Monday, September 23, 2019

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

Jack is in trouble.  A pirate of drugs, she uses her background and education to reverse engineer popular drugs and make them available for much cheaper to the population who can't afford them.  But this latest reverse engineer has gone deadly.  She reversed a popular productivity drug and now users are becoming addicted, unable to leave their work for anything else, not food not home not rest.  Scores are being hospitalized and some are dying.  Jack needs to fix this fast.  She takes her pirate spaceship down and revisits the labs she started in where she can get help.  She takes along Threezed, a slave she ended up with when she killed his master for trying to steal her ship.

Paladin is a semi-autonomous robot.  She works with Eliasz, a human intelligence agent who seems to have a past that won't let him live in the present and a fondness for Paladin that seems to cross the barriers between human and machine.  Their assignment is to find Jack and stop her by whatever means necessary. 

Annalee Newitz has created an interesting exploration of what it means to be human and outlines some of the new dilemmas we will face as artificial intelligence becomes viable.  Her world is set in 2144, not an impossible leap of the imagination. Jack is a sympathetic character as she tries to liberate drugs that can improve lives but Paladin is also sympathetic as she explores what it means to be human and to maybe one day have free will to do what she chooses.  Newitz writes extensively both fiction and nonfiction about the intersection that is outlined in this book and has a background that includes an MIT science journalism fellowship, a career as a policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a PhD from Berkeley.  This book is recommended for science fiction readers.

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