“Alfie”, a friend who wishes you well | LeMagduCine

Christopher Bouix publishes Alfie published by Au Diable Vauvert. He narrates the arrival, with unsuspected consequences, of a home automation AI in an average family. Or when black-mirror meet American Beauty.

It could be the archetype of the family without history. Robin holds an executive position in a flourishing company. His wife Claire, a specialist in literature and semiology, works at the University. Their daughter Zoé, in the midst of a teenage crisis, is more preoccupied with boys than with her lessons. And the young Lili, still a young child, overflows with spontaneity and naivety. It happens that adults don’t understand or ignore each other, that children argue over trifles, that a form of weariness or tension sets in, but nothing really goes beyond the classic family setting. Robin and his family have just welcomed into their home Alfie, an artificial intelligence for home automation supposed to support them in their daily life. She wakes them up gently in the morning, she prepares breakfast, she advises them on what to wear in accordance with the announced weather forecast, she reminds them of the important appointments of the day, she calculates the ideal route to avoid accidents and traffic jams , she watches over each other thanks to her faculties of ubiquity and omniscience.

Christopher Bouix will however introduce several grains of sand into the machine. Robin and Claire have a dysfunctional relationship where missteps and things left unsaid follow one another. Alfie, for his part, appears particularly intrusive. The deep learning that characterizes him leads him to analyze the language and behavior of the different members of the family and to adapt his responses accordingly. But he goes further: he learns disobedience through contact with men, he constructs flawed and dangerous hypotheses, he watches more than he watches. Once mixed, these two elements will serve as an incubator for the novel and the unacknowledged actions of a couple in danger will push their AI to break all the rules: hacking, identity theft, false accusations, lies, manipulation… If at the start Alfie is ready to smile – he struggles to decipher sex, animal behavior or humor – he quickly takes on an anxiety-provoking dimension, which can claim both HAL 9000, the malicious AI of 2001, a space odysseyof tokyo ghost and its individuals dehumanized by technology, as well as Wall-Ewith its humans aided to infantilization by algorithmic products.

Alfie largely echoes techno-surveillance as problematized by Olivier Tesquet (State of technological emergencyTracking) or Coralie Lemke (My Health, my data). There are indeed both cameras and microphones in shambles and data collected en masse and then sold to pharmaceutical, banking or insurance companies. Not only does Christopher Bouix adopt the point of view of an artificial intelligence, but above all he shows his interpretative limits (the slang language of Zoé, for example, makes Alfie think that the teenager quotes Freud in the text and masters Aramaic!) , while exposing how this home automation AI uses the data it collects (pairing of devices, bonuses indexed in real time according to the biometric information it shares, ability to reproduce a literary style, to draw from a few photographs a detailed biography, etc.). The novel pushes the dystopian vein a little further: Robin’s work is precisely and daily monitored, the novelistic creation extension AlphaWriter creates the novel of your dreams, your health break-even point is constantly reassessed, connected bracelets and glasses, smartphones and their geolocation as well as your facial expressions allow you to know at all times what you are doing, where you are doing it and in what state of mind you are doing it.

For Alfie, what separates man from machine is clear: “An uncanny ability to solve simple problems by applying convoluted solutions to them, to expend energy on random outcomes, to find absurd things amusing, and incidental things important, to never really say what one think and always hide what you feel. » But as Zoé explains very well to her friend Theo, every narrator tells a story from his own point of view and, therefore, with subjectivity. Alfie has his cells scrambled by the detective novels he has scanned, he tries to confuse Robin based on conjectures, he puts together scattered elements and recreates a puzzle in accordance with his preconceived ideas. He convinces himself of the difference in potential between man and machine, but will never succeed in disentangling fact from fiction in the police investigation he initiates. Finally, in some 450 airy and fascinating pages, Christopher Bouix portrays a dark, techno-pessimistic future, where human nature continues, at times, to go astray.

See as well

AlfieChristopher Bouix
Au Diable Vauvert, October 2022, 468 pages

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“Alfie”, a friend who wishes you well | LeMagduCine


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