Book: "WWW: Watch" by Robert J Sawyer

WWW: Watch continues the story started in WWW: Wake about the emergence of an artificial intelligence on the world wide web and the girl, Caitlin, who helps mentor it in this journey. By the end of the first part of the book, Caitlin and the intelligence have "met" each other and Caitlin has decided to help the intelligence, who has chosen the name "Webmind" and which she has decides to dub "male". As with the previous book in the series, I listened to it as an audiobook from Audible, a production that involved several readers. As before, the characterisations imposed by the readers are good and the reading pace is excellent.

Another strand in the book, that of the bonobo monkey researchers, is starting to become more detailed too, and in this book it is becoming more obvious than before why the strand is there: the developing conciousness of the ape mirrors to some extent that of Webmind. The final strand, lightly touched on in the first book, is that of WATCH, a US internet agency tasked with ensuring that US national security is not breached. In WWW: Watch, we see the first understanding in WATCH about the existence and nature of Webmind and see how they, Webmind and Caitlin react.

As the story develops, we get to understand more of the backstory of Caitlin and her parents,and the reasons for their current situation and move into Canada from their previous home in Arizona. We also see the rapid growth of intelligence in Webmind as it absorbs new knowledge and develops ways to process information more effectively.

More importantly and more interesting, Sawyer's narrative through the book describes a view of conciousness and morality that is interesting and enlightening, and I for one am glad that this is so: good SciFi should expand on human understanding and experience, not just reflect it. Partly through Caitlin's guidance we see Webmind advance from a being that simply does whatever it wants to one that understands constraint can be a good thing that you chose to impose on yourself.

In book one, we learnt that Webmind is supposed to be built on top of stray packets on the web that in aggregate form the building blocks. In this book, that thought is amplified and yet I still don't believe it. Knowing what I do about the way the internet is structured, it makes no sense that stray packets can be manipulated in the ways suggested. I ended up thinking "whatever" and ignoring it; the book is worth it despite this, but I would have been much happier with either something I could believe in, or at least without an explanation I found so unbelievable.

Again, despite the reservation above, a very good read and much recommended. And again, I'm looking forward to book 3!