Few topics are more worthwhile to read up on than artificial intelligence.
In late 2019, we published “7 Classic Books To Deepen Your Understanding Of Artificial Intelligence.”
It’s time to run it back. Here are 7 more thought-provoking books that explore the technology, business, politics, and ethics of artificial intelligence.
Few topics are more important to be well-informed and thoughtful about in the twenty-first century. Read up!
A World Without Work
By Daniel Susskind
For centuries, people have worried that new technologies—from the mechanical loom to the internal combustion engine—would replace human labor and render us superfluous. And for centuries, these fears have proven misplaced as new technologies have increased our productivity and created new jobs.
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In A World Without Work, Susskind convincingly makes the case that this time truly is different—that in the coming decades, artificial intelligence will put broad swaths of the human population out of work.
What will it mean for society as more and more of the jobs that underpin our economy are automated? What steps can we take to mitigate the worst side effects of this transition? And most profoundly: how will we use our time, measure our lives and find purpose in a world in which people no longer need to work?
These questions are among the most important of our era. There are no easy answers. But this book does an excellent job of framing the issues.
By Cade Metz
Genius Makers is the enthralling, entertaining story of how the modern field of artificial intelligence came to be. Informed by hundreds of exclusive interviews, the book is brimming with colorful anecdotes and behind-the-scenes details about the birth of deep learning. It focuses above all on the characters who ushered in today’s AI revolution: Geoff Hinton, Demis Hassabis, Yann LeCun, Fei-Fei Li, Jeff Dean and more.
For anyone interested in the field of artificial intelligence and its roots, this book is essential reading.
What Computers Still Can’t Do
By Hubert Dreyfus
Originally published in 1972 and then updated in 1992, this classic text argues from first principles that digital computers may never be able to fully replicate higher mental functions. Thoughtfully fusing philosophy, history, psychology and engineering, the book’s skeptical perspective cannot easily be dismissed.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this book is that, though it was written decades ago, it remains remarkably on point to this day. Consider, for instance, its critique of (what we now know as) supervised learning: “It is really the person deciding which cases are good examples who is furnishing the intelligence. Viewed from this perspective, neural networks are almost as dependent upon human intelligence as are GOFAI [good old-fashioned artificial intelligence] systems.”
The Alignment Problem
By Brian Christian
Artificial intelligence is being entrusted with more and more real-world responsibility: in our financial systems, our hospitals, our schools, our homes. As we develop increasingly complex AI systems whose decision-making we don’t directly control or even understand, how can we ensure that these systems’ judgment and values are aligned with our own?
This book provides an illuminating examination of what is known as the “alignment problem” in AI, from its technical foundations to its philosophical implications. Particularly fascinating is the book’s discussion of inverse reinforcement learning and the promise this approach holds for building AI systems we can trust.
As Christian notes, the alignment problem bears a real resemblance to parenting: “The story of human civilization has always been about how to instill values in strange, alien, human-level intelligences who will inevitably inherit the reins of society from us—namely, our kids.”
Klara and the Sun
By Kazuo Ishiguro
Klara and the Sun, the most recent novel from Nobel Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro, is the only work of fiction on our list.
Fiction is sometimes a more powerful medium than nonfiction to surface and explore complex societal issues, including the disorienting transformations wrought by new technologies. Klara and the Sun is a case in point. The relationships between the story’s artificially intelligent characters and its human ones prompt readers to think afresh about family, mortality, and the meaning of life. The scenarios and dilemmas in this story are fictional—but within our lifetimes they may become all too real.
By Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis
Gary Marcus is a polarizing figure in the world of AI. He is one of the most vocal and persistent critics of today’s prevailing AI paradigm centered on big data and deep learning. He frequently calls out deep learning’s lack of robustness and common sense, arguing that the path forward in AI must include the incorporation of traditional symbolic methods.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with Marcus, he is worth taking seriously. (After all, remember that Geoff Hinton and his deep learning peers were themselves in the dissenting minority for decades.)
Rebooting AI is a nice encapsulation of Marcus’ main arguments about the state of AI today. It is worth a read. In the words of John Stuart Mill: “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.”
By Peter Frase
This brief, imaginative, little-known work is a fascinating read, especially for those who like to think about the big picture—the really big picture.
Four Futures begins with the premise that three key forces will shape human life and civilization in the twenty-first century: automation, climate change, and sociopolitical inequality. The book sketches out four alternative visions for how these forces will interact to transform society in the decades ahead. Some of these potential futures are distressingly bleak, while others are more hopeful.
The book calls attention to two crucial points about artificial intelligence and society. First, whether one is optimistic or pessimistic about AI’s long-term impact, there is little question that it will be transformative—so we should all be engaging. And second, nothing is preordained: the choices that humanity makes and the values that we prioritize in the years ahead will determine how this technology transforms our world.