The pace of The Turing Option by Harry Harrison and Marvin Minsky moves much slower than your typical cyberspace epic. In fact, The Turning Option isn't a cyberspace epic at all. The book leisurely explores the life of Brian Delany, a 24-year-old mathematics genius who grows into the worlds foremost artificial intelligence researcher. Unfortunately for Mr. Delany, most of his cognitive functions become impaired when a bullet tears the back of his skull off during a robbery at his lab. The would-be assassins leave him for dead and suck his work into the black hole of the industrial underworld.
The plot of the novel revolves around the search for Delaney's AI and his recovery from neurological damage. The clock-and-dagger business moves the plot, but the real interest comes from the rebuilding of Delaney's brain and his ultimate interface with an implanted computer.
The Turning Option brings Marvin Minsky's The Society of Mind into a non-theoretical setting. Rather than exploring what it means to be conscious and aware, the theories found in Minsky's seminal work are employed to cure Delany and reestablish his personal knowledge-base.' His treating physician, Dr. Snaresbrook, uses Delaney's own inventions to reconnect and reroute his severed synapses. When he first awakens, his personality is that of a Brian Delany fourteen years old.
In the end, Brian Delany becomes an noticeably enhanced human being. His computer implant allows him to directly connect to external artificial intelligence machines and out think human prototypes without breaking a sweat.
Minsky's influence on the novel is brought out in the detail of the procedures used to bring Delany back to thought. Because none of the science in the book is perfected, it is easy to imagine that it is taking place in our contemporary society at a highly controlled research facility. The Turing Option's tone reminds us just how close we are to these discoveries. Our ability to absorb its fantastic assertions, adds another layer to our acceptance of our inevitable companionship with our own technology.
The Turing Option
Harry Harrison & Marvin Minsky
Warner Books, Inc.
1271 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
Graphic: Mike Saenz, Semiotext(e) SF
Here is the TEXT POPUP for The Turing Option:
Brian picked up a box of paper clipsand threw them all toward the telerobot. The thing whirred in a blur of motion as it smoothly unfolded and rearranged most of its tendrils into hundreds of little handlike claws. As they spread out they simultaneously caught every one of the paper clips. It put them all down in a neat pile.
The computer stays on all the time, of course. But the new memory management scheme turned out to be very much like human sleep. It sorts through a day's memories to resolve any conflicts and to delete redundancies. No point in wasting more memory on things that you already know.
Not for an instant did Brian consider that there was any danger or difficulty in the process. He simply nodded agreement and pulled the chair over so it was out of sight of the window, sat in it with his back to the MI. Felt the familiar tracery of spider fingers on his skin.
Felt completely secure in the embrace of his own creation. They spoke in silent communication, brain to brain.