Friday, March 4, 2016

USERNAME: EVIE -- A.I., Consciousness, Reality, Simulation and Identity in Joe Sugg's Graphic Novel Debut (A Spoiler-Free First Look)

Reading Sugg's very first book, which just happens to be a graphic novel, was a rather personal experience for me. The twenty-something year old Sugg does an excellent job of tackling certain rather interesting contemporary existential issues arising out of where the world is headed with recent developments in Artificial Intelligence, studies of the brain and the mind, and their implications for the human condition in general, and he does so while telling a very gripping and relate-able story. As someone who has been writing for a while, I can vouch that this is no small feat. Sugg deserves high praise for this very time-worthy volume, that will take an hour and a half, or two even, of the reader's life and leave her with quite a few ruminations for those sleepless nights. So... let's dive right in!

Like any conscientious young mind struggling with adolescence in this crazy corporate-consumerist world of ours, Evie feels alienated, lonely and at odds with the world. The loss of her mother, and her increasingly sick Computer Scientist father, adds to her growing sense of helpless fear as she continually struggles to find some sort of a human connection with her peers. But she finds only superficial frivolity, mindless consumerism, skin-deep camaraderie and groupies with more bubbles in their head than in their washing machines. Evie is at once torn between an intensely human urge to bond with another sapien mind, and her instinctive repulsion of the mindlessness of her peers, and they in turn respond to Evie's lack of superficiality and herd-mentality in the only way they can -- with passive violence and cruelty. Evie is scared, and hopeless in the certainty that the fridge inside which she sometimes climbs in is her only true place. She only wants what she can't have -- a safe haven with some friends who can understand her. But while the world seems indifferent, one man will not stand for Evie's psycho-emotional destitute.

Unbeknownst to Evie, her father, a brilliant Artificial Intelligence expert, is determined to give Evie a safe haven. As the reality of his own failing health dawns on Evie's father, he turns his back on the embodied physical world and turns to the abstract to ensure his daughter has somewhere left to come home to when he is gone. He would simulate her a better world! A world coded and programmed from the ground up to accept, to nurture nature and to value the mind that makes Evie so very special! e.Scape -- a living, breathing Computational Dimension with just one thing to provide it any meaning and existence. Evie's mind. When Evie's father passes away before he can finish programming e.Scape, he leaves her a mutating algorithm that only requires exposure to Evie's mind to complete itself. And all Evie needs to find her haven is a USERNAME: Evie.

Inside e.Scape, awaiting the arrival of Evie, is an entire world that would derive its very essence from an alienated mind and its untapped potential. And Evie's guide to her new world, and in a way to her very own mind, is an highly sophisticated A.I. interface that takes a transgendered-transcultural form -- UNITY. Unity is meant to be Evie's encyclopedia to e.Scape. Unity has no gender, nor any race, in fact Unity probably wouldn't even exist if Evie could only lend her mind to e.Scape. Or, would Unity? Unity is a set of principles that guide e.Scape to absorb Evie's mental realities, and to reflect their immense potential back to her. But when more than just Evie arrives in e.Scape, Unity faces a choice -- should she evolve? Should Unity remain a set of principles that are designed to absorb, or should Unity now face her own computational free will and interpret what her principles mean? Are principles mere statements? If there is a meaning to principles, are they inherent to the principles? Are they a reflection of the minds that framed those principles? What parameters must a set of principles impose upon their self-intepretations? Can A.I.s have free will? Is Unity to transform her descriptive status, shed the artificial and become a true intelligence? Or will that entail a betrayal of her own computational roots? Is the programmer the limit of  the program? Or is the algorithm more than just a recipe? How is Unity to know? Is it even possible to know?

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