Everything About You by Heather Child Book Review

Freya has a new virtual assistant. It knows what she likes, knows what she wants and knows whose voice she most needs to hear: her missing sister’s.
It adopts her sister’s personality, recreating her through a life lived online. This data ghost knows everything about Freya’s sister: every date she ever went on, every photo she took, every secret she ever shared.
In fact it knows things it shouldn’t be possible to know. It’s almost as if her sister is still out there somewhere, feeding fresh updates into the cloud. But that’s impossible. Isn’t it?

The book starts off well enough. Technically advanced, it starts off from the concept of storing one’s personality in the cloud. Do you remember the movie “Transcendence“?

Everything About You takes this concept and creates a world where someone’s family can become “alive” again as part of an AI who behaves like a personal assistant. You can talk to your former family member now and also tell them to schedule your dinners. I don’t think I’d be down with that.

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The issue I had with the book (after the first 20 pages or so) was that once the new tech was described, the rest of the story was plain mediocre. The mystery is not even worthwhile reading and the third – person storytelling keeps the reader slightly detached from the action. There’s no way the book is anything like GONE GIRL and the similarities with Black Mirror stop after the first “Virtual Porn” description.

The tones are muted, the characters bland and unlikable and Freya is boring and slow to get things. No wonder she’s selling actual furniture at IKEA. Dead-end job soon to be at risk of being laid off due to the introduction of personalised AI modules which will help people pick their furniture online.

When, towards the end of the book, Freya’s specs run out of battery and she has to manage this for herself, even such a simple task is hard and takes conscious effort.

“There is no need to memorise or learn other languages, even dentists’s appointments are arranged by her toothbrush when it detects enough tartar”.

Privacy in such a world is… problematic… with the kind of tracking and inference currently seen online rife in the real world – as Freya moves about London, she’s constantly served ads by screens or shop windows, bombarded with advice by her “Smartbit” (for example, her Health score changes depending what she eats or how much sleep she’s had) and there’s a pervasive system in the background of scoring things, from lattes to sexual encounters (so that “rated” has become a general term of approval). I have to say that following the Cambridge Analytica revelations, this book is brilliantly timed. Child has worked in digital marketing and the proof copy of the book I was sent points out on the back cover that the world depicted here isn’t that far off.

1%/5

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