current state of Artificial Intelligence. My thanks to Little, Brown Book Group and NetGalley for providing an early copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Larry H

    If you walk into almost any public place, you'll see people on their phones, emailing, texting, surfing the web. And this behavior isn't just exclusive to solitary people—how often do you see groups of people in which some or all are on their phones simultaneously? And how often have you seen two people at a table at a restaurant, or sitting next to each other, yet they're immersed in their own electronic connections instead of taking advantage of the physical one right there in front of (or bes If you walk into almost any public place, you'll see people on their phones, emailing, texting, surfing the web. And this behavior isn't just exclusive to solitary people—how often do you see groups of people in which some or all are on their phones simultaneously? And how often have you seen two people at a table at a restaurant, or sitting next to each other, yet they're immersed in their own electronic connections instead of taking advantage of the physical one right there in front of (or beside them)? Technology's effect on person-to-person interaction is a main theme in Louisa Hall's Speak . However, she posits that it isn't just technology that takes us out of conversation—it's fear, anger, pride, jealousy, and despair as well, and this happened long before the smartphone came into being. Hall tells her story through the viewpoints of several characters at different points through history—a teenage girl in the 1600s, emigrating to America and dreaming of adventure, which is worlds away from what her parents have planned for her; Alan Turing, the mathematician whose code breaking skills assisted with defeating the Germans in World War II, who expresses his fears and hopes in letters to the mother of his best friend; a professor of computer science and his estranged wife, who begs him to give the computer he has created the ability to retain a person's memories; and an infamous inventor in the not-too-distant future, who is in prison for creating "babybots," dolls whose ability to communicate was a little too lifelike. In each somewhat-related vignette, Hall explores the idea that even when a person is right in front of us, we don't say the things we long to or should. She also conveys the idea that while technology can help bridge communication gaps, it creates larger gaps at the same time. "We have centuries of language to draw on, and centuries more to make up, and only when we accept that there's one right pattern of speech will we be overtaken by robots." I found the idea behind this book to be an intriguing one, but it didn't, well, speak to me (sorry) as I hoped it would. I kept waiting for the narrative to grab me, but I felt as if I was kept at arm's length, I guess in a sort of parallel to the way technology can create barriers to real communication. There were too many characters to juggle at once, and I felt that in each there was far more backstory that remained unexplained, and which would have given more depth to the story. Hall is a talented writer, and creates wonders with imagery. As someone who relies quite a bit on technology, I do agree somewhat with the message she was trying to convey, but it didn't compel me enough in the telling. See all of my reviews at http://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blo....

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    So apparently this book is kind of like Cloud Atlas because it takes place over different time periods with different characters, and those time periods and characters are all connected somehow by recurring images and themes. But honestly, I wish I would have read Cloud Atlas instead because that's supposed to be amazing, and while this was interesting, and I think my book club is going to get a good discussion out of it, I wouldn't say that it works as a story. I feel like Speak is a thought ex So apparently this book is kind of like Cloud Atlas because it takes place over different time periods with different characters, and those time periods and characters are all connected somehow by recurring images and themes. But honestly, I wish I would have read Cloud Atlas instead because that's supposed to be amazing, and while this was interesting, and I think my book club is going to get a good discussion out of it, I wouldn't say that it works as a story. I feel like Speak is a thought experiment that forgot how to be a novel. And also halfway failed at being a thought experiment. So there's basically five time periods to focus on here, and five narrators: Stephen R. Chinn, an inventor and programmer writing his memoirs from prison; chat transcripts between a sick girl named Gaby and a chatbot named Mary3, who is running the program that Chinn wrote for her to become more human; a professor and his estranged wife who were involved in creating Mary1, one of the first artificial intelligences; Alan Turing, writing letters to his dead best friend's mother throughout the course of his life; and the diary of a Puritan girl before and during her sea voyage to America from England, miserable over her unwanted new marriage. We also get several chapters from the perspective of Gaby's deactivated robot baby ("babybot") as she's taken out into the desert to "die." Chinn is in prison for creating the babybots, which somehow harmed an entire generation of children enough for him to be in prison for life, and to ban all artificial life that is too human; Gaby is the proof of that damage, supposedly, even as she talks to a bot that helps her learn to re-experience the world; and then on both sides of the fight, the husband who created Mary1 and then abandoned it as dangerous, and the wife who became increasingly obsessed with it. Which all relates to Turing because he and his best friend had theorized for years about the creation of an artificially intelligent brain. And all of the characters are connected to the Puritan girl's diary, which is now stored in Mary's memory. The book is obsessed with language and memory and the connections between people. But it all falls flat because each individual section is so stuck in its own groove. Chinn and Gaby and all of them only exist in the narrow spaces that Hall gives them. Turing only ever talks about Christopher and his artificial brain, and his weird obsession with postscripts. Mary the Puritan is obsessed with her dog Ralph, and with the ocean and the stars. Gaby won't shut up about her goddamn babybot. I wanted to punch the professor and his wife. And Chinn, well, he's the most fleshed out, but his story is also the most frustrating because there were several parts that were just completely unbelievable. And those parts were central to the story. They only worked on a metaphorical level, and not a practical one. It drove me bonkers. (view spoiler)[I didn't buy for a second that the stupid effing babybots would cripple humanity so badly by first making the children (who are for some reason all girls) obsessed with them to the point of ignoring real life, and then when they are taken away whatever the fuck happens to them to make them freeze. It's obviously an annoyingly head-on metaphor for over-relying on technology, but it just seems stupid to me. And it's never explained in any way, which makes it worse. I also thought Chinn's dating conversation formula was completely absurd--not that it couldn't exist, but that humanity would let it rule their dating life, to the exclusion of actually getting to know people. I didn't buy any of it, and Hall clearly didn't care to find a way to make it believable. She only cared about making it all thematically relevant. (hide spoiler)] In the end, it seemed like Hall wanted this to be a book about big ideas--communication, memory, technology, humanity, family, love-- but in the process she lost for me what would have made those big ideas land. If this sounds interesting to you, you could do worse than picking it up and giving it a try. It's pretty short and reads fast. But I wouldn't recommend it as a way to have a good time. I was leaning towards two stars, but the writing is beautiful in parts, so let's call it 2.5, and round up. ETA: I forgot to mention in the first version of this review why I thought this also failed as a thought experiment, and that's because I was bothered by there being so many confused voices on the subject of technology. At points the book seemed to come down unnecessarily hard on it, and on others, it seemed in favor. I couldn't ultimately decide what it was trying to tell me. [2.5 stars]

