Novels about writer’s block always interest me and Richard Powers’ Galatea 2.2 is no exception. The cover is interesting to look at and challenging to understand, and the book is a good read after a few tedious early pages. I especially like the writer’s setup: Famous author returns to his university, scene of earlier successes, to enjoy a year as “humanitarian in residence” with no teaching duties. The author has a free office, free lodging and open access to the campus computers. With all this and the whole of the immense new Advanced Study Center to explore, what could be wrong? Writer’s block, that’s what’s wrong, his new novel is not progressing and he is getting desperate.
The solution is to abandon his dreary new novel, full of stuff about suffering children, and begin a fictional autobiography of a noted author returning to his alma mater for a year as author-in-residence. This sounds convoluted enough to be really interesting and it is.
One day, while exploring the maze of offices in the Advanced Study Center, RGP comes across an old friend, a computer scientist with an interesting artificial intelligence project. The friend, an expert in the new field of neural networks wants to create an artificial intelligence that can pass the examination for an advanced degree in literature. RGP is the selected humanist to train the AI, which will be called Galatea. This is a nice take on the Pygmalion story integrated with the so-called Turing Test for AI. To complete the setup, RPG meets and agrees to coach a young woman who is a candidate for the same degree.
Well, that is the novel in a nutshell: will RGP fall in love with the young woman, with the AI, or both? Is there something more sinister going on in the AI lab? What has RGP gotten himself into? How will all these questions be resolved?
Follow RGP as he explores the edges of cyberspace where AI meets academia; enjoy the cover and read the novel to find out how this mystery/love story ends.
Day 10: Galatea 2.2 (Richard Powers) (1995). Cover by Raphael and unnamed computer whiz; a fictional autobiography of RGP’s year in a mid-western think tank.