Five Best Books to Read About AI

From a Wall Street Journal story by Daniel Akst headlined “Five Best Books to Read About AI”:

The recent eruption of artificial intelligence through online tools such as ChatGPT has prompted a frenzy of speculation about its future and ours. It’s still early days, yet AI is already writing coherent articles, answering complex questions—and getting better all the time at performing those and other tasks.

Will it save the world? Will it eliminate all but the most menial jobs? Does it mean the end of human primacy on Earth, or even the end of humankind? What’s clear is that something important and unprecedented is happening. That’s one reason so many books have been written on the subject.

Here are five, recommended by scientists and authors who have immersed themselves in the subject, to help you understand how we got here and where we are going.

“Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid”

By Douglas Hofstadter

Douglas Hofstadter’s exploration of the nature of consciousness and human intelligence, published in 1979, won the Pulitzer Prize, became a bestseller, and was cited first on the lists of two of the insightful figures in the field we contacted. “It’s a beautifully written intellectual trip through some very deep ideas in logic and mind,” says Michael Wooldridge, a professor of computer science at the University of Oxford. “AI is not the main focus, but countless students over the past 40 years were led to AI through the ideas in this book.”

Brian Christian, whose books include “The Alignment Problem: Machine Learning and Human Values,” cautions that “Hofstadter’s concrete predictions about the pace and limitations of AI progress have not aged especially well, but very few have, and the book remains a tour de force of both style and content, and a moving tribute to human imagination and human consciousness.” He adds that this is “the book that made me want to write books.”

“The Age of AI: And Our Human Future”

By Henry Kissinger, Eric Schmidt and Daniel Huttenlocher

Henry Kissinger, though nearing 100 at the time of writing, teamed up with Eric Schmidt and Daniel Huttenlocher to produce this judicious 2021 assessment of how AI will change the world. Recognizing problems and perils, the book argues that AI will alter the human relationship with knowledge and present particularly troublesome risks in the arena of international relations.

Ray Kurzweil, the renowned futurist who expects computers to eclipse human intelligence before very long, recommends the book, which he says “provides a comprehensive look at the pluses and minuses of advanced AI. I would say that it does not go far enough, but it does give us a clear communication on just how fast society will change.”

“Atlas of AI: Power, Politics, and the Planetary Costs of Artificial Intelligence”

By Kate Crawford

Kate Crawford’s sweeping 2021 survey “is a good collection of some of the most concerning problems with AI and tech,” says philosopher Carissa Véliz, author of “Privacy Is Power.”

She recommends the book because “it demystifies AI by focusing on its material sustenance and composition. It’s about what these machines are made of and who makes them. It’s about the mines that are used to extract the metals necessary to build phones and to build data servers and so on. The main thesis of the book is that artificial intelligence is neither artificial—because it depends on the natural environment—nor is it genuine intelligence.”

“The Coming Wave: Technology, Power, and the 21st Century’s Greatest Dilemma”

By Mustafa Suleyman and Michael Bhaskar

Artificial intelligence offers the potential for immense benefits; Kurzweil, for instance, notes its role in accelerating Covid vaccine research. “The Moderna vaccine,” he says, “was actually created in two days by having the computer consider billions of different combinations.”

But can we control AI? And how serious is the risk of truly catastrophic consequences? Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder of DeepMind (an AI venture that is now part of Google), addresses these questions in a new book written with Michael Bhaskar. It was recommended by Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at Stanford University’s Institute for Human-Centered AI, who had advance access to the text.

“Mustafa was not only one of the architects of the AI revolution,” says Brynjolfsson, “but also a man who is intensely concerned about the massive disruption that these technologies are likely to create. This book gave me a much deeper understanding of how difficult it will be to contain AI and avoid some serious harm.”

“Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment to Calculation”

By Joseph Weizenbaum

“As we enter the era of chatbots,” says Christian, “it’s powerful to remember that Joseph Weizenbaum not only wrote the very first one, but that he was soon horrified by what it represented.” Weizenbaum’s book, by now a classic in the field, appeared in 1976 but “holds up surprisingly well as a prescient note of caution for our current age.”

Crawford also recommended this one. “How much should you trust AI?” she asks. “This prescient book, written by one of the founders of artificial intelligence and one of its great critics, will make you ask the question in a new way. Weizenbaum created the Eliza chatbot in 1966, and he saw before anyone else how easily people will be taken in by machines that mimic human conversation. The book is a stark warning against sacrificing human judgment, and it should be required reading for anyone working in tech.”

Daniel Akst is a writer in New York’s Hudson Valley.

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