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Wonder by Robert J. Sawyer

01/06/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Wonder in the USA - or Buy Wonder in the UK

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pub: Gollancz. 336 page enlarged paperback. Price: GBP 12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-575-09508-3).

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‘Wonder’ is the third book in Robert Sawyer’s trilogy as Webmind, a benevolent artificial intelligence on the Internet seeks to protect itself from being attacked as well as proving it won’t do any harm in its own way.

Attached to this is the story of the young once blind Caitlin Decter, whose eye implant first allowed the Webmind to see the outside world. Webmind is also learning from the problems of Hobo, a cross-breed bonobo/chimp who doesn’t want to be returned to his original zoo. That’s a minor problem considering a percentage of humans also sees Webmind as a miraculous god, not helped when it cross-references research and discloses a variety of answers for various cancers by cross-referencing all available data.

Its first disclosure and interview, assisted by Caitlin on a TV programme doesn’t go quite to plan as the interviewer thinks she’s being manipulated. For the UN, though, Webmind has Hobo carrying his communication device to prove that he is not manipulating any humans.

In the meantime, Peyton Hume’s desire to curtail Webmind is being cut off and he chooses to get some hackers to prepare an attack except they then start vanishing and he doesn’t know who’s behind it. China’s government decides that it will curtail Webmind in its land and begins to turn off its terminals which would strand half of the AI there. Can they be out manoeuvred? Can Webmind win and what does he have in store for the human race? That would be telling.

Rob Sawyer had grafted the antithesis of D.F. Jones ‘The Forbin Project’s AI, Colossus, which is probably its closest comparison and come up with an entirely different solution so don’t cheat when you get your copy and read from the back.

Some elements regarding Caitlin coming of age I’m not entirely sure was necessary although probably it is also a metaphor for the Webmind coming of age as well. The overall solution is the kind of thing you would want in our reality if ever an artificial intelligence got loose on the Net.

This is not the kind of book you want to limit how many pages you read a day and just kept going to see what happened next. That being the case then this is definitely a winner with a great feelgood factor as well. Definitely a trilogy for your reading list.

GF Willmetts

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