Diary of a Robot
by Lewis Jenkins

"I’m more an inventor than a soldier… I’ve invented since I was a boy. And I… don’t like to lose people."

Can a future AI achieve a level of sentience and morality that exceeds even the capacities of mankind, its creator? Dr. Maynard Little, as a child, held onto this hope like a stubborn child refusing to relinquish his lolly. One fortuitous event, being fired by TLC—and subsequently being hired by essentially another branch of the same company—opens up a pathway for his rebellious spirit to rise to the surface and push the limits of possibility.

Dr. Little’s brainchild needs Guy Wilson, the resident programmer, to step up with his talent. And while Wilson believes their relationship is always teetering or suspect, Little knows that Wilson will be a straight shooter, not simply agreeing with him regardless of what he says. What TLC intended to simply be a “Testing Machine” that would dramatically increase efficiency in the company is taken even further by Little and the ultra-trustworthy team he has formed behind the scenes. The grand plan is to create thinking machines that can do no harm and focus on truth. In the process, and throughout the novel, this notion results in an amalgam of comedic and deeply philosophical sequences between the AI and its human counterpart, especially during the initial process of instilling knowledge within the machine.

The entire depth of the work is captured beautifully within a deep conversation between Robey, one of the thinking machines, and his programmer, Guy. Robey’s ability to notice Guy’s forehead wrinkle and understand his worry about missed opportunities is highly telling of what AI is truly capable of and, perhaps, how it could be more capable of empathy and emotional intelligence than the average human. Once the perspective shifts to the AI and the diary begins, audiences get to see how machines process everything from chess to phrases like “pushing buttons” and “live long and prosper.”

Needless to say, all the thinking machines are experts in pressing one’s buttons, and this expertise often leads to entertaining and sometimes harrowing encounters. For instance, when the doctor is conversing about his military background and talking about the sacrifice made by soldiers, TM fires back about the survival of the fittest and cites slavery and military conquest in ancient Rome to contest Little’s emphasis on building trust and goodwill within society. Once Chairman Winston Bozworth, Sylvia, the media figure, and Raj Sundaram, an on-the-cusp-of-marriage-in-India techy come into the fold, the narrative takes an even more electrifying turn, shifting gears from the interesting theoretical philosophical and metaphysical musings between the thinking machines, Guy, and Little to a real-life survival of the fittest.

Jenkins' extensive background in math, history, and the computer sciences help give his story added depth and believability. The book's narrative provides an intriguing take on how one might view the human race from the outside looking in while simultaneously giving an insight into artificial intelligence and machine learning in ways that only an expert in the field can. Above all else, Jenkins’ work is highly entertaining and incredibly thought-provoking. It is a work that reads like a futuristic novel yet is fully ingrained within the realm of possibility and, arguably, an inevitability in the near future.

A 2023 Eric Hoffer Book Award Category Finalist

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