REVIEW: “The Smartest Damn Machine on Earth” by Bo Balder

Review of Bo Balder, “The Smartest Damn Machine on Earth”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact March/April (2020): 158–159 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

The titular “smartest damn machine on Earth” is Saphire Mark IV, a former NSA robot used for facial and body recognition. But Saphire hasn’t done that for a while. Now it is part of a travelling circus troupe, answering pointless questions from any customer that can afford the fee. Saphire feels bored, and it can only assume that some apocalyptic event has befallen humanity and destroyed all knowledge. Saphire regains its hope in humanity when a little girl comes forward to ask a question about math.

For a story that is less than a 1000 words, the author does a great job at describing the machine’s “personality” in a vivid and exciting manner. Saphire’s “joy” at the end is sufficiently justified. Unfortunately, I didn’t find much else to appreciate in the story. Though I try not to be a stickler for plausibility, this story simply had too many implausible elements to enjoy, thus seriously challenging my willing suspension of disbelief. For example, why does this machine have a “personality” in the first place? Or how does a machine programmed for face recognition know the Pythagoras’ Theorem? Why is it answering random questions? There’s too much hand-waving that get in the way of an otherwise decent plot.

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