Galatea 2.2

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Galatea 2.2
The cover of Galatea 2.2 incorporates the Raphael painting La fornarina .
Author Richard Powers
CountryUnited States
GenrePseudo-autobiography, science fiction
Publisher Harper Perennial
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)

Galatea 2.2 is a 1995 pseudo-autobiographical novel by American writer Richard Powers and a contemporary reworking of the Pygmalion myth. [1] The book's narrator shares the same name as Powers, with the book referencing events and books in the author's life while mentioning other events that may or may not be based upon Powers' life.


Plot summary

The main narrative tells the story of Powers' return to his alma mater  – referred to in the novel as simply "U.", but clearly based on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the school Powers attended and teaches at as a professor – after he has ended a long and torrid relationship with a loving but volatile woman, referred to as "C." Powers is an in-house author for the university, and lives for free for one year. He finds himself unable to write any more books, and spends the first portion of the novel attempting to write, but never getting past the first line.

Powers then meets a computer scientist named Philip Lentz. Intrigued by Lentz's overbearing personality and unorthodox theories, Powers eventually agrees to participate in an experiment involving artificial intelligence. Lentz bets his fellow scientists that he can build a computer that can produce an analysis of a literary text that is indistinguishable from one produced by a human. It is Powers' task to "teach" the machine. After going through several unsuccessful versions, Powers and Lentz produce a computer model (dubbed "Helen") that is able to communicate like a human. It is not clear to the reader or to Powers whether she is simulating human thought, or whether she is actually experiencing it. Powers tutors the computer, first by reading it canonical works of literature, then current events, and eventually telling it the story of his own life, in the process developing a complicated relationship with the machine.

The novel also consists of extensive flashbacks to Powers' relationship with C., from their first meeting at U., to their bohemian life in Boston, to their move to C.'s family's town in the Netherlands.

The novel culminates with Helen being unable to bear the realities of the world, and "leaving" Powers. She asks Powers to "see everything" for her, and subsequently shuts herself down. Her exit from the world forces Powers to experience a rebirth. In addition, Powers realizes that he was Lentz's experiment: would he or wouldn't he be able to teach a computer? Through the transformation he experiences, he is suddenly able to interact with the world, and he can write again.



Richard Powers, the author, graduated from the University of Illinois, where he learned computer programming as a user of PLATO. [2]

Reviews and critiques

Reception for the book has been mostly positive, [3] with the Los Angeles Times praising the novel. [4] The New York Times wrote that Galatea 2.2 was "complex" and a "heady and provocative experiment". [5] The Washington Times expressed that the book "may not be the easiest to access, but will prove as enchanting as any." [6] The Times reported that the novel "caused a small sensation among artificial intelligence specialists and neuroscientists"; philosopher Daniel Dennett sent Powers a fan letter eight pages long. [2]

Awards and nominations

See also

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  1. Harper, John (Jul 9, 1995). "PYGMALION' FOR THE COMPUTER AGE". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
  2. 1 2 Eakin, Emily (2003-02-18). "The Author as Science Guy; Richard Powers, Chronicling the Technological Age, Sees Novels, Like Computers, as Based on Codes". The New York Times. p. E1. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 2019-03-26.
  3. Cobb, William (July 23, 1995). "Picture a brain heading south". Dallas Morning News. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
  4. Eder, Richard (June 18, 1995). "More Human Than Human : Is a brain-like computer the result of creation or programming?". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
  5. Cohen, Robert (July 23, 1995). "Pygmalion in the Computer Lab". New York Times. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
  6. "Fictional return to `age of reading'". Washington Times. July 23, 1995. Retrieved 6 September 2012.