Ability to identify a pattern (visual image, sound, etc) based on some previous exposure to variants of the pattern (a training data set). Simple to implement in a neural network because of the layer of abstraction inherent in a neural network; difficult to implement in digital logic because digital logic tends to be precise and does not handle abstraction well.

Ability to identify, among a set of input data, instances of objects belonging to a certain class.

In order to identify the objects (patterns), a model of the class is needed. This model is built on a prior knowledge, usually given by a training data set. In this case the prior knowledge is implicit and will be coded in some way by the system aimed to identify the patterns.

For instance, a neural network will modify itself depending on the training, thus coding the information given by the data in its own structure.

Book by William Gibson
Released in March of 2003
Published by Putnam Books
356 pages, hardbound edition (first printing)

Dedicated to Jack (Womack)

This book by William Gibson, the founding father of the "cyberpunk" literary movement, is his latest work. It is about a young woman named Cayce Pollard (named by her mother after the famed psychic Edgar Cayce), who has an exceptional talent for somehow gleaning what is marketable and what is not. Miss Pollard, a daughter of a World War II pseudo-spy, finds herself embroiled and on the hunt for... something, a secret perhaps. Her travels take her from London to Tokyo to Moscow and the nether regions of a world that seems both parallel to our own universe and, somehow, inextricably woven into its very fabric.

Having read only up to chapter 5 (and still going), Gibson's sense of style, almost poetic in its nature, has not yet disappointed me. The beginning of the novel focuses entirely on Cayce Pollard's unique view of the world in which she lives, showing us evidence of our market-driven reality in a way that seems at once startlingly fresh and, at the same time, so very familiar. Gibson's skill for coloring nuance and flavor almost spills out of the pages and onto my lap, making the story as rich and as realistic as any of his other works.

Still only into the fifth chapter, this looks to be a very promising story indeed.

UPDATE: March 7, 2003 8:00 AM (CST)

And, now, having read the full story, I can honestly say that Mr. Gibson has managed to spin one hell of a magnificently wonderful yarn. The characters, as usual, seem almost as lifelike as your cousin, who lives just on the other side of the city and updates you on the comings and goings of life on the other side of the tracks- they seem so realistic that you are left with the sense that you could Google them and come up with more real-world information on these fictional characters than you could possibly imagine, almost making your own eventful life (if you have one) seem mundane and trite.

I should also note that this story is sci-fi in only general terms at best. The setting is as contemporary and real-time as just last week, or perhaps just last year. It feels like a major kind of story you'd watch on CNN amidst canned ham about Senator Lott, UN Inspection Teams, the first rumblings of a war in Iraq and the release of The Two Towers, if not for the fact that it somehow and mistakenly got lost in the white noise of a market-laden media tsunami.

The plot, for much of the book, stays on track and keeps its focus, following Ms. Pollard hither and thither like a teeny-tiny fly hanging about over her shoulder the entire time. But just when you think you're getting to the end of the novel, we the audience are handed some spectacular curve-balls.

Much jet lag.
Much land-hopping.
Much mystery.
Much better than I had ever expected (and that is saying a lot, believe-you-me, for I expected a pearl and was instead handed King Solomon's booty!).

If you like Gibson, if you like damn fine stories, if you like to be taken to a world that is just outside your window, then you'll read this book and wonder how it couldn't have really happened.

Pattern Recognition belongs to a rare breed of books that have great intellectual depth without forcing the reader to appreciate it in order to enjoy the story. The obvious main theme is the way individuals function in this brave postmodern world in which cultural landscape has been cleared of any major landmarks. Some say that the travelers' souls travel slower then the plane, causing jet lag until they can catch up. Are souls soon doomed to grow forever lost, navigating endless catacombs of images and soundbites, left to cling on to subcultures - those animated corpses of the national and political alligiances of yesteryear?

But we have heard this all before, and Gibson knows it. The novel works because he handles his themes with refreshing understatement and even subtlety. But what I found most memorable is his comentary on art and the process of it's creation.

Spoilers ahead, beware of spoilage!

Nora has a piece of shrapnel from a Claymore mine stuck in her head, making her completely incapable of most normal human functions. The only way she can communicate is through footage. She not only passively watches it, but shapes it to reflect her inner world. Nora uses found footage - from surveilance cameras and wharever else people get such stuff. She combines them, juxtapozing the Photoshopped image of a man from a train station with a background of a city rooftop at night to create works of deep emotional and aestetic apeal. There is no discernable plot; in fact, Nora habitually edits her own work with very liberal minimalism. In the end, all superfluous footage cut, only a single frame or part of a frame will remain, completing the masterpiece.

