Book review: Our final invention by James Barrat
I read the book: Our final invention by James Barrat. It discusses AI and if it will be the final thing we do. The book was published in october 2013. Although it is a few years old, the discussion in it and the points made are still relevant up until this day.
James Barat is a documentary maker, public speaker and writer. He has worked for National Geographic previous to writing this book. His book was named one of the definitive tech books of 2013. So let’s find out if this title is deserved.
A summary of the book (as written on Amazon):
“Artificial Intelligence helps choose what books you buy, what movies you see, and even who you date. It puts the “smart” in your smartphone and soon it will drive your car. It makes most of the trades on Wall Street, and controls vital energy, water, and transportation infrastructure. But Artificial Intelligence can also threaten our existence.
In as little as a decade, AI could match and then surpass human intelligence. Corporations and government agencies are pouring billions into achieving AI’s Holy Grail—human-level intelligence. Once AI has attained it, scientists argue, it will have survival drives much like our own. We may be forced to compete with a rival more cunning, more powerful, and more alien than we can imagine.
Through profiles of tech visionaries, industry watchdogs, and groundbreaking AI systems, Our Final Invention explores the perils of the heedless pursuit of advanced AI. Until now, human intelligence has had no rival. Can we coexist with beings whose intelligence dwarfs our own? And will they allow us to?”
The writing style of the book is formal, but not done overly. A reader with normal comprehension of English will not constantly be grabbing for his dictionary. What I liked is that no previous knowledge about AI is necesarry as everything relevant is explained in the book. It really guides you through and helps you understand everything necessary to understand the discussion that is happening in the book. Although the book deals with a hefty subject, that of AI, it really is a pleasant read.
People that are interested in technology will gain most of this book. Philosophers and people interested in advancements in society will pick up this book as it is a great read to see what the future will bring. I don’t think it markets to a specific audience. This book is accessible for everybody even slightly interested in the subject as they will get sucked into the discussion almost immediatly. The writer has a very pleasant writing style and a very clear way in making difficult matters understandable. I had no previous knowledge of AI and gained a lot of new tidbits to think about and play with in my mind.
To be honest, this is my first book on the subject, and it sets the bar high for other books on the subject. If all books were explained this clearly, then it would be fun to read. This book explains the dangers and advantages of AI. It explains what the future might bring and the things to look out for in the future. It details the past of AI and what the future might bring and brings different points of view on that future. Some might be gloomy and dystopian, others are kinder. All give us a warning though.
The book focuses this one question: “Will developing AI possess any danger in the future?” It answers this clearly through pitting different points of view against eachother, which gives a clear image of the thinkers in this area and will help you make up your mind on the subject.The book is not so dense to include every single detail of AI and all it’s history, but it gives you enough. It gives you the barebones so you can make an informed opinion on the matter. It really strikes a balance between to little and to much information. The information provided on the subject of AI is enough.
To really propose his argument he uses case examples, he interviews leading researchers and theorists and developers of AI, which, as stated before, gives you a multi-layered perspective of AI and the possible dangers, also the possible advantages. The evidence is based on theories, off course, as we don’t live in that future yet. So it is speculative, but enough information is given to support his point of view and that of other researchers, which helps you learn more and have an informed opinion. Other books might supplement the subject matter, but if you only must read one book on the subject, this will do.
A plus point that I found in the book is a quote I marked in my digital copy, (which can also be applied to autism, and explains phenomenology was this one):
“But consider concepts such as bright, sweet, hard, and sharp. How would an AI know what these perceptions meant, or build upon them to create concepts, if it had no body? Wouldn’t there be a barrier to its becoming intelligent at a human level if it didn’t have senses? To this question Granger said, “Was Helen Keller less human than you? Is a quadriplegic? Can’t we envision a very differently abled intelligence that has vision, and touch sensors, and microphones to hear with? It will surely have somewhat different ideas of bright, sweet, hard, sharp—but it’s very likely that many, many humans, with different taste buds, perhaps disabilities, different cultures, different environments, already have highly varied versions of these concepts.”
As you might have noticed, I recommend this book highly. You can get a copy through my affiliate link here.
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