Friday, November 27, 2015

Machine Learning, by Nancy Kress

Published in Future Visions:Original Science Fiction Inspired by Microsoft, edited by Elizabeth Bear, Melchior Media, November 2015

Ethan's a computer scientist, working on artificial intelligence and machine learning. He doesn't love his work, but he's grateful for it. He needs it. He's also the survivor of a terrible personal tragedy: His daughter Allyson was born infected with Moser's Syndrome, a new and devastating virus, and died when she was only five. His wife Tina, Allyson's mother, first left him after Allyson's death, and then killed herself.

The project he and his research partner, Jamie, are working on involves a machine-assisted instruction program--MAIP--in which the program guides children in their learning in one-on-one sessions, with the research goal of the program learning to recognize and understand human social and emotional cues. They've had progress--MAIP is recognizing and adjusting for frustration, anger, and pleasure in the children, but also setbacks--MAIP isn't recognizing either lying or social pretense.

Meanwhile, Ethan is so closed down and withdrawn that the children, and even sometimes Jamie, call him "Dr. Stone Man."

On the one hand, there's the purely professional conflict over the project between optimistic Jamie and pessimistic Ethan. On the other hand, there's Ethan's emotional shutdown and his coworkers' efforts to break through and reach him--much to his own annoyance. Kress skillfully orchestrates the separate but not unrelated conflicts to one absorbing and painful climax.

Recommended.

This book was available free on Amazon when I downloaded it.