Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Heinlein Audiobook

During my long commute into work, I often listen to audiobooks. Right now, I'm listening to Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966). This book touches on the issues of responsibility and revolution. It also explores some of the tension between a desire for both independence and community.

As found in Dostoyevsky's The Possessed/Devils, Heinlein's revolutionaries work in cells, meaning in small, largely anonymous groups. Heinlein's revolutionaries, however, live on the moon and are united under a sentient supercomputer named Mike.

Mike, the computer, has so many neural networks that one day he becomes self-aware. He is the only computer of his kind. Mike is pure, loving, passionate, selfless, and loyal. Yes, I can envision a computer being able to detect patterns, sleuthing through huge amounts of data. A thinking computer could surely mimic human emotion and even seem charismatic.

I have a problem, though, with Mike. Maybe I was exposed to The Terminator at too young of an age. And, o.k., I've seen a slew of movies about crazed computers slaughtering hundreds of people. Even some human beings, though, have muted emotions - sociopaths. The ability to empathize isn't necessarily attached to the ability to analyze. Feeling love isn't the same as processing definitions of love; we don't fully understand what makes a person feel love. So, at what point would a computer gain emotions, especially the full range of human emotions, when it was only built for the sake of processing data? Plus, what makes a person entering into a dangerous enterprise automatically trust that a computer is a friend willing to help?

One of the main characters in the book categorizes himself as a "rational anarchist." He is, though, politically, a garden variety, U.S. libertarian. Go figure, Heinlein's view of utopia differs from mine. Anyway, I'll keep listening to The Moon and see how it turns out.

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