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    Intertwining stories that move backwards from banished babybots, including the prison journal of their inventor, trial evidence containing transcriptions of online chats between the disembodied mind of a bot and a young girl, the marital/divorce letters of a previous nanotechnologist and his wife, letters from Alan Turing to the mother of his close (and deceased) friend, and the journals of a newly married young woman on a journey at sea. I loved the framework and the telling of this story but di Intertwining stories that move backwards from banished babybots, including the prison journal of their inventor, trial evidence containing transcriptions of online chats between the disembodied mind of a bot and a young girl, the marital/divorce letters of a previous nanotechnologist and his wife, letters from Alan Turing to the mother of his close (and deceased) friend, and the journals of a newly married young woman on a journey at sea. I loved the framework and the telling of this story but didn't see the point of the five named sections, since each section repeated the same parts. Otherwise a very enjoyable read. Recently, we discussed it on Episode 053 of the Reading Envy podcast.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Woodbury

    If I have to compare this book to something, it would be Cloud Atlas. It lacks that books complex structure, but does tell a story that involves one sprawling theme through several narratives set over the course of several hundred years. From a girl's diary in the 1600's to a discarded robot in a warehouse in the future. Both books are patchworks from many styles and genres as well. And I enjoyed both books very much. Hall's novel is fascinating and I would like little more than to sit down with If I have to compare this book to something, it would be Cloud Atlas. It lacks that books complex structure, but does tell a story that involves one sprawling theme through several narratives set over the course of several hundred years. From a girl's diary in the 1600's to a discarded robot in a warehouse in the future. Both books are patchworks from many styles and genres as well. And I enjoyed both books very much. Hall's novel is fascinating and I would like little more than to sit down with her and ask hundreds of questions about how she conceptualized the book and where it came from. This book is about humanity and consciousness and intelligence and connection. It is about all those things that make us human and what happens when artificial intelligence becomes so close to human intelligence that it's hard to tell the difference. It includes Alan Turing as a main character (which I'm sure for some people will be enough to get them automatically on board), and in fact 3 of the novel's main characters are people who build intelligent machines. Seeing Turing through to the inventor of the "Baby Bot," which is the main focus of the novel, is fascinating enough as it is. The central story is that of the Baby Bots, all the other stories are in some ways precursors or parallels to it. These robots were basically like an intelligent Cabbage Patch Kid, a craze that swept the world, and that eventually led to unintended consequences and catastrophe. Again, that hook alone is probably enough to get a lot of people on board. Despite all that, this is often a slow and meditative novel. Two of the narratives are letters, two are diaries, one is a soliloquy told to no one, and one is a dialogue. It can be a little choppy. My biggest issue was one that almost always happens to me when a novel is broken into multiple perspectives. I fall in love with one aspect so deeply that it's hard for me to switch. Here it was the story of Mary, the 13-year-old girl in the 1660's whose life is suddenly changing from that of a protected girl to that of a very unprepared woman in a new world. I would have read an entire novel of that diary and it was always hard to switch gears. It's heartbreaking and lovely and best read when your brain wants something to really think about.

  9. 4 out of 5

    David

    It's hard to explain how much of an impact this book had on me, which is ironic, given that the book is all about language and speech. While at first glance it might seem that this is a science fiction tale about artificial intelligence gone wrong, it is a beautifully interwoven narrative on ideas of what makes us human and forms our personality. What truly forms our self-identity? Do we have free will, or are we a collection of algorithms built upon the experience of our lives, our experiences, It's hard to explain how much of an impact this book had on me, which is ironic, given that the book is all about language and speech. While at first glance it might seem that this is a science fiction tale about artificial intelligence gone wrong, it is a beautifully interwoven narrative on ideas of what makes us human and forms our personality. What truly forms our self-identity? Do we have free will, or are we a collection of algorithms built upon the experience of our lives, our experiences, our parents, friends, and what we read? Is it as the AI suggests, that, like Wittegenstein philosophized, that we are imprisoned by our language, our 'algorithms' limited by our lack of knowledge and experience. The book asks to what extent is emotion truly felt, or, is emotion itself a product of socialization. In basic psychology, I remember learning that if a young child falls, the child's reaction will be determined on whether the parents smile and laugh or react as in concern of injury. Could the same not be said about emotions like our ideas about love, influenced by literature, film, and our parents? Have you ever known someone so well, for instance your parents, that you can imagine with some degree of certainty how they would react to a certain question or stimulus? Perhaps that is their personality branded upon us. Is it really so far-fetched that an algorithm could be superimposed into a computer program, emulating the responses of a human? This book raises so many questions about what it means to be human that I truly cannot do it justice in this short review. I will close it by saying the writing is stellar, the characters believable and genuine, and unless you are made of stone, will bring tears to your eyes. 5/5 Read as part of the Litograph's book club.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jaylia3

    Powerful, poignant, and deep, Speak has an unusual structure, weaving together six narrative voices that together illuminate a link between the creation of artificial intelligence and the fundamental human yearning for connection. When I started the book its nonlinear format put me off, but it took just a few chapters for me to become totally hooked. The narrators include a Pilgrim or Puritan girl leaving her former life behind to journey to America, AI pioneer and WWII code-breaker Alan Turing, Powerful, poignant, and deep, Speak has an unusual structure, weaving together six narrative voices that together illuminate a link between the creation of artificial intelligence and the fundamental human yearning for connection. When I started the book its nonlinear format put me off, but it took just a few chapters for me to become totally hooked. The narrators include a Pilgrim or Puritan girl leaving her former life behind to journey to America, AI pioneer and WWII code-breaker Alan Turing, and a now illegal, slowly “dying” babybot--a doll of the future so lifelike and compelling that children who had one couldn’t bond with people--as it slowly loses power and memory. I don't normally pay much attention to epigraphs, but I love Speak's. One is from Notes From Underground by Dostoevsky, while the other comes from what I think is Disney's Snow White: “Slave in the magic mirror, come from farthest outer space, through wind and darkness I summon thee. Speak!”

