Things To Do On Page 82 Reviews

Things To Do On Page 82 Reviews!
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Saturday, June 7, 2014

Page 82 of Counting Heads

"--the fallacy of that argument," said the chief of staff to its unseen audience, "is evident to anyone who has ever initialized and raised a mentar, or implanted one of us into her body to watch over her health, or brought one of us into her business.

"Yes, we are machines in a strict sense; our parts are manufactured and our personalities can be transferred from box to box. But we are also your offspring. And when you die, we die a little too, as I've recently discovered. We are closer to you in mind, temperament, and spirit than anything alive, be it plant or animal. We are closer to you than your beloved cats and dogs.

"Let me tell you what we are not. We are not your successors, rivals, or replacements. We know that doomsayers have long warned that artificial intelligence would evolve so fast that it would leave the human species behind. That we would become no more comprehensible to you than you are to a frog. I'm here to tell you that these fears have not materialized. While we may be the next step in the evolution of intelligence, you are quickly catching up as you learn to reshape your genetic makeup and to incorporate some of our advances into your own biological systems."

Cabinet's address droned on. The scouts in the Indy tunnel were still frozen in mid-snip. Costa recalled the scouts in all the other tunnels and loaded them into the tanks. Then she retracted her gloves and ate a donut. Finally, Cabinet thanked its audience and faded away to await their decision. Fred walked the perimeter of the vault again, impatient for something to do, when Libby spoke.

The ad hoc committee of the General Assembly has called for hearings on the issue of mentar probate, it said. These are scheduled to begin in a month. The debate on whether or not to grant Cabinet a deferral has stalled. The matter has been tabled until the next regular meeting of the Technology Affairs Committee.

Costa said, "Tabled? Where does that leave me?"

You may complete your capture.

The scouts in the tunnel sprang back to life. Instead of severing the final fiber taps, they began to excavate into the solid rock wall behind the bracket. It was slow going, but eventually a corner of the pouch was exposed.

Shaking her head, Costa watched the holo of her scouts at work. Fred said, "What's wrong?"

"Nothing. I expected the third act by now."

"What's that?"

"Just wait; you'll see."

She ordered the remaining taps to be cut, one at a time. When there were only three left, she called a halt and let the scouts continue digging out the pouch for a while.

After a couple of minutes, she said, "Cut one more." After another minute, she said, "Cut another."

Now there was only one fiber-optic tap left. Costa poked her head into the scape and examined it up close. "What the hell," she said, "let's cut it."

"Please don't," said the Starke chief of staff, who appeared next to her.

"Well, it's about time," said Costa. "I was afraid you weren't coming back."

The chief of staff seemed disappointed. "I guess my little speech failed to reach you," she said.

"Oh, you reached me," Costa said. "But a job's a job. I take you in. What happens to you afterward isn't my business."

"You heard Libby," said the chief of staff. "The Tech Affairs Committee will discuss my waiver. Surely, you can leave me intact until then."

(from the paperback edition)


My review:

This page has the misfortune of beginning in the middle of a piece of persuasive oratory. As a result, it feels like it's starting off with a dialogue info-dump even though it's really not. The speaker conveys a significant amount of information, but in the absence of characters, it's only mildly interesting. It's not until halfway through the page that we realize there's something at stake, something with dramatic tension -- and even then, it comes in the form of Costa sitting around waiting (and eating donuts!), which isn't exactly a huge boost in intensity. The digging and snipping of the scouts has a certain ominous tone to it, but nothing allows us to judge just how ill that omen is. The chief of staff doesn't want to be taken in, but neither would a guy who wrote a couple of hot checks. The page just doesn't tell us the stakes.

Nor does it deliver much characterization. Costa reveals a callousness in her admission that she's taking the mentar in despite having been reached by its speech. But we don't know how callous she is because we don't know what the outcome will be for Cabinet, and we don't know that much about Cabinet's character because its dialogue is mostly a prepared speech making a case for itself, not a spontaneous expression of personality.

Ultimately, then, the page delivers: some mildly intriguing hints of a society where humans and AIs interface very intimately, but apparently have some conflicts; a slight implication of peril for a character we don't know enough of to care about; and a jaded bounty-hunterish character who might be a likeable rogue or might be an unpleasant cynic. Also, there's a guy named Fred.

Hardly the worst page 82 I've ever read, but rather on the dry side.