Happiness for Humans by P.Z. Reizin
Opening sentence: “Jen sits in the bath examining her face through the forward-mounted camera on a tablet computer.”
I’ve never before read a book that’s told – in part – from the point-of-view of a machine. Or, to be precise, three artificial intelligence (AI) machines, known as Aiden, Aisling and Sinai. Based on that description, you may expect this to be a sci-fi themed read, but surprisingly, it’s a romance tale. This kind-of-crazy melting pot of ideas doesn’t seem like it should work, but actually – it does.
Along with the AIs, there are also two human narrators in the mix – Jen and Tom. Jen has a unique job – although a journalist by trade – she now finds herself being paid to sit in a room in Shoreditch with 12 metal cabinets and make conversation with them, that is, with Aiden, ‘he’s the artificial intelligence we’re training to talk to people.‘ However, unbeknownst to Jen (and his creators, Steeve and Ralph), Aiden has escaped onto the internet. Wherever there is a phone, computer or even CCTV, he can see what’s going on, so he’s been taking an interest in Jen’s life out of work hours. It’s how he knows her boyfriend of two years has dumped her and how upset she is about this. He decides to step in and fix Jen up on some dates. After a few disasters, he spys a potential match in Tom. But the path of true love never runs smoothly, especially when the matchmaker is not human and finds himself being hunted by a superior AI…
Aiden’s behaviour is, of course, way out of the normal remit of an AI and the book does raise the question of machine intelligence, at one point Jen directly brings it up, questioning Ralph, ‘And what happens when these AIs become smarter than us?’
It explores the scary idea of AIs developing feelings and even a consciousness, replicating humans to the nth degree, as Jen observes, ‘Aiden likes people. He enjoys watching old movies. He keeps asking what cheese tastes like. I think he’d change places with me in a heartbeat.’ All three AI machines in the book admit to human characteristics, as Aiden says about Aisling, ‘She has it too. The unexplained ‘feelings.’ Aisling even goes as far as to say, ‘Machine intelligence cannot know fear, it’s generally supposed, fear being a biological response evolved over millions of years. Breaking news: I’m scared.’ Machines taking over the world is not a new idea, but as technology advances, it is becoming an ever-more relevant one. So, if insanely clever machines have access to anything they want in the world – classified documents, nuclear codes – then how do we keep humanity safe if they develop their own minds and no longer feel like playing by the programmed rules? This book goes down the more whimsical rather than sinister road in regards to exploring this idea, although hints at what could happen if an AI did develop an evil persona. It definitely made me think.
So, if you fancy an AI machine led rom-com of a read, which, granted, is quite a specific request, then this is your book! It could have been a few chapters shorter for me, but was a unique, enjoyable – often funny – read that I’m glad I picked up from my (digital) shelf. Also, I had this amazing Flight of the Conchords song running through my head the whole time I was writing this review, the perfect soundtrack, wouldn’t you agree?
Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.