Even a brief overview of great literature shows the effectiveness of the metaphor. For example, Dante's masterpiece consists of a great many references and allegories to earlier works, yet a powerful common vision give them new life through fresh context. It's as if there is an ongoing narrative, all the works and thoughts of every artist echoing through each other across both time and space, criticisms of criticisms surpassing the original in greatness and depth. And life, the medium with the fewest restrictions, is especially not immune:

"Transformation - taking the raw materials of your life, making small and large changes to turn what you know into fictional material. Transformation gives you power over events - life is disorganized, here you impose order; it protects you... gives you power over your story."

Kit Reed

Creative plundering behind her, the true artist kills her masterpiece, cutting away all the showy excesses to reveal the tiny, naked grain of truth within.

It is unclear if Gibson intends to reflect the artists' creative processes in general or to show the future of our creative culture. Musicians all over the world mix others' works to create entirely new pieces (think The Grey Album and The Go! Team.) The trend will certaintly continue as a new generation that routinely combines found elements from many different mediums evolves. Either way, the vision of a woman alone in a dark room capable of focusing her eyes and mind only on the radiating screen will possibly never leave me.

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson is one of the most 'loaded' books that can be read right now.

Almost every line in the book is a carefully crafted pop culture cool reference cunnningly rendered with love and devotion. Chris Cunningham is in the book as 'Damien'. Bjork's robots from her 'All Is Full Of Love' video reside there in a still London apartment. There's an online forum complete with fanboys and a domineering post-matron fascist. And a corporation that does nothing but research the coolest symbols and trademarks for other companies.

It is unlike anything by William Gibson so far. The heart of it is a William Gibson story, characters marginalised by technology and a society that is driven by materialism, but somehow the settings are so 'unfamiliar', ironically. Gone are the skies of dead television and the perverted, twisted hive mind intellect, instead in it is found legions of dedicated fans of cool and snippets of arcane footage scattered across the Web and known only as 'the footage'.

Contrasted with Neuromancer, this is set so strikingly in the present and the now, it seems to be strangely otherwordly. Even jarringly so, to some who might have been more comfortable with his Sprawl books. It is also so much more 'emotional' than his other books; in the sense that sensitivity and a somewhat palpable sense of domestication form a central core of the characters interactions now. This is starkly antithetical to the going-ons in the Sprawl, where hedonism and self-centeredness were the order of the day.

In that respect, Cayce Pollard; the female thirtysomething protaganist; is the anti-Case, the demolished, apathetic anti-hero of Neuromancer (note the similar pronounciation). She is a highly indiviualistic and subtly driven woman, who is a little insecure and a little quirky; but always purposeful, always headstrong.

The story is thrust forward by her musings and actions as she is drawn into intrigue that spans much of the globe and which begins when she is called to London for an assignment; a cool hunting assignment for 'Blue Ant', a fictitious company that is cleverly named; considering the fact that the 'Blue Ant', or Diamma bicolor is in fact a large solitary parasitic wasp. A common, recurring theme in Mr. Gibson's work, the wasp is usually representative of the hive mind or group intellect. Here though, the wasp is couched in symbolism and drawn away from the hive. From there she is introduced to a multitude of characters, the cold advertising executive Dorotea Benedetti, the unhumourously named Hubertus Bigend; founder of Blue Ant, a number of mob-linked Russians and of course, a few internationally-renowned spies.

There is no mistaking however; Cayce Pollard is the central figure in these proceedings, the other characters; varied and textured as they are made to be so by William Gibson's sparse, tightly-drawn, minimalist prose; are merely accompaniment to Cayce's prima ballerina assoluta. Every move she makes; every singular thought, is painted vividly and with precise detail by William Gibson. She flows through the story like gracious water in a symmetrically assured Japanese garden. As she is driven deeper into the story, her voice is the voice of reason and sanity that anchors the story within perceivable bounds. Cayce Pollard is the lens through which Mr. Gibson projects his highly unique, highly focused vision of modernity and hip onto the screen that is Pattern Recognition.

