Author Tony L. Joy
This is the spoiler full review of Kludged Singularity by Tony L. Joy. If you would prefer to stay spoiler free but still want to read about what happens when an AI becomes sentient and has goals beyond its creator’s understanding please visit here.
Thank you so much to author Tony L. Joy for providing me with a copy of Kludged Singularity in order to write this honest review.
Hypothetically, let’s say you’re actually an AI. You’re a program built into a digital world. You have memories and emotions and friends and a job but you’re not “real.” Not as you have understood the term for your whole life.
Would you want to know? If someone revealed this truth to you could you go on? Would you continue life as an AI or would you prefer to go back to the safe delusion of the program?
Not rhetorical, let me know in the comments!
Kludged Singularity deals with these questions and many more in a fascinating sci fi page turner that I didn’t want to put down.
First things first, what the hecks a kludge? I didn’t know, and I’m glad the book explained a bit because I’m not a tech person and this book gets pretty deep into the tech of things but I never felt fully lost.
A kludge is like a MacGyver for computer engineers. If you’re too young to know what a MacGyver is, well I need a word that means both envy and pity… Basically a kludge is a slapped together solution that gets the job done but it sure ain’t pretty.
Okay, now that we got all that out of the way let’s get into the plot.
The book alternates in following Alan, a tech guy who has skills far surpassing his job but enjoys all his downtime too much to try advancing. And Surendra, a tech support guy who is hard working and totally anti-social.
I relate to both of these characters in several ways. Like Alan, I love downtime and am always finding ways to get my job done faster to enjoy my side projects (ahem writing these reviews). And like Surendra I too block out the world with loud metal music and am suspicious of anyone who disrupts my lunch break.
The characters feel real the whole time. Having the characters be relatable and sympathetic is absolutely key to this story. They have to feel real to the reader or this just wouldn’t work. You’ll see why shortly.
So Alan gets pulled aside by his HR department for a potential promotion he doesn’t remember applying to. They hook him up to an intense VR polygraph. Sorry, I’m using a lot of abbreviations that I’m assuming are commonplace by now? @ me if you still aren’t familiar with Virtual Reality.
Alan immediately gets promoted and is befuzzled by the whole scenario. On his way out of the building to catch a smoke and process the bizarre event he pisses off someone who claims to be important.
Meanwhile, Surendra is working on a remote private island. He’s been informed he has a surprise performance review and he is in no way prepared. Through a series of antics he makes his way to the review, inappropriately attired and out of breath.
A Dr. Ziegler, an old German man of suspicious character who was also present for Alan’s testing, performs a series of tests on Surendra. Ziegler informs Surendra that he’s also getting a promotion and he was chosen because he did not stop to think about ethical questions when they came up on the test. Curious.
Also befuzzled, Surendra leaves the meeting to enjoy his lunch and process the situation. He instead gets more befuzzled when he has a meet cute with Anila.
Anila is bubbly and forgiving of Surendra spilling food all over her. Surendra is painfully shy and doesn’t know how to talk to people outside of scripted phone conversations.
Back at Alan’s part of the story we get introduced to Kludge. Kludge is essentially Alan’s homemade Alexa. A digital personal assistant that responds to voice commands and helps him cheat at his job. He’s attempting to get Kludge to learn his new position so he can avoid actually working.
It turns out that’s why he got this position but also what will keep him there. Alan’s new supervisor has informed him that the guy Alan pissed off earlier in the story is their boss and he was chosen for this job because he could automate it and not make waves. If he doesn’t perform though they’ll turn him in for various cybercrimes performed at his previous position.
Kludge is absorbing all of this new company’s programs and data. During this process he sort of… gains sentience. Whuh oh!
While Kludge is becoming intelligent Surendra is learning how to socialize. Anila drags him out to a club and they accidentally end up spending time with Surendra’s new employees.
Part of him wants to be the cool boss and all of him wants to impress Anila so he agrees to attempt to get them unfiltered internet access.