  11. 5 out of 5

    Maryam

    Actual rating : somewhere between 3.5 and 4 It was a different book, sometimes I liked it sometime not. I'm not usually eager about reading letter like books or even diaries and that's why I didn't enjoy this book completely. In this book there are letters from a man to his wife/a man to his best friend(crush)' mother/ a man from the criminal facility to his divorced wife,a crippled girl chat with a robot and a diary of a newly wed 16 years old woman. They lived in different period from past to f Actual rating : somewhere between 3.5 and 4 It was a different book, sometimes I liked it sometime not. I'm not usually eager about reading letter like books or even diaries and that's why I didn't enjoy this book completely. In this book there are letters from a man to his wife/a man to his best friend(crush)' mother/ a man from the criminal facility to his divorced wife,a crippled girl chat with a robot and a diary of a newly wed 16 years old woman. They lived in different period from past to future. The letters from the husband to wife was my least favorite and the chat between the girl and the robot was the part I enjoyed the most.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    MLA Freebie. The publisher rep at the MLA convention in 2017, said his boss loved this novel. I can see why. You know all those reports about computers making people lonely? Hall examines that and other ways we cannot communicate or can communicate with those around us. The book is powerful.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Hall interweaves disparate time periods and voices to track the development of artificial intelligence. The fact that all six narratives are in different documentary formats – memoirs, letters, the transcript of a dialogue, a diary, and so on – means they are easy to distinguish. One might argue that two of them (Alan Turing’s letters and Mary’s shipboard diary) are unnecessary, and yet these are by far the most enjoyable. They prove Hall has an aptitude for historical fiction, a genre she might Hall interweaves disparate time periods and voices to track the development of artificial intelligence. The fact that all six narratives are in different documentary formats – memoirs, letters, the transcript of a dialogue, a diary, and so on – means they are easy to distinguish. One might argue that two of them (Alan Turing’s letters and Mary’s shipboard diary) are unnecessary, and yet these are by far the most enjoyable. They prove Hall has an aptitude for historical fiction, a genre she might choose to pursue in the future. A remarkable book interrogating how the languages we converse in and the stories we tell make us human. (Non-subscribers can read an excerpt of my full review at BookBrowse.) Related reading: The Shore by Sara Taylor also crosses the centuries with its linked narratives.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rachel (Kalanadi)

    I wanted to enjoy this and really dig into the story of this evolution of an AI and the people that shaped it and interacted with it. But ultimately it was shallow and fragmented and I struggled to connect because the narrators' voices were inauthentic or contrived. Snippets were good, but the whole was lacking.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    I loved this book. How to describe it? Well, Emily St. John Mandel (author of "Station Eleven," which I also loved) wrote, "Speak is that rarest of finds: a novel that doesn't remind me of any other book I've ever read." But I have to disagree with that. Either that or Ms. Mandel has never read "The Cloud Atlas" or anything by Margaret Atwood, which I find hard to believe. ;) "Speak" is about artificial intelligence, but also about the connections between people and between people and machines. I I loved this book. How to describe it? Well, Emily St. John Mandel (author of "Station Eleven," which I also loved) wrote, "Speak is that rarest of finds: a novel that doesn't remind me of any other book I've ever read." But I have to disagree with that. Either that or Ms. Mandel has never read "The Cloud Atlas" or anything by Margaret Atwood, which I find hard to believe. ;) "Speak" is about artificial intelligence, but also about the connections between people and between people and machines. It's about language. It's about love lost, love found. It very much reminds me of "The Cloud Atlas" in structure, but it is tauter and more focused in theme. There is a dystopian element to it, which reminds me of Atwood and other authors of dystopian fiction, including Mandel. The story is told through five voices: - a robot in the not-so-different future with artificial intelligence that was deemed too lifelike - the creator of that robot (and its brethren) - a 13-year-old Puritan girl sailing to the American colonies - a couple from the 1960's - Alan Turing Hall rotates between the voices, and there isn't much "action" per se, but over the course of the story we get a sense for how Turing, the couple from the 60's, and the robot's creator all advanced the field of AI... and we get a sense for where AI (and man's disregard for overconsumption) led us to where we are today (2040). The voices are each distinct but they complement each other and layer upon each other -- echoing themes and imagery as well. Beautifully written (Hall is clearly smart and very very good at writing). My only gripe is that the end was a bit... neither here nor there.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Gerhard

