Review of Amped by Daniel H. Wilson

Amped is the new technothriller by Daniel H. Wilson, author of Robopocalypse.

I don’t like to give away spoilers, and I’m not very good at traditional book reviews, so I’ll just give you the highlights about what I liked about Amped:

While the characters in the novel have a wide range of implants, it’s an intriguing thought that even relatively simple intercessions in how our brain works can have big effects: “an exquisitely timed series of electrical stimulations, gently pushing her mind toward the Beta One wave state...massively amplified her intelligence”.

The brain implants themselves are both futuristic and yet decidedly retro. On one hand, they interact with the neurons of the brain, and on the other hand, they are adjusted via a maintenance port using tools that sound similar to a set of dental picks.

Society itself is essentially the civilization of today. Other than brain implants, there’s no new technology. This increases the immediacy of the book: This isn’t some shiny, far off future. This is what our world would look like today with the addition of implants.

I love the structure of the book. I’m a sucker for the interchapter news articles.

Fans of cyberpunk will notice some similarity to the tradition of setting stories in the seedy underbelly of society. Gibson had the slums of Tokyo, Walter Jon Williams had an old Nevada ranch, and Wilson has Oklahoma (which appeared prominently in both Robopocalypse and Amped).

Although his background is a PhD in robotics, Wilson obviously loves writing human characters. This isn’t a technology story, this is a human story.

I hope you enjoy it.

Wilson and I were on a panel together at SXSW Interactive talking about the future of artificial intelligence this summer. He and I differed in our point of view: He believes that human-level, general-purpose AI is a far-off possibility, while I think it’s definitely coming and has a very predictable timeframe. This doesn’t stop him from writing about AI: some of the character’s neural implants have strong AI capabilities.

And this leads to one of the areas of the book I have some trouble with. The technology that it takes to deliver that “exquisitely timed series of electrical stimulations” to push someone toward Beta One wave state is not going to be the same level of technology that it takes to deliver strong AI capability in a computer implant in someone’s head.

The former is something that, if it were feasible, could be created in the near-future in a world we would recognize as our own, while the latter is something that will exist further out, in a time in which we’ll be surrounded by strong AI in the form of robots and life in the cloud. It’ll be a very different world than ours. (It stands to reason that it would be technically feasible to deliver strong AI capability in a cluster of servers sooner than we would be able to in a tiny lump of computing power that has to fit inside someone’s head. It’s like running a high-powered computer game on a desktop PC vs. a smartphone.)

Of course, every author gets to choose their world and the topics they want to address, so don’t take this as a negative statement: it’s just an interesting reflection on what our future will look like.

Amped is available on Amazon, and I'm sure it will be in bookstores everywhere.

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