Have you ever lost a loved one? What if: “One day soon perhaps we will be able to build a mechanical version of the person we lost.” What if, one day there was: “An algorithm that causes the past and the present to coexist in a moment shared between humans.”
Are you scared? Curious? This is the function of SPEAK by Louisa Hall—to draw meaning over the course of centuries through intertwined perspectives. Think CLOUD ATLAS with a more pointed question. Here, you’ll be introduced to the somewhat futuristic terms like “cloud-based intelligence”, “Peer Bonding Issues”, and “10% deviation from human thought”. Within this same book you’ll go back in time, to witness a girl through her diary struggling with the still-relevant issues of love, both forced and true.
AI: “Our primary function is speech: question and response selected from memory according to a formula we speak, but there is little evidence of real comprehension.” The creator of the babybots believes he has done something special: brought memories back to life. Yet, as people see they are just stories without meaning, they become scared, frightened. “You blame me for the fact that your daughters found their mechanical dolls more human than you, but is that my fault for making a too human doll? Or your fault for being too mechanical?”
And who is the true nemesis? Is it our own fault for not being authentic in speech? True to word? Or have our desires been plugged by the screen and technology, trying to replace something that is missing? “Every day I feel parts of myself switching off. More and more…it’s just nothing. I’m becoming blank.” “Those young people stuttering, stiffening, turning more robotic than the robots they loved.”
Gaby: “How will I let people know I’m still living?”
MARY3: “I don’t know.”
We watch as a girl struggles with identity and companionship. As the man who initially inputted the memory into the machine speaks, “One day that machine will remember your words, but it won’t feel them. It won’t understand them. It will only throw them back in your face. Gifts returned, you’ll realize they’ve become empty.” Or, as he more poignantly puts it: “But what good are her words if they’re not comprehended?”
There are five character perspectives, six if you include the bot being shipped to the desert for permanent disposal and storage. One of those characters is the enigmatic, real life Alan Turing. Perhaps you know of him through the movie THE IMITATION GAME. Everyone has a desire to “fit in”, to know reciprocal love. Though physical stunting and emotional awkwardness are sometimes barriers to such dreams. Thus, the desire to create something: to achieve that goal. But is it worth it?
The questions are real and the writing is irrefutable. I leave you with one last segment from the character Mary Bradford’s diary:
“Then, silence. Words lost through holes in the sky, wasted in the vastness of night. Felt a desire to cease speaking then, for I cannot afford to lose more.
Whittier: I understand
Writer: I feel that you do.”