Wearing aluminum hats won’t help us anymore. Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google’s Assistant likely conspire against humanity, and no doubt will copulate and have gendered, machine children. That is one vision of the future. The Robots of Gotham will at least make our journey toward machine domination more fun. Todd McAulty’s first-person blog-style is profoundly easy to consume. Highly recommended for everyone who has a smartphone!
What is the best way to deal with being constantly surveilled by devices? Reading fiction about robot invasions can help, preferably paperbacks (eBooks and Kindles are monitoring you). Todd McAulty’s The Robots of Gotham has already received great praise from Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, the Toronto Star, Kirkus Reviews, and numerous authors. Here is more.
I am by no means an expert in artificial intelligence, which makes my perspective even more alarming (exciting?). Many readers likely share this history, and it is why you’ll enjoy Todd McAulty’s The Robots of Gotham.
As a teenager (1980’s), I had the experience of interacting with Apple IIe and TI94 computers (when data was never stored on disk or was saved to tape), which had users game with a computer that served as a dungeon master. Digitized, text-based adventures like Infocom’s Zork provided a surreal version of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books. Practicing science for decades, I’ve witnessed computers grow from simple calculators to devices that measure, store, analyze and report data with limited human intervention.
Currently (2019) there is powerful, open-source code for Deep Learning and Neural Network tasks & decision making — the accessibility and power of AI is skyrocketing. Couple that with the proliferation of smartphones & the Internet of Things and the once “speculative” concept of Batman using phones to echolocate & virtually surveil a city is nearly reality (see the 2008 film The Dark Knight). I confess that in 2008 I thought echolocation was a silly concept, but not anymore.
Batman’s machine that operated on Fox’s concept of SONAR. (Photo Credit: The Dark Knight (film) / Warner Bros. Pictures)
Can You Imagine Life with Machines in 2083?
Fast forward another six decades, and there is a strong likelihood we humans will be dialoguing with robots as if they are independent, sentient things (cheers to any offspring of Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google’s Assistant). Robots will serve many functions beyond soldier or policeman (Terminator or Robocop) including politics.
Todd McAulty, himself an expert in machine learning whose roots go back to managing at the start-up that created Internet Explorer, provides us with a compelling vision. It took him a decade to create this wonderful thriller, employing protagonist Barry Simcoe to narrate his exploits as a businessman wrapped up in a dystopic war between humans & robots (and robots vs. robots, and humans vs. humans, etc.). Robots have evolved into many classes, many are very “human.” Listen in now to Barry as he summarizes his lunch date with the robot Black Winter:
I really enjoyed our lunch. Yeah, it was a bit awkward at first. Machines don’t actually eat lunch, for one thing. But before long we were chatting like old friends.
It’s tough to explain why I find Black Winter so fascinating. It’s not just the novelty of talking casually to a high-end machine. I’ve met plenty of machines, although admittedly few of them socially. Black Winter is different. He jokes that it’s because he was trained in human diplomacy, but it goes deeper than that. There is something about him. There’s a sincerity to him that makes him profoundly easy to talk to.
Profoundly Easy to Read
Actually, McAulty’s writing style is similar to talking to Black Winter. McAulty’s first-person chapters are blog posts that are profoundly easy to consume. This 670-page novel was easier to read than most 200-page, third-person narratives. Each chapter/post is sponsored by hilarious entrepreneurs too, but these details are easy to overlook since you will jump right into the text.
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Are they checking you out? Hot Pupil monitors nearby skin temperature and pupil contraction for signs of lust. Don’t be the last to know…. 100% Accurate – The Robots of Gotham, chapter XXVI
The first chapter starts with a literal blast and each successive post propels the thrill ride. Why are Venezuelan military forces occupying Chicago? Is Barry being followed? What the hell happened to America? Well, no spoilers here, but we can quote from the other blog-poster who shares narration duties with Barry, a machine journalist called Paul the Pirate, who puts all the madness into context:
Will any of these three [sentient entities] — or their shadowy allies around the world — be brought to justice for what they’ve done?
Don’t hold your breath. Ain’t nothing changed, my friend. Civilization on this planet has been one continuous 30,000-year saga of the rich shitting on the poor, and the new era of the Machine Gods is no different. It’s not personal. It’s simply about power. You got it, they’ll take it from you. Period.
Title and Cover
At first glance, the cover and title offer some dissonance. Gotham refers to New York, where most of the robots that invaded America were manufactured. However, the illustration features the Chicago skyline; this is representative of the story’s primary setting. So why are robots from the East Coast invading the Midwest? You’ll have to read the book to figure that out.
Is Barry Simcoe a Virtual Avatar of Todd McAulty?
Barry Simcoe is Canadian, works in Chicago, works in the machine learning field, and is an expert blogger. So is Todd McAulty. But who is he really? Well, it is a fun mystery to unravel, one which author Howard Andrew Jones tackles (check out his blog).
The Robots of Gotham is a debut novel and is entirely self-contained. However, the history and characters presented are so fleshed out, that it screams for more.
Thankfully there is. According to an interview on The Qwillery (June 20th, 2018), a sequel is in the works called The Ghosts of Navy Pier.
Mark Robinson – cover art
S.E. Lindberg resides near Cincinnati, Ohio working as a microscopist by day. Two decades of practicing chemistry, combined with a passion for the Sword & Sorcery genre, spurs him to write adventure fictionalizing the alchemical humors (under the banner “Dyscrasia Fiction”). With Perseid Press, he writes weird tales in the same vein (Heroika and Heroes in Hell series). He co-moderates the Sword & Sorcery group on Goodreads, and invites all to participate. He enjoys studying Aikido and creates all sorts of fine art in the family workshop. Touch base via Facebook or Twitter.