Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Book#3: Crucible by James Rollins (Sigma Force Book#14)

Crucible (Sigma Force, #14)Crucible by James Rollins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What happens when humanity finally builds a self evolving AI? Crucible is what happens. From the fertile mind of James Rollins comes this techno thriller which puts this concept to test. The AI already exists in the current world in the form of Alexa, Siri and the Google Assistant.

What makes me think and think hard about the direction in which the AI & Machine Learning is growing is the way the AI can be trained using these tools. While learning in itself is a good thing, we also need to remember that the human factor which is mainly emotions and empathy are variables which cannot be substituted. If we take the human out of the decision making and processing skills then the current generation of the AIs are already making the decisions for us.

Eve is a concept fleshed out by James Rollins on what AI can become given the amount of research and the lack of oversight in this industry. The technology landscape is changing faster then even what we can fathom. Implants and voice assistants are already becoming common place. What will happen when the decision making ability is passed on to the AI rather than the human?

The interconnected systems and being always online, humans may not even notice that they have been subjugated. You cannot fight that which you cannot see.

Crucible also delivers a twist in the form of Seichan being pregnant - which was delivered in the last book. The evolution of Seichan from Sigma Force #1 where she tried to kill Gray to being the mother of his child is a great journey that hardcore readers of Rollins will like and appreciate.

The technology showcased by Rollins when dealing with brain MRIs and simulating a coma patient is something that is fascinating to read. The ability to read thought albeit in the form of images is something that is simply fascinating.

Sigma's arch nemesis The Guild also make a strong comeback in this one, always being on the backfoot since Sigma broke their back, the rebuilding Guild is a menace under the capable leadership of Valya.

I had a fascinating conversation with my GoodReads book pal Freda regarding this book. I am sharing some of the nuggets that we discussed and that I feel are relevant to the thesis of this book on the whole. The questions in bold were asked by Freda during our discussion and below are my responses to it.

What if I had been born of parents who were assassins with no conscience?

It is interesting that you would ask this question. I believe James Rollins is leading us on this path given that Gray and Seichan are expecting a child. The child technically has assassins as parents, how Seichan's and Gray's interaction with the kids would mold the child will be a fascinating journey to be on down the line.

Would a single act of kindness change me?

This is a difficult question to answer. It is not that simple in my honest opinion, a single act of kindness has a impact but the duration of the impact is something that will change based on the circumstances and the actions of the person. I mean, just because I helped feed a hungry person it does not mean that it will inspire the 10 people who watched me feed the hungry person go out and do their bit. Empathy plays a strong factor, the only way a person will be influenced by an act of kindness is if they are a empathetic person by nature, being emotional is not enough.

Would my soul or conscience magically talk to me?

I think our conscience always talks to us, but weather we act on it or not is dependent on the external factors affecting the circumstance as well. We all know what the ideal solution to a simple problem is, but it is never easy to implement the ideal solution because the conditions are not always ideal.

If I was never given a choice and my parents controlled me, would I then be considered to be much like an AI?

It boils down to the facet that you will have a choice at some point in your life. Kids who have been smothered in affection or controlled by their parents through harsh behavior will always rebel. If the spirit of rebelliousness is quashed then there is always the possibility that they may become suicidal or if they survive the experience then they will repeat it with their children simply because they do not know better

If Mara manages to teach Eve how to feel, it won't sink in because there are no nerves, tissue, or blood that makes the body respond to the sounds, touch and smells. It is then, artificial so why even bother with it? Cloning would seem to be a better way to do it.

The jury is still out on that one, these days with sensors and the advancements in technology like stem cells generation, it will be easy to teach a AI to feel pain. Eve already feels the rage when she's left stripped off her other modules which help her understand the facets of human life.

Cloning is already fraught with ethical and legal issues, if you clone a human, then is that cloned being not considered a human simply because they were not born naturally but grown? The ethics in this discussion are really very vague and that is not to say that there are not people or researchers who are skirting the topic.

Talking about being hung up on the biological or physical aspect of the intelligence, I guess it is more to do with the fact that our minds cannot fathom anything beyond the 3rd dimension, the AI and the other non biological forms of intelligence exist in a dimension which we cannot look, feel or see and that sets us at a disadvantage because we have grown accustomed to and dependent on these sense as part of our evolutionary journey.

Which brings me to the question of the location of our 'soul'?

You bring up a very interesting point about people clutching their hearts or chest when talking about 'souls'. I think this phenomenon is due to over exposure to television and other garbage that has propagated the feeling or myth that the heart has a use for feeling rather than pumping blood through our body. Somebody very badly wanted to sell, market a new gimmick and an entire industry was spawned based off this myth.

I honestly think that the soul is based in our brain or our mind for the lack of a better term to explain. The hundreds of thousands of neurons in our brain that fire off different thoughts and that define who we are is what soul is. A person can function by artificially pumping the heart which is done during heart surgeries, a person can be revived when the heart gives out and they have to be resuscitated. A person can even survive a heart transplant

But what a person unequivocally can't survive is being brain dead. Once your brain dies, machines can keep your body alive but it will slowly waste away. Once the brain is dead, a person is dead, you cannot have a existence without your brain, so in my opinion soul is in the mind, it is the thought process that makes us a good or a bad person, it is our decision making that is the soul.

What say you?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this one.

