I’ve just finished reading a rather neat book. Speak is the second novel from Louisa Hall and it’s a thought-provoking read. Set in the near future (2030s to 2040s) it tells the stories of the people who created (or gave voice / their stories to) an Artificial Intelligence robot baby (AI Babybot) named Mary3.
There’s the newly-betrothed young girl discovering constellations (of all kinds) on a ship to the new world in the 17th century; the disgraced and incarcerated ‘inventor’ of the Babybot; the AI pioneer couple in the 60s whose relationship enters rough seas when faced with the decision to give their creation a voice; the “frozen” school girl who has lost the ability to function in the world without her Babybot; and the voice of the bot itself, Mary3, decommissioned and destined for the scrapheap.
It’s dystopic SF – so, yes, this AI experiment has all gone wrong – which provides the setting for exploring, amongst many other things, the ethics of AI, memory and the power of speech / being able to tell one’s story, and ultimately what it means to be human. Each voice is distinct and with an important part of the whole story to tell.
Speak has been compared with the work of David Mitchell and Margaret Atwood and it’s easy to see why. While not quite as grand as the works of those authors, Hall has successfully created a world where stories intertwine, humans have got themselves in a bit of a pickle and we’re given the chance to work out how it all fits together (and what we can learn as a consequence). And, at just over 300 pages, it’s a refreshingly succinctly told tale. Good stuff.