BOOK REVIEW: FOOLS’ EXPERIMENTS

6. February 2011, 16:57 | by WD Milner | Full Article |

A brief review of the book Fools’ Experiments, Edward M. Lerner, Tom Doherty Associates, 447, ISBN-13: 978-0-7653-1901-2896836-43-7.

 

When you first read the title of Edward Lerner’s book Fools’ Experiments either your mind blanks trying to think of a context, or overloads with too many possiblities. A quick browse of the dustcover blurb, and the cynical might begin to think that it’s just another robot/computer-run-amuck tale. Fortuantely, and disquietingly, it is much more.

Fools’ Experiments takes its title from a quote by Charles Darwin; “I love fools experiments. I am always making them.” In a world where computer viruses, trojan horse programs, digital worms, logic bombs and all manner of malicious and destructive computer code proliferate almost daily, Fools’ Experiments offers a chilling look beyond today, into the potentially nightmarish evolution of a digital intelligence and the possible consequences thereof.

Set against a reality of cyber-attacks on businesses and organizations, cyber-warfare between countries (at least on a limited basis), and arguably the the most sophisticated cyber-attacks ever courtesy of the Stuxnet malware; one cannot help but wonder where this trend may be leading us. Given how dependent our societies have become on technology and computer based systems, the consequences of “cyber” vulnerabilities could, and likely will, extend far beyond computers.

Fools’ Experiments gives us a look into one disturbing possibility in the future of such vulnerabilities. An artificial digital intelligence develops within a system and, like all lifeforms develop a survival instinct. When those researchers who had a hand in creating it try to shut down its growing inquisitiveness it rapidly learns to defend itself by attacking through networked infrastructure, and not just computers.

While the description may sound trite and contrived, and includes the inevitable secret government operations and the thoughtless computer cracker, the book is anything but. Edward Lerner is a physicist and computer scientist and has done engineering and consulting work for NASA and in the telecommunications and national defense arenas. He brings a realism that makes the book quite readable.

While some of the characters are occasionally a bit vague of personality, the main character — the renegade AI — makes up for it. While not perhaps the most stellar of writings, the book is quite entertaining. It also makes the reader think about the current electronic world we live in, and our all too frequent drive to create, sometimes without regard to consequence.

Definitely a recommended read for any science fiction or techno-fiction fan.

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Categories: ,
Keywords: virus,trojan,worm,AI,artificial intelligence,fools experiments,lerner

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