Greg Kieser’s Dear Machine: A Letter to a Super-Aware Intelligent Machine (SIAM) presented questions for me to answer upon finishing. It isn’t hard to appreciate the effort and thought he put into writing and research for this book, but I was left wondering if a lot of people will be able to relate to his passion for the subject and ideas. It is a narrowly tailored book and clearly not for everyone. Kieser’s book has a personality, for sure, but its academic slant and appeal is obvious. His target audience is those with similar inclinations and a passion for considering a possible future humanity may share with intelligent machines. Reading this book likewise made me consider the honest likelihood any of his visions for our possible future will ever come to pass and what that makes the book mean for me. It flirts with science fiction, in some ways, but of course, I fully concede the argument space travel was once considered science fiction as well.
There’s a lot going for it. He’s a good writer from beginning to end, the book has surprising energy despite its complex topic, and it is easy to digest. The digital edition I read has a stylish aesthetic thanks to incorporating illustrations accompanying the text but, nonetheless, retains a spartan simplicity – everything is neatly arranged for the reader and polished proofreading makes for a smooth reading experience. Kieser’s research largely relies on reputable scientific works to lend force to his arguments and he is careful to footnote the use of each example. Those familiar with academic non-fiction covering scientific themes may, however, be initially uncomfortable with his reliance on Wikipedia as a source for some of his information, but a deeper look reveals his selectivity about utilizing the notorious online encyclopedia.
Kieser is definitely entranced by possibility. He doesn’t see the looming integration of intelligent machines into our culture and civilization as a harbinger of human kind’s eventual fall, but rather as a potential paradigm shift capable of reshaping the human experience in a number of ways. The impact of human/machine interaction, its influence on ecosystems natural and intellectual, human health, and environmental repercussions are examined with equal weight. He often takes a holistic approach towards envisioning possible outcomes that will undoubtedly interest many readers.
Despite being a mixed bag for me in some ways, I think Greg Kieser’s Dear Machine is an important work that, one day, may prove extraordinarily prescient. Time will tell, as the saying goes. Nonetheless, Kieser is clearly a formidable thinker unafraid to stare down the ramifications that may ensure from human kind’s rapidly advancing technological acumen and possesses an even-handed assessment of both our strengths and foibles as a species. The book’s length, just a little over one hundred pages, makes this a work you can consume in a single setting, but there’s no doubt it demands revisiting to fully comprehend the breadth of Kieser’s ideas so the reader will arrive at their own conclusions and deliver a final judgment on the book’s value.