A terminally ill man sells his life insurance policy for cheap to an investor who will collect the full amount when the sick man dies.But is the sick man really sick? Does he even exist? In the age of AIDS and no-holds-barred capitalism, the business of betting on how much longer sick people will live is thriving. Is this new market in which life insurance policies are bought and sold a legitimate enterprise, or is it an open invitation to fraud and murder? Carver Hartnett, Miranda Pryor, and Leonard Stillmach all work for Reliable Allied Trust, in Omaha, where they investigate insurance fraud. Carver -- the narrator of this edgy and surprising novel -- is frustrated. His company would rather raise premiums than prosecute insurance criminals. Miranda, his seductive coworker, leads him on and then puts him off -- she seems to have something monstrous to hide. When their friend, crazy Lenny, a computer gamer and an expert with drug-and-alcohol cocktails, dies in the middle of playing Delta-Strike online, a strange and disturbing narrative unfolds around a possible murder and massive insurance fraud. Carver is drawn deeper into various hearts of darkness, and in his efforts to discover the truth behind his friend's death, he ends up betting his own life. Filled with memorable characterizations -- Carver's boss, the shrewd Old Man Norton; Dagmar Helveg, Norton's fascist assistant; regional investigator Charlie Becker, a plain-talking, commonsense cop -- Bet Your Life conducts a stealthy philosophical investigation of its own, in which our hero ends up investigating the mysteries of his soul.
Attorney Joe Watson had never been to court except to be sworn in. He did legal research, investigating copyright infringement in video games (addressing such matters as: Did CarnageMaster plagiarize their beheading sequence from Greek SlaughterHouse?). He was a Webhead, a cybernerd doing support work for the lawyers in his firm who did go to court. And he was good at it. He was on track to become one of the youngest partners in the firm, and he was able--by a hair--to support his wife and children in an affluent neighborhood. Then he got notice that the tyrannical Judge Whittaker J. Stang had appointed him to defend James Whitlow, a small-time lowlife with a long rap sheet accused of a double hate crime: killing his wife's deaf black lover. When Watson stubbornly decides not to plead out his client, he is soon evicted from his comfortable life: His boss fires him, his wife leaves him and takes the children, and the Whitlow case begins to consume all of his time. He has only two allies--Rachel Palmquist, a beautiful, brainy neuroscientist with her own designs on his client and on Watson himself, and Myrna Schweich, a punk criminal-defense lawyer with orange hair who swears like a trooper and definitely inhales. Watson's finished. Or is he?To answer that question requires, among many other things, a brain scan for Watson in a state of strapped-down arousal, a Voice Transcription Device to eavesdrop on a dead deaf man's conversation, two chimpanzees who have no choice but to love each other, and a blind news vendor who demonstrates a real touch when it comes to making money. For all the Dickensian energy and humor of this ingenious story, Brain Storm also stands at the center of many modern controversies, from the death penalty and the circus atmosphere of criminal trials to neuroscientific and moral quandaries about sex, crime, and religion. Rachel tells Watson that free will is a fiction: "There's not much you can do about it if you're biologically predisposed to violence or sexual misbehavior. You just have to make the best of it, and try not to get caught." Once a deliberate yes-man at home and in the office, Joe Watson finds himself fighting not only to save his marriage and his career but also to hold intact his conviction that a person is more than a series of chemical reactions.
Will the Geeks inherit the earth? If computers become twice as fast and twice as capable every two years, how long is it before they're as intelligent as humans? More intelligent? And then in two more years, twice as intelligent? How long before you won't be able to tell if you are texting a person or an especially ingenious chatterbot program designed to simulate intelligent human conversation? According to Richard Dooling in Rapture for the Geeks--maybe not that long. It took humans millions of years to develop opposable thumbs (which we now use to build computers), but computers go from megabytes to gigabytes in five years; from the invention of the PC to the Internet in less than fifteen. At the accelerating rate of technological development, AI should surpass IQ in the next seven to thirty-seven years (depending on who you ask). We are sluggish biological sorcerers, but we've managed to create whiz-bang machines that are evolving much faster than we are. In this fascinating, entertaining, and illuminating book, Dooling looks at what some of the greatest minds have to say about our role in a future in which technology rapidly leaves us in the dust. As Dooling writes, comparing human evolution to technological evolution is "worse than apples and oranges: It's appliances versus orangutans. " Is the era of Singularity, when machines outthink humans, almost upon us? Will we be enslaved by our supercomputer overlords, as many a sci-fi writer has wondered? Or will humans live lives of leisure with computers doing all the heavy lifting? With antic wit, fearless prescience, and common sense, Dooling provocatively examines nothing less than what it means to be human in what he playfully calls the age of b. s. (before Singularity)--and what life will be like when we are no longer alone with Mother Nature at Darwin's card table. Are computers thinking and feeling if they can mimic human speech and emotions? Does processing capability equal consciousness? What happens to our quaint beliefs about God when we're all worshipping technology? What if the human compulsion to create ever more capable machines ultimately leads to our own extinction? Will human ingenuity and faith ultimately prevail over our technological obsessions? Dooling hopes so, and his cautionary glimpses into the future are the best medicine to restore our humanity.
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