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Finding humanity in a computer lab

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'The Unseen World' by Liz Moore
'The Unseen World' by Liz Moore
Courtesy of publisher

Every week, The Thread checks in with booksellers around the country about their favorite books of the moment. This week, we spoke with Sarah Hutton of Village Books in Bellingham, Wash.

"The Unseen World" tells the story of Ada, a young girl homeschooled by her father, David, in his computer lab. She grows up in a world of experiments and grad students.

"It's the 1980s, so computers aren't really doing a whole lot of anything yet," Hutton explained. The lab is attempting to teach a computer to hold a conversation, like a human would.

"They end up having a program that all of the people can talk into — all of the students and Ada and David — so the computer starts learning language and starts learning patterns."

"As this is going on, Ada starts realizing David is starting to show symptoms of Alzheimer's. They start worrying that as he's losing his language, he is becoming less of himself," Hutton said. "So, it's his story against the story of this computer starting to learn more and more how to mimic a human."

The story compounds when "we start realizing that David may not be all that he has been made out to be. So it becomes a bit of a family mystery as well."

Unseen World Unseen World