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A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins

A Working Theory of Love (edition 2012)

by Scott Hutchins

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173968,650 (3.49)4
Title:A Working Theory of Love
Authors:Scott Hutchins
Info:Penguin Press HC, The (2012), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 336 pages
Collections:Your library, Favorites
Tags:contemporary fiction, mind, family, life, California, San Fransisco

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A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins



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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
I picked this book up on a discount rack probably over a year ago primarily because I liked the cover. It then sat on my shelf as I chose books around it to read, always thinking that maybe I would get to it next but never actually doing then. Then one day I went to choose a book and thought, 'hey, why not?'

...and I am SO glad I did.

This book is the story of a man living in San Francisco working for a company that is striving to create the first intelligent computer. He's not an engineer and doesn't even consider himself worthy of the "nerd" title, but he finds himself on the team because the program is based upon the personality of his deceased father. As he uncovers more and more about his own past through this work, he is forced to face whether he's living a life currently that is best for him.

Now, I do live in San Francisco so was able to picture the setting and places pretty well but I don't think not being familiar with the city would take away from the books readability. I would say though that if you're easily offended by slight sexual content, this one might not be for you. But if you enjoy stories that aim to answer deep philosophical questions in a fun and endearing way, I highly recommend that you pick it up rather than letting it sit around on a shelf.

What did I think?: I liked this book more than I even expected to and found myself thinking more deeply because of it. It's not heavy in a philosophical sense, but it will get you thinking and feeling for the characters and what they're experiencing.

Who should read it?: If you live or love San Francisco, the setting is so well done that it in itself is worth looking at. But really, I think this is one of those books that's perfect for your vacation or lazy day - not too deep but slightly above a cheesy beach read.

  tipsy_writer | Sep 22, 2016 |
A fascinating novel about artificial intelligence: a man is hired to input a lifetime's worth of journals written by his father into a computer to try to build a machine that can pass the Turing test. Meanwhile, dude's own life is a mess. There's also some sex with hot girls.

I really did like this book; I wish I could give it 4.5 stars. ( )
  dysmonia | Apr 15, 2014 |
Suppose you worked as part of a team to create an artificial intelligence, which would be successful in a competition using the Turing test (a test of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human.) Now, suppose, the "personality" of the computer was based on the diaries of your father, a somewhat traditional, stern, Southern physician, who killed himself when you were 18.

To this add that you are a divorced man, living in San Francisco, sorting out various relationships with the women in your life, as well as sorting out your relationship with your father, via your talks to the computer based on his personality. Add in a quirky relationship with a younger woman, who is involved in an almost cult-like organization focused on finding the inner click in the limbic system.

This debut novel (with a title I really like) took this premise and created the story of Neill Bassett. I probably might not have picked this book up had it not been for the Stanford Book Salon (first selection of this year's crop), but I'm glad I did. It moved as a slowed pace for me, which was surprising as I pretty much rip through books. But it was an interesting slant on a slice of life, combining a science which interests me with a city I love. I never really engaged with Neill, until the end, which surprised me, but I still could admire his journey. ( )
  bookczuk | Sep 23, 2013 |
This novel is full of surprises. It gives the impression at the outset that it will be a geeky exploration of what it is to be human, set in San Francisco with lattes. Okay, I’m always up for a bit of Turing testing, and lattes. Of course you expect it to be hipsterish with hook-up sex and outré kinkiness, but with lattes. But as you get into the book a bit, get beneath the surface so to speak, you find there is another entirely more serious, even dark, side to this story. Love, platonic and sexual, maternal and paternal, becomes the figured base of the tale, with the more problematic relationship between fathers and sons driving things forward. All of this is complicated by the fact that one key actor is less than actual, being the dead father of the protagonist, Neill Bassett, Jr., synthetically realized through scanning in the detailed journals of Neill’s father into a proto-AI computer project appropriately named Dr. Bassett. As Neill’s synthetic father gains depth and character – i.e. becomes more human – so too Neill’s frustrated relationship with his father gains heft. However, this is no ordinary son-meets-dead-father story since Neill’s father was a suicide. Did I mention that the novel gets a bit dark?

Not everything works here. The writing is a bit choppy. The presentation of software development is a bit implausible (one of the first rules of programming is to have a way to back out of changes, which is not followed here presumably for plot device reasons). The on-again off-again sexual relationships that Neill has are at times distasteful and at times fantastical (or maybe I’m getting old). The ending is contrived and hurried. Numerous characters (such as Neill’s brother) and themes (such as Turing’s own sexuality) are given short change.

But enough does work to at least make the novel enjoyable. There are, I suppose, two different kinds of novels of ideas. In one, the author thinks through all of the implications and ramifications of his ideas first and the novel is, in effect, the culmination of that thinking. In the other, the author appears to be doing his thinking in the novel itself, muddling down some blind alleys, chopping and changing when necessary, but, obviously, reaching some kind of viable conclusion (as least viable enough to convince someone to publish the book). This is the latter kind of novel. If you prefer the former, you may find this a bit too draft-like in its execution. But I found it to be passable. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Sep 17, 2013 |
A working theory of love melds a fairly standard story of twenty-something ennui with a more interesting, and original story of emotional connection. The result doesn't wholly work, but the second component elevates the book over typical offerings in the genre.

Neil Bassett's first marriage has already ended, and it took any sense of connection with it. But his job is offering him an opportunity to reconnect - to the ghost of his father, animated through journals and artificial intelligence.

One side of this story - alienated twenty-something struggling with lack of purpose - is very familiar. And I didn't really feel that Hutchins bought anything new to the execution. As a character, Neil's feelings are understandable, but to be honest, he is kind of self-absorbed and selfish.

However, the other side - conversations with a computer intelligence powered by the father's journal - are much more interesting. Perhaps this resonated with me because I bought the book in response to my own father dying this year. But Hutchins manages something quite challenging - a computerised voice that feels both realistic (i.e. something a computer could actually say) and actually interesting. The development of the personality is interesting and reminded me in some ways of HAL in 2001.

The book kind of peters out with a more conventional ending from its putative genre. It wasn't unsatisfying, per se, but I felt it represented somewhat of a turning away from the less marketable, but more interesting aspects of this novel. ( )
  patrickgarson | Aug 2, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
The scenes in which the researchers volley with “Dr. Bassett” are the most electrifying in the book, and even though the journey through family history and the story of Neill’s romantic and sexual escapades are beautifully written and consistently engaging, I found myself eager to get back to the undead doctor, who in his halting, awkward fashion is the most affecting character in the book
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When Neill's father committed suicide ten years ago, he left behind thousands of pages of secret journals, journals that are stunning in their detail, and, it must be said, their complete banality. But their spectacularly quotidian details, were exactly what artificial intelligence company Amiante Systems was looking for, and Neill was able to parlay them into a job, despite a useless degree in business marketing and absolutely no experience in computer science. He has spent the last two years inputting the diaries into what everyone hopes will become the world's first sentient computer. Essentially, he has been giving it language--using his father's words. Alarming to Neill--if not to the other employees of Amiante--the experiment seems to be working. The computer actually appears to be gaining awareness and, most disconcerting of all, has started asking questions about Neill's childhood.… (more)

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