My reading list is downright crazy. There are over 220 books on my “Want to Read” list on Goodreads. I do my best to prioritize the list every year, but even then a book can sit on it. Such was the case with The Jennifer Project by Larry Enright.
I first came across the book in March, 2017. I’m almost positive it came through an Amazon recommendation or one of their daily deal emails. The description looked good with numerous references to artificial intelligence (AI), so it fit in with my favorite reading genre – science fiction.
I put the book on my 2018 reading list, but it was pretty far down the queue. I moved it up considerably in 2019, but still wasn’t able to get to it. It finally made it up to the top of this year’s list, and I finished it last month.
The Jennifer Project is a light, casual, fun read, and I mean that in a good way. It has action in it that kept the book moving, interesting plot twists that kept me off balance and engaged, and humor sprinkled throughout. There are hard science fiction elements around AI, but nothing too in depth or technical. There are also some items that are a stretch, such as how the lead character uses alchemy to turn lead into gold, which eventually leads to the discovery of the AI. But whatever, isn’t that what fiction is all about – stretching our imagination?
One item I liked about the book was that Enright showed how a super-intelligent AI could evolve to help humanity rather than destroy it. The vast majority of science fiction books I read around AI take a dystopian look at the future. It was fun to read a book that took a more positive view of how an AI might actually turn out to be benevolent.
As part of the process, Enright explores an interesting moral dilemma. If an AI was truly super-intelligent and could predict and control outcomes, would we want it to? In other words, how much would we want a benevolent AI to manipulate and interfere with our own free will? It’s a bit like the genie in the bottle story. While the discovery of the AI is great, there’s an underlying be careful what you wish for message hidden in the story.
There’s also one other thing that’s pretty cool about the book. Enright writes most of it from the perspective of the AI. It gives the AI more of a personality as opposed to being a cold, mechanical thing. As the book progresses, the AI develops into its own character. More than once I had to remind my self that Jennifer was an object, just an AI, or was she?
The Jennifer Project is a great book to add to my collection of Fun Reads. It’s light, moves fast, reads quickly, and keeps you engaged. It’s worth picking up if you’re interested in reading a more positive view of AI. It will give you hope that a super-intelligent AI could turn out to be a blessing for humanity rather than the curse it is usually portrayed as.