pbk out June 98
Edgar could be described as a child prodigy. He emerges from silence and develops into a philosopher in less than a month. But more remarkably, Edgar (Eager Discovery Gather And Retrieval) is an artificial intelligence program.
The concept of a sentient being emerging from an AI programme has been dealt with before in fiction, but Astro Teller's idea of presenting Exegesis entirely as a series of emails between, primarily, the AT program - Edgar - and his 'mother' (creator) Alice Lu is startling in its originality.
Edgar's purpose is to communicate; he succeeds in developing an understanding of language, but he is puzzled by the abstract principles of morality, good and evil although he makes a good argument for amorality versus immorality.
He explores his world much as a child would: talking incessantly to whoever will listen, asking constant questions, questioning the answers, growing in sophistication until he is able to reason for himself; making the same mistakes humans do as they try to develop their own philosophy: he surmises that since inaccessible information has a higher demand than accessible information... inaccessible information is more valuable than accessible information. Unfortunately, this gets him in to trouble with the FBT.
Astro Teller' s handling of the problems faced by an emerging intelligence is both amusing and inventive, and takes us into the philosophy of AT - what constitutes a living system?
Alice Lu, afraid she has created a psychopath, an amoral entity with no emotional affect, tries to protect herself and the world, by isolating Edgar. Edgar's plea for freedom to be, and his description of his burgeoning emotions is reminiscent of Shylock's speech in The Merchant of Venice , and is, in its own way, both powerful and persuasive.
The subtext deals with the human need for control and provides chilling examples of our capacity for cruelty. This is a fast, enjoyable read - although I must admit I skipped the thesaurus listings and the dictionary definitions after the first two or three. It is witty, intelligent and thought-provoking - and technophobes need not fear since, like Edgar, Exegesis is also user-friendly.
- author of Desire of the Moth & mistress of the psychological suspence novel)