Three Laws Lethal by David Walton
Best friends Tyler and Brandon are building a new ride-hailing service that uses autonomous vehicles. Their software is spectacular, especially with the secret AI algorithm developed by Naomi, one the two sisters they’ve partnered with. When a tragedy occurs during their public media demo, all of their plans and hopes are dashed and the college friends all go their separate ways. Within a few years, Tyler and Brandon become competitors and their feud gets ugly, leading to more tragic accidents and even murder.
Meanwhile, as Naomi continues to develop her algorithm, she makes some exciting but unsettling discoveries about what her artificial intelligence can do and she has to make some hard decisions about what she’ll do with the information she learns.
It takes a while for David Walton’s Three Laws Lethal (2019) to wind up (though it’s still interesting as it does) but, once it gets going, it becomes nearly impossible to put down. The story is interesting and timely as it deals with technological advances in autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence that are just on our horizon. It’s fascinating to think about the ways that computer-driven cars may make decisions, how they’ll anticipate our needs (to maximize their profits), what safety precautions will have to be considered, how they’ll have to be regulated, and how their software might be hacked.
Even more fascinating, at least for me, is to consider the possibility that machine learning could lead to emerging consciousness in our artificial intelligence and how that might happen. Walton makes a good case for the nuts and bolts way for how this might work, the types of ethical quandaries that would result, and the implications about consciousness that we should consider. Watching Naomi experiment with her algorithm and develop hypotheses about its behavior was my favorite part of the novel.
I have a few minor quibbles with Three Laws Lethal, which I only mention to explain why I’m not giving it 5 stars. There are some coincidences that are hard to believe (such as the two sisters having exactly the skills that are needed), characters sometimes don’t respond naturally to what’s happening to them, and the dialogue is occasionally pedantic (used to relay information to the reader). I loved the story and the characters, though, so I was happy to overlook these small faults.
Three Laws Lethal is a sci-fi techno-thriller that I’d recommend to readers who don’t think they like science fiction, especially if they’re interested in technology or futurism. (Non-SFF fans will miss a lot of the geeky allusions, perhaps even the origin of the book’s title, but that’s okay.) It’s highly accessible but also smart and thoughtful. I loved the audio version produced by Blackstone Audio and beautifully narrated by Shawn Compton. Three Laws Lethal is one of my favorite reads this year and will be on my Best of 2019 list.