John Williams of the New York Times reviews “Speak” by Louisa Hall in NY1’s The Book Reader.
“Speak,” Louisa Hall’s ambitious second novel is about the limits of artificial intelligence and of authentic intelligence.
It is composed of several voices taking turns. There is Stephen Chinn, a computer programmer writing his memoirs from a Texas prison in 2040. We also read transcripts of a young girl's conversations with a human-like software program. The pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing (you may know him as played by Benedict Cumberbatch in "The Imitation Game") writes letters to the mother of a dead friend.
These and other characters, some from as far back as the 17th century, are linked in various ways, but mostly by their relationship to projects involving artificial intelligence. The conceit will appeal to fans of David Mitchell. But Hall is mostly interested in exploring the sensitive depths of her characters rather than tightening the pieces of a mind-blowing schematic.
Hall's empathy suffuses each character's voice, and the letters from Turing are especially touching.