The God Question by Stan Freeman and published back in 2011. I stumbled onto it while doing a search for science fiction involving AI as a main part of the story.
The God Question is set in the near future when computer and robotics have advanced significantly. Supercomputers are beyond what they are now but the holy grail is upon us. One university creates what they refer to as a “Class One” supercomputer that can teach itself and extremely quickly become smarter than any human being. There are problems and the university has to shut it off and, as a result, a federal ban is imposed on anyone creating a class one supercomputer. Enter our main character, Kendrick, who is a computer scientist and has a copy of the program used by the other university to create the class one given to him before the ban went into affect. He has access to a class two supercomputer at his own university where he is a professor that he can, with the program, convert into a class one computer. Despite the risk and legalities Kendrick decides to do it. Why? Because of something he read some time before by another colleague that publushed an article in which she proposed the following:
“Given access to every book, research paper, news article, letter, blog, and posting available on the Internet and elsewhere –essentially the amassed knowledge of humankind –could a superintelligent machine answer the single most vexing question for human beings: Is there evidence in any of it that God exists, that there is a spiritual framework for reality? Perhaps it can find subtle patterns in the way people’s lives proceeded, in the way history proceeded, that might indicate a spiritual hand at work. Perhaps it can make a novel interpretation of history, of science –something no one has ever thought of –not by looking at life from a human’sant-high level, but by being able to take in nearly every particle of human history in one vast sweep and recognizing something that would say, “Yes, only the existence of a guiding spiritual presence in life explains this.” It is our overriding responsibility to ask the question.”
As Kendrick and a colleague he is joined by set out to do just this, they encounter unforeseen obstacles and the supercomputer, designated IVAN, engages in unanticipated activities which make them consider whether they should have asked the question to begin with.
Upon finishing reading this story I was amazed to find that I am the first person to write a review for this little gem. The story drew me in and held my attention firmly. The two main characters (Kendrick and Levin) were very genuine and real. I almost felt like I was reading an extremely interesting biography or documentary, and I mean that in a very positive way. The story was definitely not just plausible but believable.
The whole concept itself is interesting and the social commentary and implications that the story explores by way of the core premise and beyond in its short length was insightful and engaging. The ending is also a good example of less is more.
I have been on a little bit of a kick recently in looking for and reading anything on AI both fiction and non-fiction and have ideas for a story or possibly more than one to explore the concept as well. This story actually provided a springboard for some ideas that go beyond what it addresses. Some ideas I’ll have to further address in the near future after I finish some other writing obligations.
Final word on The God Question? Overall, I highly enjoyed it.
5 / 5 Stars *****
Get it here.