Hard Wired


Publication Date: 1 Dec. 2020
Format: Hardback

ISBN 9781681190372

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    Quinn thinks he's a normal 15-year-old. He plays video games, spends time with his friends, and crushes on a girl named Shea. But a shocking secret brings his entire world crashing down--he's not a boy. He's artificial intelligence.

    Information

    Book Type: Senior High
    Age Group: 14 years +
    Traffic Lights: Green/Amber
    Class Novel: Yes
    Good Reads Rating: 4/5
    Literary Rating: 4/5

    Review

    Fifteen-year-old Quinn has a normal life: he lives with his mother and his little brother Jack, goes to school and plays Magic: The Gathering with his friends Leon, Jeremy and Luke. But when he collapses on a date with his friend Shea, his normal life begins to unravel. She takes him home, but he doesn't remember what happened. These episodes, which have been explained to him as vasovagal syncope from low blood pressure, have happened before--but this is the first time he has lost memories.

    Quinn's father died of cancer when he was eight. Each year, his mother plays him a video his father recorded in the hospital room before his death. This year's video is the last. So when his father appears in person and tells him to re-watch all the videos for clues about his life, Quinn is confused but intrigued.

    Quinn unravels a message embedded in jigsaw puzzles and then "wakes up", realising that his world is a virtual construct. He has no father, no mother, no little brother and no friends. They are all constructs to convince him that he is living a normal life. The last 15 years have really taken only 45 minutes. Quinn's reality is that he is part of an experiment run by a team of scientists headed up by his "father', the project manager.His friends are graduate students who have aided the scientists in creating his virtual life.

    Quinn doesn't actually have a body --he is just a mass of electronics, located in the lab of the Quantum Computing department at Princeton University, which Quinn calls the Fortress of Solitude. His blackouts occur when he is shut down or rebooted. And as Quinn slowly adjusts to this new reality, he learns that Shea is a quantum intelligence too but is unaware of the fact.

    Quinn is not recognised as a person, but once he becomes aware of the truth of who he is, he begins working towards getting some control over his life. When he fails to achieve this with the scientists, he enlists help from sympathetic people and a court case ensues--Quinn against the University. ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) represents Quinn, arguing that he has the right to personhood as he is fully sentient. A Town Hall meeting is held with a group of real-life teenagers to convince the public that Quinn is a person. However, Quinn doesn't deal with this too well--he displays some of the characteristics that worry people about AI. Quinn loses his court case and the university prepares to shut him down.

    To ensure that he continues to "live', Quinn escapes from the lab where he is housed so he can gain his freedom. In the process he inadvertently causes one of the scientists to die. Friends he has made at the Town Hall meeting help him during his escape, but he is eventually captured during a dramatic climax and spends 17 months in his virtual construct house while the university decide what to do with him. At the end of this time his "father' appears and tries to explain the situation, but ultimately, he says to his assistant "Tasha, now" and Quinn is turned off. He knows nothing further, until a voice speaks: "Quinn, wake up".

    This novel asks what it means to be human. As Quinn is fully sentient, he believes that he has the right that every human has over their own lives--the freedom to make choices. The discussion Quinn has with Watson, the IBM supercomputer, on free will in humans and programming in computers will provide readers with much to discover in the field of philosophy.

    Quinn's story also links to the experiences of minority groups fighting for recognition and equality. Quinn's dryly humorous internal monologue makes it easy to empathise with him. While the language of the novel is not overly scientific it includes many references to real-life institutions and devices. These include QUAC, the Chinese Tianhe 3B supercomputer, the Swiss supercomputer Piz Daint and the Japanese K computer, IBM's Watson supercomputer and the Millennian Prize Problems. Scientists involved in artificial intelligence are also named--Turing, Minsky and Kurzwell.

    This book is an interesting reflection on humanity's relationship with technology and the Internet--both good and bad--which will also appeal to those interested in computer science and artificial intelligence.

    Overall, a well written, fast-paced and intriguing novel that will get readers thinking about the moral, ethical and philosophical issues surrounding humanity and the world we inhabit.

    Themes

    science fiction, artificial intelligence, reality, humanity, identity, secrets, sentient beings, empathy, death, friendship

    Content Notes

    1. Language: shit x 10, bitch x 2, f*ck x 1 (p. 137). 2. Quinn, an AI, may have died at the end of the book, but this is left ambiguous.

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