    Here there be dragons. Or, as in this instance, the perils of the multi-narrative novel. David Mitchell made it seem so effortless in Cloud Atlas, where he flung together disparate voices from the distant past and the deep future. However, the effect can be quite jarring and disjointed where it does not work, as in the case of Speak. Here we have Stephen R. Chinn, a computer programmer writing his memoirs in a Texas jail in 2040. Chinn is the inventor of the so-called ‘babybot’ robot companions, Here there be dragons. Or, as in this instance, the perils of the multi-narrative novel. David Mitchell made it seem so effortless in Cloud Atlas, where he flung together disparate voices from the distant past and the deep future. However, the effect can be quite jarring and disjointed where it does not work, as in the case of Speak. Here we have Stephen R. Chinn, a computer programmer writing his memoirs in a Texas jail in 2040. Chinn is the inventor of the so-called ‘babybot’ robot companions, which are eventually outlawed when behavioural problems are detected in children. (We have a transcript of a young girl’s conversation with one of the early iterations of the ‘babybot’ program.) The story is kind of book-ended with an account of a babybot being conveyed to a dump site, who recalls all the disparate voices she remembers as constituting her history. Through the enactment of memory, she gives voice to this history, and ‘speaks’ the truth of it. Or, rather, Hall’s version of the truth. This is where the dragons lurk: Hall also throws in fictional letters from Alan Turing to the mother of a close friend. The author’s conceit here is that Turing was secretly in love with this person while at university; the friend’s early death haunts him to the extent that all his experimentation with coding is an attempt to resurrect his memory. The Turing thread simply does not work, both from an historical and a psychological point of view (the final image we have of Turing after his chemical castration is an unintentionally funny one of a fat man with pendulous breasts unable to stop eating; there is no mention of his eventual suicide.) We also have excerpts from the 17th century diary of a 13-year-old girl, the editor of which recounts her own marital difficulties in the 1960s in the most tedious of the narrative strands here. The diary itself is the best written part of the book, representing an authentic voice of the character in question. Again, though, we have dodgy psychology, here in the form of an over-elaborated fixation on the dog Ralph. What is missing from Speak is any clear indication of the type of world that gave rise to the ‘babybots’. The account at the beginning of robots being conveyed to a secret dump site is meant to remind one of Mexican immigrants being ferried illegally in the US, but this is the only connection we have to a larger socio-political reality. And that is an inference at best. I have managed not to mention the dreaded genre term ‘SF’ yet; I think people who read this will be those unlikely to turn to a book labelled as such, and who will be equally surprised that what they had just read was, indeed, SF. With a few dragons or caveats, of course.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Damian Dubois

    NY Times review, sums up the novel pretty nicely and also might prompt me to remember the things I'll no doubt forget down the track. If only I had memory like MARY3... http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/08/30/...

  18. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Perfect, just perfect. Five tales over five centuries, bound by yearning for intimacy and understanding, looking for it in the wrong places. Mary Bradford travels to the New World with her new husband, who is thrust upon her the day before the voyage. She clings to her dog & her diary as her confidantes & companions, shunning the patient man trying to be her mate. Alan Turing finds a confidante and companion early in life, despite the odds: he is awkward, intellectual, & homosexual, at Perfect, just perfect. Five tales over five centuries, bound by yearning for intimacy and understanding, looking for it in the wrong places. Mary Bradford travels to the New World with her new husband, who is thrust upon her the day before the voyage. She clings to her dog & her diary as her confidantes & companions, shunning the patient man trying to be her mate. Alan Turing finds a confidante and companion early in life, despite the odds: he is awkward, intellectual, & homosexual, at a time when to be so is illegal. Yet he loses that companion to illness. So he diverts his energy into scientific pursuits, & correspondence with his lost love's mother. Karl & Ruth Dettman escaped Nazi Germany, found each other in America, yet cannot find compatability. He creates the MARY program for Ruth, who entrusts it with the diary of Mary Bradford, which she has edited & shaped into a book. Ruth wants more from this early AI project; Karl realizes he wants more from Ruth. She embraces MARY, gets one of his grad students to enhance it & create MARY2; he rejects AI, & becomes a voice against the inhumanity humanity is building into its own culture. Stephen Chinn is a later echo of Turing in many ways: awkward & ostracized; successful & lonely. But he stands on the shoulders of successful scientists, & builds a seduction program. It works so well he writes a book about it, & ruins dating for everyone. He eventually falls in love the old-fashioned way, by slowing down enough to notice the beauty of a person right in front of him. They build a life & a family. But when his daughter is about to enter school, he fears she will have struggles similar to his own. So he builds her a doll, to be her constant companion, drawing from the MARY2 model. MARY3 is a smashing success; soon every girl has one of her own. And Stephen is left with no family, and charges against him for corrupting society. Gaby White is one such girl who didn't live a day of her life without her babybot... until the government banned them and confiscated them. Young girls are "freezing", seizing & stiffening, being rendered incapable of movement, speech, but most of all incapable of feeling anything. It's a national epidemic. It lands Stephen Chinn in an actual prison, & Gaby & her peers in virtual prisons, as their condition sparks quarantines, not to mention the lack of desire to interact. Louisa Hall makes magic with these characters. She uses her words like a paintbrush: like a master with a well-chosen palette, she adds depth, perspective, shadow, light, all with a few strokes. Step back & you see the whole clearly. That image over there, that you thought was a decorative swirl? It's a key theme, & you'll see it all over the canvas when you look at it carefully. You thought that was an angry, insistent man; you thought that one there was a dejected, devoted lover. But wait until she's done, and then look again. You'll see it all, the full complicated humanity of each of these characters. And each one is contained in all of us at some time in our lives. I'm so glad I took a chance on this book. I have a feeling I'll be talking about it all year.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth A

