Quick Read


Robert J. Sawyer
Penguin Canada
368 pp

What if the Internet were to gain sentience? What questions would that raise? Would it result in a ‘Big Brother’ society in which free thought is curtailed? What are the implications for flesh-and-blood consciousness? Can self-awareness truly exist without the chemical makeup of the human brain?

These questions are all addressed in the follow-up to last year’s critically acclaimed Wake, the first in a trilogy exploring the ramifications of a super intelligence emerging from a series of tubes.

In Watch, Canadian science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer continues to explore the signature theme of his already large body of work: what is ‘consciousness’ and where does it come from?

Armed with the most dangerous weapon in a sci-fi writer’s arsenal—research—Sawyer not only makes the Internet emerging as an intelligence seem plausible, but almost inevitable.

Sawyer brushes aside the Orwellian implications of an all-seeing intelligence monitoring our communications with a massive shrug. Orwell is so 1984, says Sawyer. And besides, who wouldn’t want someone to filter your inbox for spam, reconnect you with lost loved ones, and advise emotionally-plagued pubescents against carrying out their idle threats of suicide aimed at their overbearing mothers through e-mail.

Unlike the stone-cold indifference exhibited by extraterrestrial intelligences in science fiction novels of yore, Sawyer’s incorrigible optimism results in an entity that just wants to do its darn best to make everyone happy.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 05, published September 14, 2010.