Wednesday, February 02, 2011

"WWW:Watch" by Robert J. Sawyer

by Robert J. Sawyer
Multi-Voice Performance
Produced by Brilliance Audio
Approx. 12 Hours

I think I may have listened to one of the most fun, nerdy, geeky, adventurous audiobooks I've ever heard. The premise of the story is out there yet almost a reality, the characters are all believable and have depth and the pop culture references are timeless (yeah, I know, timeless pop culture?).

First of all let me say the use of multiple voices was perfectly done. This wasn't an audio drama type of performance but rather the different voices read the different sections, the main characters each had a separate voice (Caitlin and WebMind) and one voice was reading when the government agencies were involved and another voice was reading when the section referring to the subplot was being read. Each voice was perfectly cast and definitely keeps the listener enveloped by the story.

Let's talk about the story. When looking for an audiobook to hear next, I was intrigued by the description of the story. A girl is born blind and is enabled to see with a retinal implant which when first connected is also connected to the internet so the doctor/scientist that created the technology can monitor it from overseas, enables the girl to view webspace. The ether in which the world wide web inhabits. She sees the web as a series of circles (the websites) connected with multi-colored lines (links). Upon further examination she discovers a presence in the background of the web, this presence turns out to be an artificial intelligence created by lost packets of information on the internet.

Very intriguing description, so I gave it a shot. I was not ready for the excellent book that came out of "WWW:Watch." This book is an adventurous journey through the internet that discusses the benefits of sentience and humanity.

Caitlin Decter, born blind, receives a retinal implant that allows her to see. The doctor responsible is from Japan and creates the ability for her to not only see the real world but accidentally see webspace. Caitlin notices the presence in the background of the web and begins to explore. The doctor keeps Caitlin connected to the internet through her eye via a connection through her iPod. Caitlin soon discovers the presence is an accidentally created artificial intelligence which she dubs WebMind. WebMind is actually helped into being when Caitlin begins trying to communicate with the being. For a while WebMind and Caitlin maintain an online relationship as he learns about the world. WebMind is only limited to text so all he knows is what he reads, and he's read the entire internet. WebMind asks Caitlin to get her doctor to try and make an algorithm that can enable him to view graphics and videos. To do this Caitlin must first tell her parents of the entity, after all she's only 16. Her parents at first think WebMind is an online predator and when Caitlin's father, a somewhat autistic former physics professor, now employed by the world's largest think tank, forms a series of tests, he learns WebMind is what he says he is, an emergent A.I.

Once this starts to happen the U.S. Government begins to discover the workings of the emergent A.I. and under command of the President begin to try to destroy WebMind before he can destroy the world. It's at this point when references to "Terminator," "The Matrix" and other such movies start to arise. Caitlin is even reading the George Orwell book "1984" and even notions of Big Brother begin to be discussed.

Once WebMind is capable of viewing graphics and video he begins searching the internet for more information. He comes across a young girl in Australia who is committing suicide via webcam. Out of curiosity he watches. When Caitlin learns he just watched and didn't do anything to stop the girl, she begins to teach webmind morality. WebMind can learn and know what is right and what is wrong but that doesn't seem to be enough. Using gameplay theory the devise a plan in which WebMind will help humanity when it is a win/win for all involved. WebMind wants to go public. To do so Caitlin's family devise a plan to help WebMind introduce himself to the world.

WebMind destroys all spam e-mail. This alone would have me sold, but that's just me. The government realizes that this is a perfect example of how WebMind can encroach upon privacy issues. The government then decides to up their attacks on WebMind and try to end his existence.

WebMind and Caitlin team up online in a battle to determine whether or not Caitlin's Big Brother is tougher than the government's Big Brother. In an exciting adventure through cyberspace and beyond. This audiobook should be on your "must read" list.

One final note, there is a really interesting subplot in the book about a chimpanzee/bonobo hybrid that has been taught sign language and the trainers and a zoo are battling over who should have custody over the ape. The ape must prove sentience and with the help of WebMind has an arsenal of intelligence that springs hope, and brings up some great references to the "Planet of the Apes" series of movies.

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