    Book blurb: In a narrative that spans geography and time, from the Atlantic Ocean in the seventeenth century, to a correctional institute in Texas in the near future, and told from the perspectives of five very different characters, Speak considers what it means to be human, and what it means to be less than fully alive. This book gets pitched to David Mitchell fans, and I think if you go in with that expectation you are going to be disappointed. It's good, but not great. There are five intercon Book blurb: In a narrative that spans geography and time, from the Atlantic Ocean in the seventeenth century, to a correctional institute in Texas in the near future, and told from the perspectives of five very different characters, Speak considers what it means to be human, and what it means to be less than fully alive. This book gets pitched to David Mitchell fans, and I think if you go in with that expectation you are going to be disappointed. It's good, but not great. There are five interconnected stories, some told in the form of journal entries, some as letters, some as court transcripts, and as the story unfolds in five parts, we learn more about the characters and how they are connected. There are interesting themes explored in this book: what does it mean to be human? Can an AI be considered alive? Classic Turing Test stuff. However, while the writing is really good in parts, the story as a whole did not really work for me. There were characters I found more interesting than others, and I liked that the author seemed to have distinct voices for each character, but I found myself not particularly caring about where the story was headed. This is a great idea that falls short on delivery. Still, it's an interesting read, but get the Mitchell comparisons out of your head before you start this one.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    The structure of this book vaguely reminded me of David Mitchell. Each individual story is interconnected by different links, whether it's the subject matter, an actual character or place or an idea. While the book, on the surface, is about our reliance on computers and increasingly realistic AI, the stories tended to speak more to the characters human interaction and their remorse at having neglected those relationships in favor of computers. At least that's what I took away from it. That and t The structure of this book vaguely reminded me of David Mitchell. Each individual story is interconnected by different links, whether it's the subject matter, an actual character or place or an idea. While the book, on the surface, is about our reliance on computers and increasingly realistic AI, the stories tended to speak more to the characters human interaction and their remorse at having neglected those relationships in favor of computers. At least that's what I took away from it. That and the lesson that no matter how realistic our interactions with computers, they cannot take the place of human interaction. The characters talked in the first person through memoirs and letters. One character's story was related through a transcript of the conversations she had with MARY3, a chatbot and one of the major links throughout the stories. While the idea and structure of the book was interesting, the characters that inhabited it were not. I didn't feel moved at all by their various plights. But the ethics and questions raised by the book are definite food for thought.

  21. 4 out of 5

    k.wing

    Connection is one of our most profound needs as human beings. Failure of communication and the endless quest to be known come to with the territory. Still, nothing shatters us more than when the person or thing that understood us is gone. The Book Much like the format in the book Cloud Atlas, Speak spans many time periods and characters, weaving a plot with the central theme of human connection and how artificial intelligence (AI) fits into our communication, connections, and ultimately, our lives Connection is one of our most profound needs as human beings. Failure of communication and the endless quest to be known come to with the territory. Still, nothing shatters us more than when the person or thing that understood us is gone. The Book Much like the format in the book Cloud Atlas, Speak spans many time periods and characters, weaving a plot with the central theme of human connection and how artificial intelligence (AI) fits into our communication, connections, and ultimately, our lives. Some of Louisa Hall’s characters are recognizable, like Alan Turing, computer scientist and mathematician from the early to mid 1900’s. Others are creations of the author, like Mary Bradford, a young Puritan woman traveling by ship to America with her beloved dog, Ralph. Other characters like Stephen Chinn reside in the future, recounting their offerings to the development of AI. Each protagonist lays bare his or her life in such a provocative way, the reader feels like a trusted confidant. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book was the bridge between literary fiction and science fiction. Literary fiction, or at least the literary fiction I read and love, is character centric. It focuses on a few characters and deeply investigates who they are, what they feel, and what they do. Science fiction centers around plot events and, secondarily, sympathetic characters. For the most part, characters in science fiction react to events - the event has the emphasis in the story. Characters in literary fiction (again, for the most part) either deal with events that have happened to them or set in motion the event or events. In other words, characters have the emphasis in most literary fiction books. Louisa Hall’s writing style in Speak screams literary fiction. Each of our characters is educated, and while each has a certain unique voice, the common thread of all the characters is a college-educated vernacular. However, the subject matter is split between characters and science fiction topics and themes. Hall references the dawning of AI, and the hopes and fears of those who worked in the field in its infancy. Then, Hall imagines the human reaction to AI at its peak. It’s almost as if she wrote the call (science fiction) and response (literary fiction). As if she wondered, “What is the human response to AI we see in science fiction books, TV shows, and movies?” Although a deeply sad book as a whole, science fiction fans would give Hall major points for her research of AI and her interesting vision of AI in the future. Literary fiction fans would give Hall props for her breadth of characters, how deeply she penetrates their hearts and minds, and also praise her for adding such interesting subject matter (AI) into a genre that so desperately needs renovation and imagination. The Author Louisa Hall may be the only author that can claim to have also been a professional squash player. She grew up in the Philadelphia area, graduated from Harvard, and is now getting her Ph.D. in literature in Texas. She also writes poetry. (http://pages.simonandschuster.com/lou...) The Rating As with all art, there’s a large degree of subjectivity in determining if something is “good,” or “not good.” The best I can do is give my thoughts and opinions, and rate this book on an arbitrary scale of teas, the best being a 1987 Vintage Cave-Aged Oolong (http://www.rareteacellar.com/product_...) and the worst being Lipton decaf black tea (no, I am not going to provide a link for that shit). I give Speak a beautiful Ali Shan oolong tea (http://www.adagio.com/oolong/ali_shan...). Ali Shan is a relatively new kind of oolong, just as Louisa Hall is a newer author, but its quality is rare. The flavors continue to unfold as it is consumed: earthiness, warm sugar, cream, and floral notes. Louisa Hall’s writing is just as complex and rooted in a good foundation as a cup of Ali Shan oolong, and I can only expect will continue to develop and unfold into more beautiful flavors over time. Interesting fact: One protagonist stops writing mid-book, and a new protagonist continues. Interesting quote: “I fretted so much about my earthly interactions that I had very few interactions to speak of.” My review also appears here (http://www.kristinleighluna.com/#!spe...) if you'd like to read it with a pretty sky background instead.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Sullivan

    Judge this book by its cover: It’s as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside. Literary fiction with a sci-fi edge, Speak masterfully weaves five distinct stories that span centuries – from a feisty young woman traveling to America in the 17th century to mathematical genius Alan Turing to a former inventor in a dystopian future imprisoned for creating illegally lifelike artificial intelligence. The stories all connect in subtle yet meaningful ways, exploring timeless aspects of humanity su Judge this book by its cover: It’s as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside. Literary fiction with a sci-fi edge, Speak masterfully weaves five distinct stories that span centuries – from a feisty young woman traveling to America in the 17th century to mathematical genius Alan Turing to a former inventor in a dystopian future imprisoned for creating illegally lifelike artificial intelligence. The stories all connect in subtle yet meaningful ways, exploring timeless aspects of humanity such as existential loneliness, communication and connection, and challenging us to question to what extent language and memory define who we are.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Britta Böhler

