Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Guile, by Ian McDonald

★★★☆☆ Mixed

(Near-Future SF) A once-great magician in Reno faces off against an obnoxious AI that claims to see through all of his tricks. (6,332 words; Time: 21m)

"," by (edited by Ellen Datlow), published on by .

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

Pro: Jack and his friends pull off a con, not a magic trick, but Remi is so annoying that we don’t feel any sympathy for the casino, much less the AI. There are plenty of hints that something is coming: Jack is over-the-hill anyway, everyone knows they need to leave Buena Vista, etc.

It’s very poignant when Jack tells the audience, “It was a privilege to perform for you the night the magic died.” He’s standing in for all the people who have lost their livelihoods to machines.

Remi’s failure in the show is that, contrary to the hype, it does not see everything. It’s not programmed to optimize audience satisfaction nor even to measure it.

The quotes are from the movie The Prestige.

Con: Remi couldn’t time-share? There no reason I can think of that the machine couldn’t do two (or more) jobs at the same time. For me, this was the biggest failure of the story, and it left me disappointed by the ending.

Beyond that, Remi is a “magical AI” who’s blinding fast at everything, can learn anything (except, apparently, how to please an audience), and can replace people at any job. I can accept that as part of the what-if, but the problem is then we don’t know what limits the thing has (if any), which makes it hard to find the ending satisfying, since it depends on Remi actually having limits.

And what is the point of the staff gambling? How does that make the odds any better? Did they just steal the money? And was it worth all this just to win $1,000? That’s nowhere near enough for four people to retire on. Even $1,000,000 wouldn't be.

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