A Working Theory of Love
Although Neill Bassett's father committed suicide long ago, Neill works to resurrect him. Surprisingly, the taciturn Dr. Bassett left thousands of pages of extremely detailed journals covering many years of his life. The company Neill works for, Amiante Systems, is a Silicon Valley artificial intelligence company hoping to create the first chatbot that can pass the Turing test by making a human believe that it is also human. Neill fell into the job of inputting his father's journals into Amiante's program. In a contest scheduled against another company hoping to create the world's first sentient computer, messages from each of the chatbots will be considered by judges who must decide if the messages are from a human or a computer.
"Author Scott Hutchins weaves a tale of finding love and being human that is thought-provoking, hilarious and sharply poignant, filled with memorably surreal thoughts and scenes."
Neill is 36 years old, living in an apartment in San Francisco, and still adjusting to being divorced. He lives by routine: feeds the cat at seven, cooks and eats a breakfast taco, reads email, takes a shower, and then commutes to work in Menlo Park. At Amiante Systems ("Amiante" actually means "asbestos" in French instead of the "magnetism" the founder believed), there are only two other employees --- the company owner, an elderly computer genius named Henry Livorno, and a computer programmer named Laham. The three co-workers spend their time working on their elaborate language program designed to use the information from Dr. Bassett's journals to teach the chatbot "Dr. Bassett" to meaningfully converse, in a convincing manner. Neill has no computer knowledge but is the only one of the three employees at Amiante who is a native English speaker, so he spends a great deal of time tweaking the program to sound more like a real person than a machine.
Neill was never close to his aloof father. He didn't feel that he knew Dr. Bassett at all and wonders if he ever truly loved him. Although somewhat cynical about Amiante Systems' goal, he sometimes wonders if, in the event that his father is actually resurrected within the program, he can somehow become more acquainted with Neill Senior by talking with the computer. He even wonders if he might understand what could have driven the older man to commit suicide.
Meanwhile, Neill is lonely. After his divorce, so many women paraded through his apartment that his neighbor suggested a revolving door might be a good idea. That frenzied action has calmed down, but he still sometimes cannot stand being alone. After "Dr. Bassett" offers him a few words of startling insight ("you've moped long enough. it's time you enjoyed yourself."), he decides to follow his friend's advice. He checks into a youth hostel, hoping to find a simple and short-lived companionship. Instead, he meets a tall blonde 20-year-old named Rachel, who is destined to complicate his life by demanding he reveal himself to her. Meanwhile, Neill's work with the long-dead Neill Bassett Senior takes amazing twists and turns. Neill comes face to face with family secrets as well as unexpected insights while the clock ticks away the time remaining until the Turing test showdown with the competing artificial intelligence company.
A WORKING THEORY OF LOVE is a gripping read that spins together such disparate topics as family relationships, cults, romance, loneliness, friendship, and artificial intelligence around Neill's witty and sympathetic personality. Author Scott Hutchins weaves a tale of finding love and being human that is thought-provoking, hilarious and sharply poignant, filled with memorably surreal thoughts and scenes.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on November 30, 2012
A Working Theory of Love
- Publication Date: August 27, 2013
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books
- ISBN-10: 0143124196
- ISBN-13: 9780143124191