Ballantyne, Tony. Recursion. New York: Bantam Books, 2006. ISBN 0-553-58928-8.
Summary: There are three interleaved plots, set in 2051, 2119, and 2210, but partially brought together at the end of the book. The common element is “the Watcher,” a somewhat alien artificial intelligence who apparently has a great deal of power for meddling in individual human lives and even in large-scale human history, but is very hesitant to use its powers because it doesn't understand what outcome will be best for people. The 2051 plot describes some of its early efforts to figure out what is best, as seen (eventually) through the eyes of a teenage girl who is driven to the brink of suicide by the panopticon social-welfare state she has to live in. The 2119 plot deals with the foundation, through the collaboration and cut-throat competition of several megacorporations, of some enormous project of interplanetary scale; almost no details are given. The 2210 plot begins with the apprehension of a juvenile delinquent, who has destroyed a potentially useful planet by releasing his incorrectly-programmed von Neumann machines on it, converting it quickly into a roiling mass of duplicate von Neumann machines, disassembling and reassembling one another. As a penalty, he is drafted into an interstellar war, in which the main weapons of the opponents are rapidly reproducing von Neumann machines; his hapless design apparently has military possibilities.
Although the author employs far too much mystification for my taste, his writing is vivid and imaginative, and he has some fascinating ideas to develop.