|Prey by Michael Crichton|
Initially written in 2002, it feels unbelievably opportune for the advances we are seeing in technology on the news now. (I just had a conversation with an AI chatbot who tried to suggest my next book to read. She was an idiot, but, everything starts out stupid.) The premise is.. a little weird (what MC book doesn't start out with that description?) A man goes to the production facility his wife has been working at, in the middle of Butt Fuck Nowhere, and finds that what she said she was working on was, like, maybe a tad more vague than it should have been. Now, a swarm of hyperintelligent microdrones have created a hive mind that rivals the villain of even the toughest boss levels in all of history. And it's out. For. Blood. (Human blood, specifically, although it doesn't mind small animals either.)
LUCKILY, this husband just happens to be a programmer specializing in AI that learns from its environment and evolves to match it. So, if anyone should be able to save the day it's him, right? Yeah, I'm sure that's what every programmer thinks to himself as he learns how to code, "gee I hope I can end up in a life or death game of cat-and-mouse with only my wits to save me and everyone around me!" (Any programmers out there, if you could confirm I'd appresh.)
As with most of MC's works, this is painstakingly researched. That fact is only made more obvious because over a decade later, the technology still sounds plausible. It is fantastic and terrifying and riveting and horrifying. I have an Echo in every room of the house, and my Pixel phone is always listening for me to say "OK Google", and while I'm ok with the creepiness level right now, this book definitely made me look at Alexa and wonder... yeah, it's annoying that she doesn't understand more complex questions, or follow up questions. But if she were smart enough to do that... what else would she be smart enough to do? Do we want amoral lines of code to actually be smarter than a parrot?
Highly recommended read, especially now. The characters are full of depth, and the story is rich and complex, and the adrenaline rush is definitely there. (I docked it one Cogsworth simply because of the accuracy of the science, it can be a little intimidating for a lot of readers.)