Book review

Genesis by Bernard Beckett (2009) think you're human, do you? Well, I dare say you are. But could you prove it, if you had to? The fact that you can think and feel doesn't really distinguish you from the average chimpanzee, does it? And if you played a game online do you think you could tell whether you were playing another human or a computer programme? What is it that actually makes us human?

Perhaps part of the answer is that humans include emotion with the decisions that they take. Possibly all primates are the same, but computers don't do that, do they? They just process decisions logically. And they never cheat, unless they're programmed to, of course. Computers never just lie because it's in their own best interests. Not so far anyway.

These are matters that Anaximander will face. She's taking the prestigious exam for entry into The Academy. She's a historian. She's studied the sources...all sources available:

EXAMINER: The records have not been lost. Rather, they were never released.

Anax's mouth dropped. How could that possibly be true? All records were released. It was the one central dogma. A society that fears knowledge is a society that fears itself. What they were telling her was not an aside, a piece of technical trivia of interest only to a select group of historians.
Their suggestion was more shocking, more dangerous, than any she could imagine. And it might have been obvious to ask 'Why would you hide this?' but another, more pressing question rose to her lips.

ANAXIMANDER: Why are you telling me this?

Anaximander is about to discover a terrible truth at the heart of her elite Utopian society. It seems it may not be possible to avoid the mistakes that previous generations of humans have made after all. Not when society is run by computers built by humans.

If you enjoy thinking really big ideas, this book will wow you. The ideas may slow you down while you think them through, but there is also a great story in here about trust and betrayal, on many levels: between Anaximander and her tutor Pericles, between Adam and Art. You can always ponder for a day or two and then go back and read the last bit again. That's what I did. Brilliant! Thoroughly enjoyed it.

What can I read next?

How human is Anaximander, deep down inside? If you'd like to think a bit more around this idea you might like to look at this excellent book by David Thorpe:

In Hybrids, Johnny Online's Declaration of the Rights of Hybrids recalls Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, in I, Robot. And Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics are also recalled by Anaximander in Genesis: that the consciousness program should never deliberately harm another self-conscious being.

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