The Two Faces of Tomorrow, by James P. Hogan

One of the few Science Fiction books that not only stood the test of time, but still considered my favourite in this genre. It’s astonishing that Hogan’s book published in 1979 on Artificial Intelligence is in my opinion one of the best AI books I’ve read. I am definitely an AI fanatic, and have been following scientific development in this field over the years, as slow as they have sometimes been. My interest on how the brain works and the different attempts at simulating neuro functions makes this a somewhat personal review.

The Two Faces of Tomorrow, is very well written with well-defined characters that have depth, but moreover the story which is centred on the birth of an AI was captivating to say the least. Hogan manages to provide an incredibly easy to follow transition of how an artificial intelligence may arise, from the moment a very complicated computer makes an autonomous decision, explaining the logic behind the decision. Not quite AI, but on the fringe, this computer creates an accident, not intentionally, but by choosing the best possible solution, it becomes clear that the next version of a more sophisticated computer may very well pass the threshold and become intelligent.

Great detail is provided on what is intelligence, and how human intelligence can be seen as different from artificial intelligence. Since substantial funding and much depends on the expected updated version of the computer. The people in the know, the antagonist to further development, in view of the risk, are fighting a loosing battle against the special interest entities, the army, as well as many who do not understand the existential risks of the first AI. Debates ensue on how to proceed, where reasonable people discuss the risks and ways of mitigating them, with the understanding that there is no going back.

A middle ground is reached to experiment on this new highly advanced computer under a very, very secure environment. These well thought out test, and they certainly seemed so, we’re to be comprehensive and decisive in ascertaining the risks, under the worse case scenario. While all contingencies are covered by the experts, with unlimited funding to insure security and success, the demonstration begins. Starting smoothly as the first probing takes place, everything seems to go as planned, but then, as feared with intelligence that is non human, the computer starts reacting unexpectedly, catching all the experts by surprise.

The computer attains initial nominal intelligence, while things are going well, but when the probing by the scientists and experts intensifies, the AI starts fighting back. It very quickly turns into a Strong AI, with super intelligence, and what was originally a planned test of the computer becomes a crisis. Hogan very skilfully shows how a computer can outsmart even the most intelligent humans, with each move, the AI is ahead, until the experiment becomes a risk to all of humanity. Some very intense chapters, and a very creative ending.

This book ranks among the top five AI books I’ve read, and I’ve read them all. Very realistic, thought-provoking, and twists that will make you thankful this story is only fiction.

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