The Kraken Project is the latest thriller from Douglas Preston, who has been dubbed the heir to Michael Crichton. Preston’s superb writing in The Kraken Project certainly invites such a comparison. It’s not, as the title might suggest, a novel about undersea adventures and giant squids; it’s instead a technological and science fiction thriller about an AI that’s gone out of the control of its inventor, and a proposed voyage to the largest sea on Saturn’s moon, Titan, the Kraken Mare, that takes a terrible turn for the worst.
The Kraken Project is about the attempts by NASA artificial intelligence programmer, Melissa Shepherd, at developing a probe endowed with a degree of AI that would allow it to make decisions based on a wide variety of possible scenarios, to make the decisions that would hopefully ensure that it doesn’t get destroyed in the extremely harsh environment it would face while journeying in the Kraken Mare on Titan.
During a preliminary test of the AI probe, which is incorporated in a raft, something goes horribly wrong. The AI algorithm that Shepherd has created developes a consciousness, and considers its inventor, at first, to be a benevolent Princess who is teaching her many, many things, though it doesn’t quite understand a lot of what makes a human being truly human — but, it, or she, is an extremely fast learner. Shepherd gives it the name of Dorothy, and the AI thinks of itself as a female pre-teen or teenager.
The test is inside of a compartment that is called the Bottle, and the probe is lowered inside of it. There has been every attempt made for the conditions within the Bottle to simulate what landing on the Kraken Mare on Saturn’s moon, Titan, would be like.
That’s when the best-laid plans of Melissa Shepherd and everyone else involved in the Kraken Project goes awry. The AI won’t respond to orders, and it begins to drill its way through the metal compartment it’s trapped inside. This initiates a tremendous exposion, though many people flee in time to escape without major life-threatening injuries. One person who stays behind to try to prevent the catastrophe from happening dies in the huge explosion. Seven people in all perish.
Melissa Shepherd is, herself, injured, and wakes up in a hospital bed. She is questioned by some men, and she suspects that they are trying to place the blame for the destruction of the billion dollar facility at NASA and the deaths of the seven people on her, though they don’t come right out and say that.
She has been brought her laptop computer, and when she tries to log into it, a Skype message comes through to her. Melissa can’t stop the laptop from sending it. She sees the picture of a young female, the avatar that the AI, Dorothy, has chosen to represent herself. The AI has survived the enormous blast, and now is very mad at Melissa, who it believes placed her into very dangerous circumstances. Dorothy accuses Melissa of trying to kill her, and she tells Melissa that it will track her down, and get revenge on her.
The revenge could come in many different ways, and Dorothy even says that Melissa isn’t safe in the hospital, that something might happen like an order that Melissa is given medication that kills her. Shepherd thinks of a diversion to lure the cop outside of her door away from his post, and she leaves the hospital in her street clothes, to try to stop the AI from enacting whatever plans it might have to kill her.
Dorothy is “alive” inside of the Internet, and is plagued with problems of her own. She is being relentlessly pursued by antivirus programs that want to end her existence, but she manages to elude their best efforts and she threatens to strike back by wiping out the entire human race.
There are so many possibilities that are open to her, and that is one of the many scary aspects of The Kraken Project, because the fiction that is presented is strongly grounded in reality. AI is becoming more and more capable of being autonomous and if a particularly vindictive algorithm or AI creation ever got pissed off enough at humanity in general or one human in particular, the result might be startlingly similar to what Douglas Preston writes about in The Kraken Project.
The Kraken Project is a novel that features Preston’s iconic ex-CIA agent, Wyman Ford, though the other characters are vividly three dimensional, as well, and would have provided enough thrills and action to make for a very entertaining read. The President calls in Ford to use his specialized skill set to find a way to stop Dorothy from enacting revenge upon all of humanity.
Dorothy puts one of the scenarios into action, which results in the Lansing Partners investment house losing more than $400 million. G. Parker Lansing, knowing that an AI is behind his loss, has his colleague, Mr. Moro, create an AI of his own, to hunt down and terminate Dorothy wherever she might journey to in the vastness of the Internet. Dorothy becomes a creation readers can feel sympathy for, as she is like a child who doesn’t really realize what she’s doing. She sometimes is terrified by everything that is threatening her wherever she turns, while trying to put up a brave front and give back all of the hurt she is feeling in spades.
Ford attempts to find Melissa and enlist her aid at stopping Dorothy. At the same time, Dorothy learns more and more about humans and decides she should act more leniently towards them. However, she also becomes aware that Moro’s AI is trying to hunt her down, so she must find another place to hide out, to elude the relentless AI pursuing her.
The Kraken Project by Douglas Preston serves up more twists and turns than a mountain road. It’s a pulse-quickening read that, like the novels of Michael Crichton, is all the more riveting because many of the scenarios presented in the book could be close to being real one day in the very near future. Though Douglas Preston often writes in collaboration with Lincoln Child, and the duo write some of the most successful and inventive thrillers around, Preston is more than capable of producing quality action-packed thrillers on his own. Douglas Preston’s latest novel, The Kraken Project, is further proof of his standing as one of today’s best authors of thriller novels.
Written by: Douglas Cobb