She cannot run. She cannot walk. She cannot even blink. As her batteries run down for the final time, all she can do is speak. Will you listen?
From a pilgrim girl's diary, to a traumatised child talking to a software program; from Alan Turing's conviction in the 1950s, to a genius imprisoned in 2040 for creating illegally lifelike dolls: all these lives have shaped and changed a single artificial intelligence - MARY3. In Speak she tells you their story, and her own. It is the last story she will ever tell, spoken both in celebration and in warning.
When machines learn to speak, who decides what it means to be human?
New York Times
Spanning nearly 400 years, the uneven latest from Hall (The Carriage House) merges truth with fiction to relate the history of MARY3, an artificial intelligence software found in a doll banned for causing mysterious ailments in children, and the imprisonment of its developer, Stephen Chinn, in the year 2040. The novel unfolds through epistolary means: Chinn communicates to the reader via memoir; Alan Turing, the novel's lone nonfictional character, is responsible for much of the original concepts behind artificial intelligence and is depicted through his correspondence from the 20th century; Karl Dettman, the developer of the original (but fictional) MARY talking computer in the 1960s, and his wife, Ruth, who aims to turn MARY into MARY2, a thinking machine, also converse with each other through letters, in the 1960s; Mary Bradford, an early pilgrim from England to Massachusetts, subject of Ruth Dettman's academic work, and namesake of the MARY computer, is represented by journal entries from 1663; and MARY3 finds voice in court transcripts presented at Chinn's trial in the year 2035. Throughout, Hall aims to write about both technology and the preservation of memory. Characters claim that, in order to understand one another, they must " several time periods in mind at once." But while some story lines prosper, others the Turing and the Dettman sections, in particular strain under stilted structures. Characters rarely speak to each other (except in letters, many of which never get replies), resulting in some flat passages.