View all my reviews

Monday, February 4, 2019

Book#2: The Final Hour by Tom Wood (Victor The Assasin - Book#7)

The Final Hour (Victor the Assassin, #7)The Final Hour by Tom Wood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book#7 of Victor The Assassin series in a masterclass in crafting the high stakes spy genre, which has been converted into bang, bang, shoot, shoot of late. The shadowy world of spying and assassination is not a high stakes James Bond movie. It is a rather mundane, slow chess match where the opening moves are all about setting up your pieces in such a way to take advantage of and exploit your opponents weakness whenever revealed.

Antonio Alvarez is one such operator. Victor spectacularly screwed up Alvarez's op in Book#1 of the series when we are introduced to Victor. Since then Alvarez has been biding his time and waiting for revenge. He knows he cannot go after Victor while he's in the Company and Victor is being protected by the #2 in the Company's clandestine affairs - Ronald Proctor.

So when Alvarez gets his chance to move to the top of the food chain as the director of ONI, he's finally in a position to do something about Victor. Alvarez is a straight guy who is firmly on the side of right and believes that any American blood spilled should be avenged and Victor being supported by the Company after spilling American blood does not really sit well with him. So now when Proctor and Muir are at their weakest, Alvarez pounces. He sets up the chess board with the decks stacked on his side and sets himself as a bait to get close to Victor.

The key thing to know about Alvarez is that he identifies Victor's Achilles heel and then goes for the jugular to destroy Victor when he's exposed.

On the other side of the equation, we have Victor chaffing at the leash put on him by the Company and SIS. Victor has never been good at following orders or letting others tell him what to do so he wants out from under both his masters. We also see a side of Victor where he is trying to find a hobby that suits him once he has left behind his life, we see him at a MMA gym, making a confession at a church and getting a piano lesson in different places. While these attempts are happening, we see the different facets that Victor allows people to see about him. He changes his personality and his body language as easily as a chameleon.

Raven and Victor meetup after a year with Raven recovering from Victor's attempt at poisoning her. Well it should be said that Victor spared her rather than her surviving. But Raven is now fighting to get fit and stay off the radar of her powerful organization which wants to either put a bullet in her or get her to work for them again depending on who's bargaining with Raven.

Tom Wood has with this book, turned the page on Victor's life, while we get a glimpse of  Victor's present life, his past is still tightly shut with Woods hinting at it tantalizingly but never revealing any details. This was a change in pace from other books where Victor has a defined mission and we see him plan and go about achieving it. In this one, the predator is the prey and in a digitally connected world, we see the pains and the effort that he takes to keep himself hidden.

New characters, new places and new sinister players are introduced in this book, which sets up the story for the next book. In the world of shadows, allies can easily become your enemy as easy as your enemy becomes your ally. As Victor says to Raven at one point, "You are not my friend, but an acquaintance" and that in itself that Victors loyalty is to himself and no one else.

He's the ultimate lone wolf!!

Monday, January 7, 2019

Book#1: The Three Secret Cities by Matthew Reilly

The Three Secret Cities (Jack West, Jr. #5)The Three Secret Cities by Matthew Reilly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Three Secret Cities is Matthew Reilly at his best showcasing 3 of everything.

3 quests to 3 cities guarded by 3 guardians carrying 3 ancient weapons to empower it while battling bronze warriors who search for their master.

The Four Kingdoms ended with Jack West Junior blowing up the obelisk to prevent the King of Land Orlando Compton-Jones from becoming the King of Kings and obtaining the knowledge of the Mysteries. Now the Omega Event is approaching and the secrets of the Mysteries need to found some other way.

Jack has with his actions plunged the shadowy Royal World into interregnum. Various factions are forming and new villains are coming to the fore to stop our fearless hero in his quest to understand the Mysteries and then face the two trails - The Trial of the Cities and The Trial of the Mountains.

Since the Mysteries are now not known, now it is upon Jack and his team to put together the clues with help of Lord Hades - King of Underworld. and find stop the Omega Event from happening.

In a nutshell this boils down to the biggest treasure hunt in the world where the stakes are extinction of humanity. There will be no winners here if the Trails are not fulfilled. If that's not enough then the world's best team of bounty hunters have been hired to find Jack and kill him. They are called the Knights of the Eight and they have never failed in the last 2000 years.

With new alliances forming, and treachery, and backstabbing the norm, Jack will have to pull all the stops to fulfil this quest.

To say anything more beyond this point would spoil the book for the adrenaline junkies. Know my friends that this is the hardest quest that Jack West Junior has ever faced.

Matthew Reilly has really outdone himself with this one. The plot points from all the previous books just fit in seamlessly into one giant jigsaw puzzle which gets build piece by piece, but the final shape is not yet known.

A special shoutout to the douchebags in this book, The Knights of the Golden Eight, The Sphinx, and the Fraternal Order of St Paul. The sheer savagery shown by the Knights while trying to kill Jack and capture Lily, and Alby has be read to be believed.

A special shoutout to the bronzed faceless warriors who speak the language of Thoth. They are a mystery one I would like to see and learn more about in the next book - time permitting.

Ending the book with a surprising twist but not without making us shed a few tears first, Matthew Reilly asks us in the author notes to guess the title of the next book in the series since he's left enough hints in the book itself.

So my guess is: The Two Trials. (which in hindsight sounds a bit obvious)

The entire book spans 7 days and just reading though the stuff is exhausting, imagining doing that in 7 days would require superhuman strength and courage which in hindsight is why JWJr is the Fifth Greatest Warrior and the winner of the Great Games.

In the author notes MR mentions that the next JWJr book will be out in 2020, that is wait of over 2 years to read second to last in the series. The only thing to do during this timeframe is to reread all the books in this series and climb the walls in the spare time.