Minds of Sand & Light
A Novel by Kylie Chan
Why hello, Impending Doom.
Well, not necessarily Impending impending, but as someone who is employed in an information industry, I feel certain that I can say “eventual doom” (career wise, that is [how may caveats can you have in the opening lines of a review? This many, apparently]).
AI is already encroaching upon our everyday lives, either by supplanting jobs, suggesting us products, skimming our data, medicating us, or a whole raft of other functions. And this is before the whole “self-awareness” issue, and the old “destruction of mankind” chestnut. Former OpenAI Safety Team employee, Paul Christiano, states “there’s something like a 10-20 percent chance of AI takeover,”. Reframing this statement – there’s probably a 80 to 90 percent probability of AI NOT taking over. Comforting, no?
With these real world concerns acting as the backdrop, we approach ‘Minds of Sand and Light’, a cyberpunk-y futuristic novel by Kylie Chan.
Chan ushers us into the Cold War, reincarnated. The government’s of the western world tussling with the authoritarian regime of the Greater Far East. A further complication, humanity has given over control of it’s critical infrastructure to AI systems.
If you thought that having AI in charge of sewage systems and public transportation would result in a new utopia, I am afraid that you are mistaken. The advances in technology have not prevented the most vulnerable of our society from slipping through the cracks. Indeed, we meet such characters in the opening stanzas of the novel: vagrant youth, and a person whose mind had been broken by the ill advised installation of two language chips.
This disparity is obvious to ideological journalists, and hackers extraordinaire, Ruth and Cassie. They see that this is no perfect society and pursue the truth at all costs. Naturally, this leads them to be caught up in the web of the Council of AI, a collection of the most powerful AI systems in the world.
The story is given further depth by the clandestine operations of the Greater Far East. At this point, Chan flirts with body horror. A central character is revealed to be a disembodied brain in a box (the brain is delightfully referred to as “headmeat”!). Chan writes this character well, along with all the associated difficulties that arise from not having a physical form (well, outside of grey matter).
An intriguing novel, ‘Minds of Sand and Light’, brings to the fore all of the questions that we are struggling with today: How will AI change the world? How do we define sentience? When will an AI gain rights?
It is a conundrum, I mean, whose side do you take when an AI is more ethical than a human?
This is a well-written novel, with a nice blend of action, drama, and humour. The characters are well developed and compelling, and portrayed in a realistic (enough) manner. My favourite, by far, was MIP (Mobile Infiltration Platform), providing further evidence that AI is supplanting humans!
If you like dystopian futures, tyrannical governments, and cyberpunk aesthetics, then this story is for you.
This review by Aidan Wilson – a copy of Minds of Sand & Light was provided for an honest review