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Book Review: Prey by Michael Crichton

I did not enjoy Prey as much as I thought I would. I think there are a couple of things that I struggled with while reading it.

The first thing I struggled with was actually a problem with the type of topics that Michael Crichton likes to take on. I think of his writing as near-term science fiction. It’s definitely science fiction, but it isn’t far-fetched science fiction that takes place centuries in the future. It’s the type of science fiction that I could imagine happening tomorrow. Usually, I appreciate that, since it explores ways that the world could be different today. However, it can also backfire.

One way that near-term science fiction can fall short is in longevity. If the author is making predictions about how present day technology will evolve then people don’t have to wait very long to see whether the other was right. And if the author wasn’t right about the evolution then readers may soon lose interest.

I think that missing the mark on predictions of the evolution of technology is where Prey falls short. Without giving too much away, one of the premises of the book is that large swarms of nanobots can evolve to the point where they can have a sort of intelligence and learn new things – with very minimal programming.

I think at this point the development of artificial intelligence and machine learning has shown that this isn’t really possible. The algorithms for machine learning that computer scientists have developed to this point show some promise, but not the level of learning the Crichton portrays in Prey. And especially not with swarms of low-resourced agents.

Prey was a mildy interesting book, but I don’t think I would recommend that anyone read it. It wasn’t terrible, but it certainly wasn’t great.