Given Rudy Rucker's non-authorial occupation (as a mathematician and professor of computer science), it's not surprising how much attention he pays (in the Software trilogy and in his recent novel, The Hacker and the Ants), to how exactly artificial intelligences will come into existance. Cadigan's Artie Fish "just growed" and Gibson's Wintermute was programmed in a matter that remains deliberately unclear, but Ralph Numbers required work that Rucker is willing to outline.

Gibson's Sprawl had Turing Police. These international enforcers, named after Alan Turing, the British mathematician, computer theorist, and cryptographer who came up with the first practical test for human-like artificial intelligence, are in charge of shutting down artificial intelligences that show signs of wanting to break loose. The real problem Cobb Anderson has, though, is getting the boppers to break free at all. Ralph Numbers is the first. The Adam/Eve of what amounts to a new species.

Cobb has another problem, though. He's sure to be fired for His solution relies on a parallel to Darwinian evolution. By artificially limiting the boppers' lifespans, making certain necessary resources of their circuitry scarce, allowing two or more to merge their programming, and adding a mutation-inducing factor, Cobb simulates evolution among the boppers. Artifice is chrome in tooth and claw. The assumption is that the blind (market?) forces of the evolutionary landscape will produce more elegant solutions than any human programmer could. Genetic algorithms are used to solve many particularly unwieldy computer problems today, and the speeded-up evolution that Rucker has invented is plausible and fascinating. What else could have robots selling their plastic bodies to human tourists in a desperate attempt to raise cash?