With a title like "Google Bans Apps With Hidden Data-Harvesting Software," you might not be expecting a huge, new cybersecurity scare. In this case, the details make the difference.
The Variable Man’s description included references to a post-nuclear apocalypse Earth, and a man from the past. Whatever I expected from that sparse summary, it was not what the story proved to be. The fact that the Earth set piece happened to have undergone a nuclear apocalypse (at least five of them, actually) is really something of a footnote, one of those throw-away world-building tidbits, like villius flowers, that don’t really add to the plot or the substance of the story, and exist only to create a more full-fleshed world. As for the man from the past…that’s where things got interesting.
I think science as a discipline could benefit from a more practical approach. This doesn’t so much refer to some of the really abstract and intangible research happening in fields like quantum physics as it does to something that I see more and more presented in lieu of actual experiments: computer models. In just the past few weeks, I’ve read everything from government reports, to news articles, to peer-reviewed scientific papers that leverage as their evidence not practical experiments or real datasets, but computer models and statistical simulations. There was even one that proudly proclaimed that it was based on interpolated data – in other words, data that is only inferred to exist between known data points.
Artificial intelligence continues to advance at a rapid pace, and some experts predict that we could have some form of a conscious computer in less than a century. In the last Sententia discussion, we considered the biological definition of life. This expands on that idea, and brings in definitions of "consciousness" and "sentience."
I feel a little bad knocking this book down to three stars, because it's not entirely this book's fault. I set out a few weeks ago to teach myself to program in Python. I have some loose programming experience, but it often comes up as something I feel would make my job significantly easier, and simply as a valuable tool to add to my toolkit. Since I have long taught myself different subjects by finding books about them (see: theoretical astrophysics in seventh grade), my first stop was to see what relatively inexpensive Kindle books were out there that I could download and read to learn how to code in Python.