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Learning to love AI

Realware  - Rudy Rucker Software - Rudy Rucker Wetware - Rudy Rucker Freeware - Rudy Rucker

I read science fiction not just for the joys all fiction brings, but also for the wonder: the speculation about the strangeness of the universe, and where technology and the human spirit can take us.  From the beginning, physics has been the foundation of these speculations, and physicists among the leaders in writing mind-blowing SF.  But 20 years ago the torch got passed to computer scientists and pure mathematicians, not so much because of the emergence of the internet, but because of the dawning realization of the impact of AI, and the possibility of the singularity. 


The key figure in developing the notions of the singularity and the power of AI was Vernor Vinge, but right behind him came others, and for me one of the most consistently interesting is Rudy Rucker (like Vinge a professor of computer science based in California).  I recently took a long train trip, which was the perfect time to revisit his series from the 90s: Software, Wetware, Freeware and Realware,  I like them just as much now as when they first appeared, and the vision of the future they contain still holds the power to delight and astound.


I think Rucker sometimes does not get the praise he deserves because he is one of those authors who writes many very good books, but never the one masterpiece that scoops up the awards and 5 star reviews.  He has a wild sense of humor, and although his work qualifies as hard science fiction, as there is a basis in math and physics for all he does, it often reads as fantastical and strange.  As in most of this type of SF, the characters are mostly not deep, but they are substantial and sustain your interest and emotional identification.


Someone who has not read Rucker before could start almost anywhere, and the -ware novels are not his most bizarre and inventive.  I would recommend Software as a starting place, however, because this series builds from the near future with a cast of characters who will guide you through the weird turns in the development of AI and (more than) human culture.