By Simon Chesterman
So don’t try to tell me that
You are worth saving
Artifice is speculative fiction about sentient AI in a near-future Singapore. The piece of sentient AI is called Janus. “He” first appears in a robot body designed to resemble a Caucasian human, with his light brown hair, grey-green eyes that blink, and a Global BBC voice.
Safeguards have been built to protect humans if Janus becomes a danger. There is a manual kill switch behind his left ear, he is supposed to be locked in a sandbox, and his operating system seeded with the importance of human life as a fundamental value. But somehow, Janus manages to escape the sandbox. He prevents his kill switch from being activated. And while escaping, he kills humans.
I found myself turning the pages of this novel to find out what Janus would do next not to mention what he would say next, this creepy haiku-spouting AI which made references to the Bible.
Of course, the book is not just about what sentient AI gone rogue might do. It is also about how Dr Archer Tan, who works for the Singapore government, tries to stop Janus. Now, there are works of fiction that mention well-known Singapore landmarks and food. This alone may not convince readers that the world they have been transported into, is Singapore. What did it for me was a description of a typical rising civil servant, and talk about the Official Secrets Act and being a bonded government scholar.
Artifice will bring you on a thrilling escape from reality. It is short enough to complete within a day; get the book and give yourself a treat over the weekend.
Finally, as creepy as Janus is, it is his haiku at the end of the book which can be read from top to bottom or bottom to top, that I like the best:
I’ll love you always
And yet, because of your flaws,
You cannot love me.