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ISBN 0060976926 / 9780060976927 / 0-06-097692-6
List price $13.00
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After several years abroad, novelist Richard Powers -- the fictional protagonist of the story -- returns to America and accepts the position of Humanist-in-Residence at the enormous and prestigious Center for the Study of Advanced Sciences. There, he meets Philip Lentz, an outspoken neurologist intent on creating a model of the human brain with computer-based neural networks, and together they embark on an outlandishly ambitious project -- to teach the neural net English literature so that it can pass a difficult master's exam.
As their experiment progresses, their brain-child absorbs more and more information, gradually becoming increasingly worldly. Soon, it demands to know its name, sex, race and reason for existing. Meanwhile, this literary crash course sparks in Powers a parallel awakening, and he begins a reconsideration of his chosen profession, his decade-long, failed relationship with a former pupil and his obsession with the master's candidate against whom his cybernetic pupil is slated to compete. [via]