Overall, the story presents a window into a post-everything world, that peers deep; William Gibson does not hide or skirt any aspect or issue of modern culture; he throws everything into it and at the same time moulds a jet-propelled plotline that weaves all the aspects of modern culture and society into a cohesive, coherent whole that is much more than the sum of its parts. It is infintely readable and a triumphant work by a writer who has reached the pinnacle of his craft, even inspiring New York art-rockers Sonic Youth to name a song after it. At the very least, a masterfully constructed gleaming white plastic piece of post-modern prose, Pattern Recognition is a glimpse into the present that is the first decade of the 21st century; through the layers of advertising, sleek design and cold, long-chain monomers.

Pattern Recognition is William Gibson's eighth novel, and the first to take place in a world that is more or less the one we live in. Although the plot is somehow restricted by having to take place in reality, it still has the jet setting, international espionage flavors of Gibson's other works. The characters are similarly diverse.

All of this is established elsewhere, and the reader can read many reviews that give good summaries of the characters and plot, and for that matter can read the book themselves. Along with being a work of some moment, it is also a fun, easy book to read. And after reading the book, the reader will probably be responding as if it were a science fiction work, because they will be thinking "and what is that about". For better or for worse, science fiction is not about space travel or robots, or even about matrices and neurolinguistic hacking. Science fiction is about ideas. And with all respect to the genuinely multidimensional characters and intriguing plot, this book is still a science fiction book, because the main thing to be gained from it is ideas. And what are the ideas and themes that make up this novel? To me, I would break them down somewhat like this:

  • The World Trade Center and aftermath. I have read that 9/11 actually happened during the writing of the book, and was worked in retroactively. I have also read that 9/11 was meant as a divide between the 20th and 21st Centuries. I almost put that as a thematic element, my mind having plagiarized without my consent. However, I have to be honest and say I can't actually say what 9/11 means to the plot. In fact, somewhat curiously the book takes place mostly in New York, Tokyo, London and Moscow: the cities that defined the cold war era. It should also be noted that even in 2009, its hard to remember just what the weeks and months after 9/11 felt like. It would have been impossible to not write about them.
  • Corporate control over media and culture. The title character works in the field of advertising and marketing, as someone with an innate ability to understand what logos will be successful. She herself has panic attacks when dealing with logos or fashions she doesn't like, the flip side to her talent as a cool hunter. The company that employs her has a number of different advertising strategies, including hiring attractive people to spread viral marketing. This is actually somewhat at odds with the above item. In the months after 9/11, the espionage in the book centers not around terrorist cells or their adversaries, but around a company that sells shoes and wishes to find out the secret of how the "footage" is becoming so popular. The simple plot for this book would involve the search for a WMD, not the search for the secret popularity of an art film.
  • Online community. Gibson was ahead of the curve here, because at the time the book was written, online communities were not mainstream. They were not unheard of, but social networking was confined to small groups of people who often didn't actually know each other. This site is one place I don't have to explain this, for those of you here who were members in 2002, you can remember the giddy days of sharing secret codes with people who you knew nothing of, hadn't met and probably were not going to meet. The "footage heads" of the story are people who are in a community because they share a secret. Their secret is in some ways just as arbitrary as Lesbians, monkeys and soy, and perhaps forms a connection because of that. Beyond online community, communities and alliances that are created on the fly are also important. In several points in the book, the protagonist finds what she needs by a string of coincidences, such as having an African calculator merchant lead her to a retired, reclusive NSA spy. It could be argued that the tension between the corporate control of culture (mentioned in the above point) and the spontaneous help and aid the people outside of it give to each other is one of the biggest themes of the book.
  • Coincidence, meaning and pattern recognition. The title is a pretty big guide here. The book is about people's search for meaning, and whether the world is obliging in that respect. The leitmotif is best demonstrated by the protagonist's mother, who follows Electronic Voice Phenomenon recordings, believing she is hearing the voices of the dead. The "footage" that is the central mystery of the plot could also be seen in much the same way, being minimalistic enough that its many followers can all find different meanings in it. And of course, on a meta level, the plot of the book is filled with coincidence, with the reader having to judge what is meaningful and what is not. There may be, and probably is, several layers of coincidence and meaning that is undetectable on the first reading. But even after many readings, I get the idea that the mystery of pattern recognition may be left as a mystery.

The final concept, pattern recognition, probably ties the other threads together. After all, something has to, and "pattern recognition" is meta enough of a concept to do so. Otherwise, it is thematically about the human mind's ability to find order while negotiating a world split between spontaneous, authentic online communities and slickly manipulative cultural elites, and also dodging terroristic attacks. Which sounds as confusing as it is, and why there is perhaps some deeper level of thematic unity I have yet to detect.

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