The Isaac Project is about the creation of a humanoid robot.The emphasis is on the possible impact in the near future of artificial intelligence on our society and the philosophical and political issues associated with the creation of a mechanical intelligence in the form of a human being. It attempts to handle in a realistic manner the research and development aspect of such a project with|
The major characters are: GERI CHRANOWSKI, a strong-willed robotics expert and ambitious woman whose drive to climb the corporate ladder makes enemies of her underlings and ruins her love life. JACK WESTCOTT, a scientist once brilliant in the field of artificial intelligence, is losing his edge due to alcoholism and womanizing. His fight to keep his young mistress and his passionate pacifism endanger the project. FREDERICK WOLFGANG is a petty tyrant and bigot, whose software expertise is
essential to the project completion.He causes a major
disaster because of his egoism and prejudices. Other characters include: ELIZABETH WOLFGANG, psychologist and browbeaten wife of Frederick, whose empathetic personality, although marred by her low self-esteem, teaches the robot about humanity, and JANE HOLLAND, knowledge engineer, whose career is being stunted
by discrimination in the workplace and troubles at home. And then of course, there is ISAAC, their creation, childlike and super intelligent, who begins to have a mind of its own.
The novel begins when SAM, a night watchman of a
robotics firm, finds a scientist dead at his computer. As he examines the body, ISAAC approaches him. He panics, shoots the machine through the heart and flees.
Flashback two years. A marketing manager at TURC, a
large robotics corporation, asks GERI CHRANOWSKI whether a
humanoid robot could be built as a PR gimmick. When she
tells him that what he wants is feasible, wheels are set in
motion to accomplish that end. She sets up a conference to
explain the project. JACK WESTCOTT, an artificial
intelligence expert in trouble sees TURC's plans to build a
humanoid robot as an opportunity to continue his research.
Other personnel join the project; ROBERT WHITE, an
African-American natural language expert; MATSU NAKASHIMA,
miniaturization engineer; B. J. BRADLEY, an expert on
visualization technology; MARIA RODRIGUEZ, beautiful
researcher in electronic speech; BORIS GOLDSTEIN, aging
Nobel prize winning mathematician; SOL FLEISCHMAN, software
signer; the WOLFGANGs, unhappily married scientists; BRAD
SMITH, egotistical systems expert; JANE HOLLAND, knowledge
engineer; JIMMY DRACONIAN, hacker, computer nerd and expert
software troubleshooter; SUSAN HOWARD, flirty, sexy, speech
When the Shinto Corporation of Japan announces its
Fifth Generation thinking machine, the president of the
United States proclaims an artificial intelligence race with vast resources at the disposal of the project.
GERI challenges the scientists to fit a powerful
computer inside the robot's tiny brain cavity. Meanwhile,
the software team start off on the wrong foot when the
bigoted WOLFGANG objects to a woman team leader and scoffs
at the possibility that the robot will ever achieve the
intelligence of a human being. Pproblems escalate as the
human foibles interfere. LAURA GRANT, uses a computer virus
as a weapon of revenge. WESTCOTT quarrels with MAJOR
BACHMAN, the Department of Defense rep, about safeguards
built into the device and defies the army man's orders.
WOLFGANG abuses his wife because FLEISHMAN helps her learn
how to use her computer. JANE HOLLAND's efficiency suffers
when her husband asks for a divorce. JAMES DRACONIAN and
SUSAN HOLLAND date.
The software group designs a simulation of the
robot's mind similar to Max Headroom. Since WOLFGANG insists that no software could be intelligent enough to fool him, he volunteers in a test known in Artificial Intelligence circles as a Turing test. In a Turing test, a person communicates via a computer with either a person or an artificial intelligent machine and must decide by the
replies he receives to his questions which it is. When
WOLFGANG cannot determine whether a human or the simulacrum
was on the other end of the wire, he complains to the
project head that the test was unfairly administered.
When the software is installed in the robot's body,
ELIZABETH WOLFGANG is put in charge of the robot's education and treats it as her child. TURC announces the ISAAC's completion to the world, but the robot that they introduce at a news conference has not completed its testing. This brings us back to the time of the first
chapter. The dead man is WOLFGANG, who commits suicide
because he is despondent at being outwitted by a computer.
There is a great scandal. The sensational press accuses the
robot of committing murder and TURC of covering it up. As a
result of picketing and rioting, there is a congressional
investigation. Certain congressmen, who want humanoid robots for the military, learn about built-in safeguards that would make it useless for this purpose. They threaten withdrawal of government funding. Bachman halts production of further robots until the robot is given the ability to kill human beings. This angers WESTCOTT who with Elizabeth's connivance kidnap the robot.
TURC goes bankrupt and the project is abandoned.
Synopsis provided by the author.