Tuesday, August 23, 2011

WWW: Wonder (Book)

Wonder. Human Nature. Missing Hackers. Great Firewall of China. Transparency. WWWD. Non-zero-sum. Hacker Street Cred. Homo Placidus.

WWW: Wonder, released this past spring, is the final book in Robert J. Sawyer’s WWW Trilogy. The story continues where WWW: Watch left off. The book has a more driving plot than WWW: Watch but also continues most of the philosophical discussion. It is a wonderful conclusion to a very rewarding trilogy.

A quick overview of major developments from WWW: Wake and WWW: Watch that I did not discuss in my previous blog entries is in order here. In WWW: Wake, Webmind, an entity that resides on the World Wide Web, is created when the Chinese government puts up a huge firewall in an attempt to isolate the country from the rest of the world. When a hacker, Wong Wei-leng, pokes a hole in the firewall, Webmind becomes conscious of self and a part of self that is cut off. Later, in an attempt to avoid apprehension by the police, Wong Wei-leng jumps off a balcony. In WWW: Watch, with the help of Caitlin and her family, Dr. Kuroda, Anna Bloom, and some others, Webmind gains access to all the information on the Web. After the authorities learn of Webmind’s presence, he decides to reveal himself to the greater world. He first gets their attention by eliminating all spam and then sends an e-mail explaining who he is. He then gives people a way of contacting him with any questions they may have. People ask him all kinds of questions. He reminds me of a combination of Google & Bing, Dear Abby,  and Santa. In one of the books, Catlin describes Webmind as everyone’s Facebook friend. Whew! Between this paragraph and my previous two entries, we should be caught up. Now to WWW: Wonder.

Briefly, one of the major storylines involves Colonel Payton Hume. After the initial failed attempt to eliminate Webmind and his subsequent conversation with the current administration, WATCH is no long actively looking for ways to eliminate Webmind. After all, he seems to be doing a lot of good. Hume doesn’t buy this at all and decides that he is the only one standing in the way of Webmind enslaving the human race. First, Hume attempts to find the best and most notorious hackers to eliminate Webmind. When one by one they go missing, Hume decides that Webmind is killing them. Hume then decides to turn to the media in an attempt to crowdsource a virus that will destroy Webmind.

In the meantime, Webmind is attempting to control his public image as well as continue on his personal mission to do good in the world. After a disastrous television appearance by Caitlin, Webmind enlists the assistance of Hobo when giving a speech before the United Nations. (One of my favorite lines of the trilogy is actually signed by Hobo, who refers to all the alphas in government as chest thumpers.) Webmind also decides to look for the hacker responsible for his birth. He finds that Wong Wei-leng is partially paralyzed and in Chinese police custody. Webmind enlists Dr. Kuroda to try to help heal the hacker. Ultimately, Wong Wei-leng is made to work for the Chinese government. When the firewall is again put up, there are some unexpected and tragic results. Throughout the story Webmind and the people he touches continue to grow.

This has been an enjoyable trilogy for me for a number of reasons. The plot was interesting, and I could relate to the characters. I could even sympathize with Colonel Hume. Oh, and who couldn’t love Hobo? Sawyer’s philosophical discussions are continuing to make me think. I wish more people in the world were discussing the topics —including non-zero-sum and reciprocal altruism—that were brought up in the book. I enjoy Sawyer’s optimism about the future and about technology.

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