English Version Understanding the Daemon

Computers have learnt from us with every Google search, with every „I like“-click. Now they are beginning to change us. Frank Rieger's interview with the American author Daniel Suarez in the English version.

© Getty Images/Collection Mix: Sub X-ray of a laptop computer

Daniel Suarez books use today's world as a background for a multi-faceted story that centers around the heritage of a computer genius, who uses relatively dumb (also called „narrow“) artificial intelligence systems derived from the „learning“ algorithms who control characters in computer games to completely change the world.

Frank Rieger: When I started reading „Daemon“ I expected the occasional uncomfortable cringe that seems inevitable for me as someone deeply immersed in the development of technology, when reading technology-heavy near-future SciFi. Many authors seem to have only a quasi-magical grasp of technology, for instance how computer hacking is actually done. Your books are entirely different, as there are very well written for a general audience and still contain nearly no inaccuracies or grossly implausible technology details.

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However, in your books, the main „non-character“ is a vastly complex and implausibly accurate conglomerate of artifical intelligence systems, which seems way beyond what is doable today in software development. Sobol, the dead computer game programmer genius who left them behind, must have possessed supernatural powers to be able to write all that software, test it, model the strands of possible outcomes and happenings. Do you expect major breakthroughs in productivity and quality of software design, that would make such a hyper-complex system even remotely possible to design and program? Or do you think that self-improving algorithms can gain traction within the next years also in what until now is hard intellectual labor in software / algorithm development?

Daniel Suarez: The Daemon is, of course, fiction, but our world is increasingly automated, interconnected, and data-driven. Narrow artifical intelligence bots already make life-changing decisions about and for large segments of the human population. Be they high-frequency stock trading bots, or the blackbox algorithms that determine individual credit scores. These proprietary systems alter human behavior as we strive to improve or maintain our scores within their framework -- in much the same way players are driven to reach higher levels in games. And when these systems err, it is very often humans (not the bots) who suffer. As long as they are profitable, these systems eventually become institutions unto themselves, attended by a caste of high-tech priests who alone know their dark mysteries. Not unlike the Daemon in my books.

So no, I don't think a *major* breakthrough would be required - just an incremental one. The Daemon is a transmedia news-reading, human-manipulation engine. At its heart the Daemon is a logic tree -- albeit a distributed and complex one. In its initial, non-crowd-sourced incarnation, the Daemon had a short list of goals: 1.) to infect corporate networks, 2.) to attain human followers (using consumer data and social networks as a map), and 3.) manage the activities of those human followers to achieve tasks. The Daemon posits tasks for humans to achieve, provides incentives (or delivers threats) to achieve them, and then scans multiple public newsfeeds to determine when/if those tasks are completed. In no case does the Daemon actually ‘understand' the events it's monitoring; it relies instead on its human network to serve as its eyes and ears -- people invested in the survival of the system.

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