... an unusual and entertaining read, the book is inflected with the same delightful, dry humour as the rest of her work. In each essay, Winterson holds AI up to the light, contemplating it from different angles. One of the most thought-provoking (and smile-inducing) of the resulting refractions is her treatment of spirituality ... Winterson...is refreshingly measured and optimistic ... such a welcome break from the scaremongering that accompanies non-specialist surveys of AI that it is easy to get swept away by the author’s impassioned storytelling ... With its imaginative, insightful and wide-ranging essays, 12 Bytes will undoubtedly prompt readers to begin their own circlings around AI.
There is a strong feminist slant here ... The best of these essays are the most personal, the ones in which Winterson’s life allows her to spot connections that others might miss ... All of this is thought-provoking and necessary—and sometimes very funny—but there’s no scenario here that someone hasn’t already imagined; no Shelleyan leap ... Then again, Winterson might be on to something when she suggests that in a future defined by connectivity and hybridity, love will be more meaningful than intelligence. Could love actually be intelligence, in a disembodied world? Maybe that’s romantic flim-flam. Maybe it’s a pointless question since it leads to another: what is love? But it has a certain appeal—not least because it could launch us on a new imaginative journey, and because in imagining something, we make it possible.
Why should we care what Jeanette Winterson has to say about artificial intelligence? The answer is that Winterson is never boring. She can be brash, didactic and hectoring, but she is always passionate and provocative ... Winterson is oddly at her most compelling when she is at her most messianic and fanciful. Which isn’t to say she is in any way convincing ... Winterson’s excitable optimism about AGI not only feels naive, it also comes across as performative and insincere. You can feel the magical thinking catch up with her as she writes. She gives enough examples of tech firms behaving greedily, unethically and dimly to cast serious doubt on her own thesis. She has blurred the reality of AI—a relatively mundane combination of machine learning and Big Data—with AGI, which may never be realised. She has fallen for and colluded with the hype, and it is hard to trust her. The result is a non-fiction book that is less convincing than the fiction she wrote on precisely these themes.