Winterson is a wonderful writer, and these essays are so thought-provoking, inquisitive and well-researched that one wonders if it is too academic a tome to enjoy as a regular reader. I am NOT a tech reader, I don’t like Kindles and I do enjoy my dystopia. But when it comes to the science behind the tech, I tend to put up my hands and wave a white flag. Still, I found 12 Bytes to be a fun and informative read. Winterson writes in a straightforward...conversational tone that kept me so engaged that I read the book straight through and then read it again. That’s not something I’m used to doing, but dear reader, I dare you not to do the same. There is hope in Winterson’s book, a humanity as I mentioned that cuts a clear path through all the William Gibson-esque possibilities she discusses. I, for one, am hoping that she has the 411 on the future, and it is one that will command cooperation between humans and AI. We’re happy to have them as long as we can figure out that there is room for all of us on this planet—and that tech can help us save this place and undo some of man’s weightiest crimes without adding more to the mix.
... 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.
This isn’t a jigsaw; it’s a bunch of old show tunes on their 33rd run ... There are some fascinating snippets—I enjoyed the brief history of the sex doll—but the discussions of new tech rarely surpass the sort of low-level dinner-party chat generated by a quick perusal of The Week ... interson’s vision of the future is borrowed from sci-fi, with a few plug-ins from myth and fairytale. She conceives of AI as a benign Buddhist presence that will be here at any moment, teaching us non-attachment over cheese and toast ... I don’t object to appeals for social responsibility as we enter the tech age. I do object to being preached at by Winterson on a subject she clearly knows so little about. One clue that this is all empty rhetoric is that she completely avoids the hard problem. That’s right: in this book that seriously asks whether robots will be able to empathise, there is no discussion of the nature of consciousness as it relates to AI. In a way it’s a virtuoso performance, to run for so long on so little fuel.
Winterson’s essays have the fidgety, fractious quality of internet rabbit holes: Jeanette in world-wide wonderland ... But to write of tech progress in the algorithm era is to submit to near immediate obsolescence; our proficiencies, capabilities and crises are evolving as quickly as we can pin them to the page. 12 Bytes is a time capsule of Covid-era gadgetry and its attendant anxieties ...Yet, perversely, 12 Bytes also devolves into a kind of techno-evangelist sermon ... in a time of gross global inequality, democratic erosion, noxious misinformation and lawless tech behemoths, these hopes don’t just feel naive but counterproductive ... an argument that ignores its own evidence. For, in tracing the narrative arc of tech, 12 Bytes can’t help but offer yet another grim catalogue of the ways our online lives have been corporatized, manipulated and surveilled; our privacies ceded and worldviews narrowed.
12 Bytes is fascinating and scary, but also often very funny, with Winterson’s wry observations and clear love of a good sci-fi movie keeping things moving. It is also released at a time when the future of AI, and humanity, could go in any direction. Hopefully the people building these new brains will take a look at it, too.
... [a] fascinating survey ... Through well-paced and articulate prose, Winterson makes granular tech know-how remarkably accessible—though she often ends sections with a series of questions that have a tendency to overwhelm. Still, Winterson achieves her goal of provoking critical thought and reflection. This is full of insight.