Thursday, November 19, 2015

Machine Learning, by Nancy Kress

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In this very emotional story, to distract himself from the wife and child he lost, Ethan buries himself in his work on a AI system designed to teach children. (9,000 words; Time: 30m)

Rating: ★★★☆☆, Average
Recommended By: GDozois:5

"," by (edited by Jennifer Henshaw and Allison Linn), appeared in Future Visions (RSR review), published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: This story is really about Ethan's struggle to put the past behind him and find a reason to live and to love again.

Kress has really done her homework on machine-learning and natural language technology. The field has plenty of Ethans, who see everything in abstract mathematical terms, and Jamies, who jump at any excuse to see signs of intelligence. Results are ambiguous, progress is incremental. This is well done.

The scene where we learn that Ethan relives 10 seconds with his lost daughter is a real tear-jerker.

Con: Laura seems more like a stalker than someone who genuinely cares about Ethan. Jamie is much more believable in that role. At the ending, we don't actually feel that anything has changed. The last two paragraphs are a show-don't-tell failure.

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