There have been many tales told about Artificial Intelligence (AI) gone wild, the most infamous probably being the Hal-9000 from Arthur C Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the Skynet rebellion of the Terminator film franchise. It was with some hesitation therefore that I entered the world of modern day Silicon Valley for another foray into AI development.
Rob Reid has, thankfully, taken the idea of self-learning machines in a refreshingly new direction in the guise of Phluttr, a social network AI that has taken the world by storm. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and, as Phluttr’s self-awareness and power increases, she surpasses even her creators’ best hopes and begins to interfere in people’s lives with devastating consequences. Unable to predict the long-term effects of an event, nor understand the complexities of group dynamics, Phluttr’s child-like innocence begins to create havoc and threaten civilisation itself.
The stellar cast of actors comprise Sean Kenin, January LaVoy, Felicia Day, Patrick Rothfuss, John Hodgman, Tom Merritt, Jesse Cox and Leo Laporte. This is not a dramatization but a story told from a range of viewpoints, including that of the AI itself, her developers, and others in the industry.
Reid adds a lot of comedic touches to his storytelling, although I wouldn’t list it as a comedy per se. He also avoids the histrionics of action scenes so often found in these kinds of tales. He effectively builds tension when it’s needed but primarily provides a dramatic inside scoop into the machinations of Silicon Valley while almost telling a family drama. It’s an odd combination that works beautifully. After On is engaging, funny, exciting and interesting.
Running just over 22 hours, the audiobook by Random House was released in August 2017 and is available through Audible Australia.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 10: 9
Rob Reid has, thankfully, taken the idea of self-learning machines in a refreshingly new direction with a lot of comedic touches added to his storytelling.