The Turing test of artificial intelligence, invented by Alan Turing and introduced in 1950, is meant to determine whether machines can “think.” Neill Bassett, the briefly married and recently divorced hero of Scott Hutchins’s debut novel, A Working Theory of Love (Penguin Press) is battling the Turing test and trying to create the world’s first sentient computer.

Agent Bill Clegg of William Morris Endeavor sold A Working Theory of Love at auction. Says Penguin Press v-p and executive editor Colin Dickerman, “The central conceit—a guy feeding his dead father’s journals into a computer to give it language—never feels like a gimmick. Instead, this novel is funny and wise, as thought provoking as it is entertaining—as if the best romantic comedy you’ve ever read suddenly veered into the profound.”

Hutchins estimates that it took five years to write the novel, but adds, “It’s hard to gauge exactly since some of the original ideas are 10 years old. I was working a lot to make ends meet for much of the beginning of that process, and so I wrote the book in little two-page bits, in no particular order.”

And though the topic is computer related, the emotional inspiration for the book is anything but mechanical. Hutchins, who is in his late 30s and teaches writing at Stanford University, says, “Part of Neill and his father’s relationship comes from my mother’s death when I was young. I never knew her as an adult, and I regret all the time that I didn’t or don’t.”