BOOK REVIEWS

Human Values First: Artificial Intelligence and Our Spiritual Identity

Sameer Zahr

 

More a philosophical exercise than a story, Human Values First is a clarion call to prioritize people over machines.

Sameer Zahr’s science fiction novel Human Values First uses the death of a company employee to ponder philosophical questions about artificial intelligence, technology, and the future of human workers in an economy that privileges machines.

Howard is a corporate bigwig—a successful and recently retired factory owner who is on the cutting edge of technology. Howard’s factory is compared to Goliath from the Hebrew Bible, and even on the first page, he dreams that one day he might fight the machines in order to save his “clan” (humanity).

Things come to a head when one of Howard’s workers commits suicide. This action haunts Howard so much that he decides to take action. Guessing that the worker killed himself because of the robotic, impersonal atmosphere at the factory, Howard uses his resources to gather together philosophers, business experts, and others to talk about what AI and computers have done to human workers.

Initially, the story is told through Howard’s dreams and his interactions with his wife, GI, and his therapist, Dr. Sylvia. Through these discussions, Howard reveals his long-festering guilt over the inhuman nature of his factory. When the novel reaches “Session One,” it becomes a platonic dialogue about the dangers of artificial intelligence. The story’s message—that humanity should never eradicate itself, its morals, and its spirituality in return for more gadgets and higher profits—takes over.

More philosophy than fiction, the novel is light on its story aspects. Howard and his workers are merely the catalyst for a larger discussion of modern working conditions. Characterization takes a back seat to big questions.

The book tackles perhaps the paramount issue of the age, and its writing does not engage in sophistry or unnecessary verbiage. Howard is a humane but circumscribed protagonist. The men he gathers around him in order to describe AI are stand-ins who say often profound things, and their discussions will challenge assumptions about tech, modern civilization, and the dangerous allure of unthinking progress.

A challenge to the way we live our lives and the deepening chasm between meaningful, fulfilling work and the type of daily drudgery that most people engage in, Human Values First is a clarion call to remember that we are humans—fallible, frail humans—who cannot and should not be replaced by machines.

 

BENJAMIN WELTON

Centered in the Heart - A journey of Love

Sameer Zahr

 

Centered in the Heart: A Journey of Love, written by Sameer Zahr, is a poetry book divided into three parts. The first part has no title; the second is entitled “Poetic Prose,” and the third part is called “Wisdom.” With less than a hundred pages, it is a fast and light read – a book to savor during a lazy weekend.

The author praises nature, love, music, and beauty in his poems. Spirituality is also a frequent underlying topic. These core themes were what I liked the most about Zahr’s book. I also enjoyed how the poems, especially the ones in the first part, have a paced, rhythmic, almost musical quality to them. Most have 4-line stanzas, some have 2-line stanzas, and the lines usually follow a pleasing pattern. For instance, in “I Yearn,” every line begins with “I yearn to” and a verb.

A thoughtful image accompanies each of the poems, which I appreciated. In “Innocent Love,” there’s a picture of a lovely little girl; in “My Olive Tree,” we see a picture of a majestic olive tree in a beautiful and bucolic property, with chairs underneath it. From the contents of this poem, one can infer it depicts a place that is very dear to the author. 

Another positive point is that several of the poems appeal to the senses. “A Walk on the Beach” begins: “I sink my feet on the soft sand/I inhale the gentle breeze with open heart/I trickle with water flirting my toes.” It feels like you’re there with him!

The third part of the book was my favorite, for it dealt with some everyday life issues such as work, success, failure, parents, and relationships. Zahr is clearly a man of faith, and he values God’s role in our daily lives. Several poems allude to God; I particularly liked “Peace,” in which the author explores the relationship between peace and God. He also dedicates one to Buddha, called “Siddhartha and Me.” In it, the author imagines having a conversation with Buddha.

In closing, I was pleasantly surprised by Centered in the Heart, and I gladly rate it 4 out of 4 stars. It seems to be professionally edited – I did not find any errors in it. It’s a beautifully written collection of uplifting, inspiring poems, and it manages to put you in a meditative state. I, for one, felt relaxed and peaceful after reading it. The author successfully sends a message of peace and joy throughout the whole book. I recommend it to readers who enjoy poetry, especially if they appreciate soothing themes.

 

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