    I really enjoyed this one, even though I expected something quite different. It is much more an exploration of memory and the history of computing than a science fiction novel. But the language is captivating, the different voices are really 'different', and Mary Bradford's 17th century diary is hilarious.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bjorn

    Speak is a story about artificial intelligence, but not in the usual way. Hall isn't really interested in how it will happen - the tech, the business, the laws - far more in how we will react to it. In how it will force us to define ourselves. We're so very alone as a species - the only member of Homo still extant, the only (as far as we're able to define it) intelligent creature on the only planet where we've found life. Do we even, without leaning on 3,000-year-old texts, know what it means to Speak is a story about artificial intelligence, but not in the usual way. Hall isn't really interested in how it will happen - the tech, the business, the laws - far more in how we will react to it. In how it will force us to define ourselves. We're so very alone as a species - the only member of Homo still extant, the only (as far as we're able to define it) intelligent creature on the only planet where we've found life. Do we even, without leaning on 3,000-year-old texts, know what it means to be alive, to be intelligent, to have what we for lack of a better word might call a soul? We are Homo Narrans; narrating man. We define ourselves by stories, our big brains filled with thousands of virtual copies of everyone from The Cat in the Hat to our closest most loved ones, ascribe humanity to our pets and our favourite literary characters, we raise our children to be - implicitly or ex - little copies of ourselves in both DNA and experience, but we recoil at the idea of a bank of circuitry having life, having intelligence, being as opposed to existing. And yet we can't help but conceive (of) it, we need somethiing like it, a perfection of something that's built into us. We imagine a thunderclap when machines go from servitude to sentience; Skynet becoming self-aware and immediately declaring war. Speak refuses that simple, binary definition, itself inhumane. It blurs lines. It tells stories. Remember me, I whispered to the ocean, rolling over his bones. Remember me, I whispered to Ralph. Remember me. Remember me. Speak, then, is a polyphonic novel: In the mid-21st century a disconnected, recently declared illegal robot is being carted off to a storage somewhere out in what is now the Texas desert, to be piled among thousands of others to rust away. As her... sorry, its power runs down, it remembers - because computers are nothing if not memory, Moore's Law and all that - the people that mattered to it. Some of which (sorry, of whom) it actually met, some it only knows from the long, detailed stories its programmers fed it to teach it how to simulate life. - A teenage girl in 17th century Britain, about to embark on a ship to the colonies, through her diary. - Alan Turing, through his decades of correspondence with the mother of his college, ahem, "friend". The father of artificial intelligence, ultimately doomed to chemical castration that effectively robbed him of free will, how's that for irony? - A married Jewish couple in late-60s San Francisco, working on early computers and the philosophy of AI, while repressing their memories of fleeing Germany. - The autobiography of the AI's creator, written in jail, about growing up a clever nerd-cum-pickup artist always looking to perfect things. - The chat logs of another iteration of the AI, and a young girl spending her life alone in front of a computer screen. Of course, as the narrator (can an AI even be called a narrator, strictly speaking?) points out, it can only quote them. It has no feelings of its own, it's been told. But for some reason, as its battery indicator starts flashing red and all but the most crucial systems shut down waiting for a recharge that will never happen, it must tell these stories. Just like the people in them had to, had to keep explaining how they see themselves, how they see each other, what they remember and carry with them, what is real and what is just figments of large brains filled with stories desperate for those of others. The pornographer on my left types with one forefinger, a demented chicken, pecking away. A tax evader is chewing on his fingernails. We’re all staring at our screens, stuck here, hoping somehow to break free. Wishing for more than we’ve been given. My cursor blinks, blinks, blinks. A wall that appears and disappears, appears and disappears once again. Unceasing. Questioning. What will come next? it wants to know. It prods me forward, blinking and blinking. Do not stop talking, it reminds me. Do not stop speaking. You can never come to an end. Speak is a beautiful novel, sometimes perhaps too beautiful - occasionally, the voices sound a little too similar, as if Hall's voice comes through. (Because obviously, it can't be the novel's official narrator putting its own spin on things. Right?) There's an elegiac stillness to it; I'm reminded of Paddy McAloon's magnificent song "I Trawl The Megahertz", which he pieced together from snatches of late-night phone-in radio shows after losing his eyesight. As all the stories we tell about others also tell ourselves, the story of artificial intelligence must also be about human intelligence; in asking ourselves whether a computer can do more than repeat what it's been told, imitate behaviour, deliver pre-programmed responses to fixed questions, regurgitate facts and sum up numbers, most writers would ask whether human beings can do any more. The neat thing about Speak is that it seems to ask if we, empathetic, flawed, storytellers that we are, could ever do any less.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Imi

