Artificial Condition

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Wells, Martha. Artificial Condition. Book 2 of The Murderbot Diaries. New York: Tor, 2018. Preceded by All Systems Red; followed by Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy.[1]

In the backstory, Murderbot had once malfunctioned and may have unintentionally murdered fifty-seven people. Investigating the incident, Murderbot "hacks its way onto unmanned cargo ships to travel toward" the scene of the incident. "Murderbot reluctantly befriends the powerful, intrusive bot which pilots the research transport in which the SecUnit is making the final leg of its journey [...]." Significantly, Murderbot allows the AI pilot "to make physical modifications to [... its] SecUnit's body that will better allow it to pass for an augmented human," and Murderbot demonstrates the human quality of snarkiness by naming the artificial intelligence and associate ship, "ART" — "Asshole Research Transport."

In the plot of the story, the villain, Tlacey, has a "ComfortUnit—a weaponless, anatomically correct form of robot primarily used as a sexbot" that "voices its desire for freedom and willingness to help Murderbot thwart Tlacey." The thwarting is done with the involvement of "the MedSystem on ART's ship" to heal a wounded scientist, "and Murderbot hacks the governor module of the ComfortUnit to grant it its freedom." The story ends with Murderbot, following an old tradition, setting "off on its own."[2]

Note very well "ART": a highly intelligent, frequently sarcastic partner to Murderbot, making Artificial Condition a variety of buddy story and contributing in an insightful and highly entertaining manner to this series's exploration of the possibility of friendship and other emotional attachments with a killer cyborg/robot/"security unit." The dialog between ART and Murderbot raises the question of the possibility of friendship more generally, including between bots and a security unit, especially one who (sic) has freed itself from human or corporate control. This theme is developed further in the series.

Reviewed by Cait Coker, SFRA Review 325 (Summer 2018): 30-32, who comments on the protagonist and the series: "Murderbot itself is one of the most relatable fictional characters I’ve read, let alone most relatable fictional robot. Anyone designing a course around fictional AI would do well to include Wells on their syllabus; Murderbot will probably be of interest to those who study posthumanism and transhumanism as well" (p. 31).

RDE, Initial Compiler, 4-5Mar19 (25Nov20)