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Speak by Louisa Hall

HallI had a hard time trying to classify Speak. Is it a thoughtful mediation of the human condition through a lens of historical fiction? Is it science fiction? Or is it closer to science fact? No matter what one chooses to call it, I found it to be a compelling and timely story.

In Speak, six tenuously connected stories recount pivotal inspirations in the development of artificial intelligence (AI), through journal entries, letters, chat logs, and more. Like Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, these stories span centuries and continents to nest upon each other. These narratives include the journal entries of a teenage Puritan bride crossing the Atlantic Ocean in the 17th century, correspondence from pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing to his deceased friend’s mother, and the final fading thoughts of an illegal robot sentenced to rot in an airplane hangar sometime in the not-too-distant future. Each narrator uses the works of the previous one to help develop or implement AI, a technology that is bound to play a huge role in our lives (and probably sooner than we think). The sci-fi side of this book contains some interesting (and often frightening) ideas about what the future may hold for us as society becomes more and more dependent on technology and machines start to meet our social needs. Each story also explores what means to be a human, as our narrators fulfill the need to communicate—even if nobody is listening.

Speak is a fast read that is sure to appeal to fans of science fiction and literary fiction. Anyone interested in a vision of the future or a philosophical look at the psychological needs of humankind would probably enjoy this book.


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