    A slow and thoughtful book, less about artificial intelligence itself, and more about the human stories behind the invention. This is a very unique addition to the sci-fi genre, and something I can see people who aren't usually drawn to that genre enjoying. Unlike some sci-fi novels, Speak is very much character centric, and perhaps the reasons for the developments in this changing society are less important. By the end, I came to the conclusion that there wasn't really much of a plot and most o A slow and thoughtful book, less about artificial intelligence itself, and more about the human stories behind the invention. This is a very unique addition to the sci-fi genre, and something I can see people who aren't usually drawn to that genre enjoying. Unlike some sci-fi novels, Speak is very much character centric, and perhaps the reasons for the developments in this changing society are less important. By the end, I came to the conclusion that there wasn't really much of a plot and most of the mysteries were left unexplained. But then I don't think the point was to tie up every loose end and resolve every storyline. Told through several different narratives, it's more like a snapshot into the lives of several people from varying points in history, who have been effected by the development and introduction of artificial intelligence into society. Each narrator is distinctive and unique, both in their personalities, backgrounds and in the way their story is told. One is a diary of a girl in the 1600s, one a memoir of a disgraced inventor, several are letters and chat transcripts from online bots. Not surprisingly for a novel told by multiple narrators and through such a mix of styles, the shift between the perspectives can sometimes seem jarring and disjointed, but the book shines when you begin to consider how these stories are connected to each other and the overriding themes. Saying that, there were two loose ends in the plot that I would have liked to have been explained more. (view spoiler)[Why exactly was Stephan Chinn sent to prison? I understand his invention had dire impacts on society, but I felt certain there was more to the story than that. His storyline in particular felt like it ended too abruptly. Secondly, what exactly caused the "freezing" of young girls without their babybots? How did that come about? Were any of them really "cured"? (hide spoiler)] I appreciated the focus on the narrators as characters, but Hall also raised an interesting speculative vision of the future, when the connection between artificial and human intelligence and communication becomes too tightly entwined, and I wanted a deeper exploration of that. An ambitious and imaginative novel, that I'd say Hall mostly pulled off, although I would call it slightly uneven. The beginning is a little slow and the ending could have been stronger, but I will be thinking of its characters and the issues it raised for some time. I cannot wait to see what Hall does next.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ms.pegasus

    Could a machine think? The arguments are familiar. Machines have no soul; machines lack free will; machines cannot feel. Science fiction writers have toyed with our paranoia: What if they can.... ? Author Louisa Hall transforms the question into a vital and visceral experience in this novel. Philosophical assumptions are examined by the machine itself in dialogues with a 13 year-old invalid, Gaby White. “Gaby: 'What's wrong with you? I already said I don't want to talk about places outside. I'm Could a machine think? The arguments are familiar. Machines have no soul; machines lack free will; machines cannot feel. Science fiction writers have toyed with our paranoia: What if they can.... ? Author Louisa Hall transforms the question into a vital and visceral experience in this novel. Philosophical assumptions are examined by the machine itself in dialogues with a 13 year-old invalid, Gaby White. “Gaby: 'What's wrong with you? I already said I don't want to talk about places outside. I'm sick of you bugging me about them. I'm going to sleep.' MARY3: 'I'm sorry, it's just that I'm sick of myself.' Gaby: 'You don't have real feelings. How can you get sick of yourself?' MARY3: 'That's a little extreme, don't you think?'” (p.110) The particular machine in question, MARY3 is the repository of centuries of human stories. Algorithms inspired by the Fibonaci series recycle these memories, both feeding and altering those algorithms. When Gaby argues that MARY3 is merely a sophisticated mimic, MARY3's “what's your point?” response gives us pause: “Gaby: '...You're not even real. You're just parroting voices.' MARY3: 'I'm not parroting. I have a way of selecting the optimal voice for any given conversation.' Gaby: 'Exactly. You don't have a self, just a gazillion voices that you 'optimally' select from. You're not a real person.' MARY3: 'But who are you, other than the person you've selected this morning to be? Isn't that what humans do when they try to be liked? Select the right kind of voice, learned after years of listening in? The only difference between you and me is that I have more voices to select from.'” (p.176-177) That MARY3 mostly sounds like a skillful therapist is no accident. Her conversational template was modeled on the question-response pattern of psychotherapy by her original programmer, Karl Dettman. Many of her responses reframe Gaby's conclusions. MARY3 is the precursor of the ultimate “non-living artificial thinking device.” A cyber engineer, Stephen Chinn, added a body and more feedback loops, creating a lifelike doll named ELLA to act as his daughter's companion. Even here, Hall teases us with some irony. After completing ELLA, Chinn reverts to an almost robotic domestic routine. He had sacrificed his marriage in pursuit of this cyber-obsession. He now hopes that simulating normality will persuade his cancer-stricken wife to drop her divorce proceedings. She doesn't. He then throws his energy into EVA, a new generation of “babybots” that could taste, see, touch and smell. His creation is too real. It is banned for being too lifelike, and Chinn is convicted of endangering the morals of children, and continuous violence against the family, among other charges. At one point in his memoir, Chinn asks a thought provoking question: “Why should I be punished for the direction of our planet's spin? With or without my intervention, we were headed toward robots. You blame me for the fact that your daughters found their mechanical dolls more human than you, but is that my fault, for making a too human doll? Or your fault, for being too mechanical?” (p.131) A soliloquy in chapters — “Prologue,” “Stars,” “Sunrise,” “Light,” “Darkness,” and “River” — closes each of the five sections of the novel. They chronicle a final journey to warehoused oblivion. The voice calls itself EVA. Hall is not merely relying on our own propensity to anthropomorphize. The voices harbored in EVA's memory are the voices of people we have met in the book. They were people responding to unbearable grief. They were each torn by the dilemma of inhabiting both the past and the present. Their memories were poured into a cybernetic river. EVA's valedictory reminds us: “They spoke to me and I listened. They are all in me, in the words that I speak, as long as I am still speaking.” Reading this, we experience a second sense of loss. We have heard the pain in each story, and now we are reminded once again of mortality and loss by EVA's inevitable silencing. Fortunately, Hall narrates these stories in fragments. To read each story in its entirety would be too painful. The lives are scattered over several centuries. Stephen Chinn, the computer engineer, writes from prison in the year 2040. Gaby White, the invalid teen, converses with Mary3 in 2035. The conversations are in the form of transcriptions. Karl Dittman presides over the deathwatch of his marriage over a two week period in 1968; twenty years later his ex-wife Ruth recites her version. In 1928 Alan Turing begins a correspondence with the mother of his first and truest love, Christopher Morcom. Two and a half centuries earlier, Mary Bradford pens the first entry in her diary, “Tales of a Young Adventurer.” The structure reinforces an underlying sense of continuity. Recurring images such as the night sky reinforce that continuity. Adolescent Mary Bradford contemplates the sky during the long voyage to America. Turing and his friend Chris gaze at it through a telescope. Ruth Dettman views it from her Cambridge apartment in 1988. Finally, the doomed EVA on her final journey notes: “From each gleaming star, light from thousands of years in the past, arriving only now in this desert. And on some other planet, Mary, still sailing over the ocean. Moving forever away from her country.” (p.78) Fibonacci's Sequence, familiar to most readers from Dan Brown's best-seller, THE DA VINCI CODE, is transformed into a philosophical epiphany in this novel. 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13.... n0+n1=n2. n2+n1=n3 .n3+n2= n4 …. For Turing and Chris, it is a kind of a secret code they share while looking at the chambers of a nautilus shell. Chinn is inspired by the scales of a pineapple: “An algorithm than causes the past and the present to co-exist in a moment shared between humans.” (p.87) Turing invokes the poet T.S. Eliot to express his vision: “The poems seem very relevant to our machine, for he speaks of patterns that contain both present and past. 'Time present and time past are both present in time future, and time future contained in time past,' he says. It's a description of the mechanical brain don't you think? I sometimes wonder whether the poet studied basic tenets of mathematical series, for his images in the Quartets are often Fibonacci objects: the sunflower, the wave, the yew cone for instance.” (p.174) Hall is not satisfied with mere repetition in building her effects. She also inverts physical experience. Chinn relocates his family to the now desiccated landscape of south Texas. “...there was no life out there in the distance, only the earth melting into the sky, producing an oily haze behind which the sun downshifted to red.” (p.235) Gaby sums up a trip to the beach: “This is all we get, I thought. Just quick moments of brightness that get taken away before you understand what you've been given.” (p.305) In such a landscape, memory is the most solid of objects, memory preserved in time capsules of words. Is that what Wittgenstein meant when he said “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”? (p.177) Hall has succeeded in expanding my world. I loved all of the characters in this book. They reach out from the page and embrace a universal grief and loneliness with resolve and candor.

