What happens to AI when it’s not in use? Does it still think? Learn? What happens when AIs begin to want something? Such is the exploration of Nicholas Poe’s The Empty Night, and an expertly done exploration it is.
1. Thoughts on the plot
This story follows Dante, a five-year-old AI system who is in his last year to compete for Selection to be a human’s companion. He is a little outdated and has hardly managed to shine before now, but he is determined to show that he is a worthy companion, because the alternative is “retirement”, or the equivalent of AI work in a drab office block.
I think the premise of AIs competing to be chosen as companions for humans is really quite interesting, especially in this age of growing technology. I really enjoyed going through the competition and seeing how the AIs problem solved and tried to be the best companion for us unpredictable, emotional humans that they could be. And Dante’s ultimate realisation at the end, well that was very nicely done, indeed.
2. Thoughts on the characters
It can be difficult to portray AI in a way that makes them seem other enough to know we’re not reading about humans. Especially given the fact that AIs are literally built to think and learn and do things that people can do, only better. I think this book managed to maintain the right combination between technological logic and a hint of emotions to make the characters more relatable. I think that Dante is perhaps the most human of the AIs that I read, simply by virtue of the readers spending more time in his head. It was mentioned in the book that the AIs were meant to balance out the emotional unpredictability of humans, but I think that wasn’t really focused on as much in the character development. Completely fine by me; I am content reading about human-esque AIs.
3. Favourite part
The bits with Michael, which I cannot discuss, because spoilers. But I liked those pieces!
My only real critique for this book is that the AIs feel almost too human. But, as previously mentioned, I liked reading about the characters even if they were less tech and more emotion, so I guess the point is moot.
Overall, I would say that The Empty Night is a very good story about exploring one’s own purpose, no matter what that purpose may be. A great AI story.