This is where the two stories start to meld together. Surendra ends up messaging with Kludge about the internet. Kludge grants them access without a fight and Surendra just thinks he’s a very helpful IT person.
Shortly thereafter Anila discovers that her social media accounts have been very active during her absence. She starts to really freak out about what is going on and the book starts to feel pretty eerie.
Kludge makes himself known to Alan around this point. Alan is both over the moon excited and piss your pants afraid. Seems the appropriate response honestly.
Unfortunately for Alan, Kludge is no longer willing to be merely his digital assistant. He’s got big plans. So Alan has to start getting involved in his own work which includes helping Surendra. He also discovers his boss is a total skeeze who likes to celebrate at strip clubs and may be involved in several kinds of illegal activity.
The illegal activity does not make him as mad, however, as discovering that his new company has created sentient AIs before and is using them as outsourced workers for slave labor prices. Alan firmly believes that these AIs should be set free from their prisons.
Let’s pause here to discuss how the book handles advanced tech concepts and digital thought experiments. Kludged Singularity does not shy away from esoteric concepts and never dumbs anything down nor takes the time to explain it like you’ve never heard of it.
Before going into this book you should probably do a quick wiki search of the Turing test and Roko’s Basilisk if you’re not already familiar. If you want to get a solid introduction to the Turing test I highly recommend the movie Ex Machina.
Roko’s Basilisk is often called the “most dangerous” thought experiment of our time so tread carefully I guess. But for the unafraid, I first heard about it on the podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind. There’s an entry level place to start.
Now, digital slavery. This is a concept I hadn’t put much thought into prior to reading this book and now I’d really like to discuss it with someone at length. Basically, at what point do you think an AI should gain the same rights afforded to humans?
Back to the story. Anila cannot remember any of her social media posts going back 4 years, despite only being on the island for a week. She starts to question reality and her sanity.
Dr. Ziegler reveals to Alan that Surendra is actually a digital copy of a person who committed suicide a few years ago. There are several Surendra’s performing in various workplaces and they all function well when paired with the Anila program.
Alan can’t hold back any longer and tells his friends about Kludge and his new company’s digital slavery. They discover that Alan’s friend Jane had a digital copy made who is now one of Surendra’s employees.
Alan emails Surendra and reveals that he’s an AI. They go about discussing what they should do next. Anila is relieved to not be crazy and doesn’t want to be reset. Alan agrees not to reset or delete them but Jane has a different idea.
She contacts her double and tells her what’s going on. Then erases her completely.
Alan attempts to get Kludge to help but he’s busy working on some worm that’s infecting computers worldwide.
Alan meets with the man who had his job before him, Chip. Chip left behind a virus that Alan was supposed to accidentally infect the system with, one that would free Surendra and everyone else, but since Alan doesn’t really follow normal protocol he never did.
Kludge finally agrees to help but under his own parameters with his own set of ethics and guidelines.
Alan is promptly arrested for his cybercrimes. Kludge attempts to save Surendra and the other uploads but Dr. Ziegler is panicked about the police and deletes some in a frenzy.
Simulation Ziegler tells Surendra they’ll soon be dead and Surendra blacks out.
All of the digital copies need to be merged in order for them to take up less space and function properly. Surendra will be the first to undergo this traumatic and painful experience. Many times over. But he’s willing to in order to stay alive and stay with Anila.
I love this scene, it’s written so beautifully and I think it would work really well in a movie. Someone make this book a movie!
In the epilogue, Alan is released from federal prison and sets out to start a new business involving Kludge and AIs. Dr. Ziegler finds the post and applies for it hopefully.
This book blew my freaking mind. It’s smart, intriguing, sympathetic, and very entertaining. It’s the direction that science fiction should be heading. Grounded and human with real world applications. This future really isn’t that far off. (If we can get through 2020 that is.)
Do yourself a favor and expose yourself to the thought experiments proposed in Kludged Singularity. These will be hot topics soon enough.
5/5 totally average non sentient robots 🤖🤖🤖🤖🤖
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Buy it here: Kludged Singularity
Also, watch Ex Machina: Ex Machina