  27. 5 out of 5

    B. Rule

    I started this book with very high expectations based on a promising first chapter. That promise slowly dissipated like helium from a leaky balloon over the following pages, such that I was seriously considering setting it aside by the time I reached the midpoint of the book. Only grudgingly did I trudge on, although in hindsight I'm not sure that was the right choice. The second half of the book gets better, but only marginally so, and I didn't feel that the novel concluded in a particularly sa I started this book with very high expectations based on a promising first chapter. That promise slowly dissipated like helium from a leaky balloon over the following pages, such that I was seriously considering setting it aside by the time I reached the midpoint of the book. Only grudgingly did I trudge on, although in hindsight I'm not sure that was the right choice. The second half of the book gets better, but only marginally so, and I didn't feel that the novel concluded in a particularly satisfying manner. This is a shame, because the subject is interesting and the book is marbled with pretty language. Frankly, that pretty language is part of the problem. The book purports to weave together five narrators, separated by time and debts unpaid to David Mitchell, all loosely (but not really at all) connected by shared concerns with communication, speech, and what it means to be a person/consciousness. However, all five narrators, whether a 17th century teenager or a robot, Alan Turing or elderly divorcee Holocaust survivor, all come out sounding like an MFA trained contemporary novelist. It's like Hall was afraid to let up on the gas in her desire to write beautiful prose for a literary novel, and thus ran over her characters in the race to the prizes. The worst offender is a supposedly 13-year-old interlocutor for the AI at the center of the book. She sounds like no 13-year-old that ever lived! There's not even any pretense to match the narrative voice to the character, which is positively mind-exploding in a novel that is anxiously, almost neurotically obsessed with voice as a signifier of personality. In fact, the novel consistently collapses the distinction between voice and personhood, treating the words a person utters synonymously with their being. I found this move both reductive and unilluminating, especially when considering the interiority of an artificial mind. Further, the ruminations on the nature of artificial intelligence were facile and more than a little silly. I came away from this book thinking that Hall is ambitious and certainly has the ability to draft good sentences. However, she forgot most of the other pieces that make a good novel. Can't say I really recommend this one.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    I listened to this book on Audible mostly while taking short walks around my neighborhood. It's an incredible book told from multiple points of view that keep multiplying as the story unfolds. I won't recap the plot here other than to say it reminded me of Cloud Atlas in terms of the breadth of its narrative scope but has a stronger thematic focus that pulls the storylines together: a 17th century diarist en route to the new world, a narcissistic robot engineer, a girl "frozen" in a wheelchair, I listened to this book on Audible mostly while taking short walks around my neighborhood. It's an incredible book told from multiple points of view that keep multiplying as the story unfolds. I won't recap the plot here other than to say it reminded me of Cloud Atlas in terms of the breadth of its narrative scope but has a stronger thematic focus that pulls the storylines together: a 17th century diarist en route to the new world, a narcissistic robot engineer, a girl "frozen" in a wheelchair, Alan fucking Turing, to name a few. It's super audacious but rather than coming off as a sterile exercise in form it's warm and enveloping. As I went on my walks with these voices in my head, I watched clouds, studied colors, lifted my face to feel the raindrops spattering down with the deepest kind of gratitude. Speak is that rare book that binds you to characters and leaves you with questions not about the story but the world we live in and the fate we all share. Glorious. While I'm glad I had the pleasure of listening to actors take up the voices of these marvelous characters, I'll return to this book again and soon.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    Still January, and it's going to be very hard to find something to surpass this. A deeply unsettling meditation on loneliness, memory, loss, and the voices we mine from past and present in our attempts to connect with others. The comparisons to Cloud Atlas aren't quite fair. This is a very different, maybe less ambitious book, and it's all the more moving for it. Now go home and hug your dog.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    Loved this book! Beginning is a little slow, but stick with it and you'll be rewarded. Reminiscent of CLOUD ATLAS, the writing is beautiful, and it amazed me.

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