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The Restaurant at the End of the world

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe Douglas Adams? wonderful follow up to The Hitchhiker?s Guide to the Galaxy. Adams? intentions in writing this book are quite clear?it?s pure entertainment of the highest order! But if we were to look at this science fiction novel in terms of what it says about AI, I feel quite certainly that Adams believes, as I do, that man?s obsession with making machines in his own likeness will eventually backfire on him. In Adams? universe every machine has not only been imbued with intelligence, but also with emotions. Elevators -called Sirius Cybernetics Corporation Happy Vertical People Transporters in the book- get bored with going up and down. Robots are so smart they can?t relate to anybody. And drink dispensers, capable of providing any drink in the universe, can tie up an entire ship?s control while trying to figure out how to get just the perfect taste of Earl Grey tea. So while the picture of AI is “strong” in the sense that the machines can think/learn/feel, in the end it is actually weak in that, it seems to hurt the characters more than it helps them. One great example in the book of strong AI -gone wrong- is the robot, Marvin. Marvin can do anything, he?s strong and smart and he?s also depressed. Marvin spends much of his natural language processing skills in describing his depression. The worst part is that for the most part, no one pays him much attention. He?s a robot and the characters find it a little difficult to be concerned when he laments his current woes. Too smart for their own good, they are often in need of counseling. The characters? goal in the book is to reach the restaurant at the end of the universe, Milliway?s. At Milliway?s diners can sit back and enjoy steaks (cut from cows that were raised to want to be eaten – in many ways, this book is very PC, although being PC wasn?t very big in the early 1980s when this was written) and watch the end of the universe. Through some type of time warp technology, the diners can then go back to their normal lives while the end of the universe continues to happen at least once an evening. Reaching the restaurant however, is not made any easier by any of the robots/computers. In fact in many cases, the trip is made that much more difficult. If one is interested in what sorts of situations might arise from creating computers with intelligence and emotions, this book is a must. In the span of the entire series – a total of five books-, Adams is able to describe quite a few scenarios, most of them at the expense of the characters. But all of them are -laugh out loud- funny. Indeed, dealing with intelligent, emotional robots may not get us where we really want to go with AI. But they do make for quite amusing stories! The Hitchhiker?s Guide series: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979) The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980) Life, the Universe, and Everything (1982) So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (1984) Mostly Harmless (1992)

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