We created robots, made them intelligent. They rebelled and wiped us out. Humans are extinct. Now there are a few robots who still survive on the fringes, not willing to be assimilated into the mainframe artificial intelligences that want to rule over everything.
This starts off brilliantly. The path that the author sets out, from early attempts to build artificially intelligent machines to the resulting moral choices that have to be made, is totally believable. It might not play out this way but it certainly could – to a degree that anyone who has an interest in AI should read this book, just to see what might result when someone allows themselves to think through the implications.
I wish the book could have found a way to finish there – this would have been an awesome science fiction short story.
But it starts to drag on, trying to add some meaning to the robots’ existence and then ending up with the typical Transformers-movie-type of robots just trying to beat the crap out of one another.
There is a female narrator all the way through (all too rare) and she does a good job of imbuing the robots with character and putting over some of the dark humour that resonates out of the story.
This is a book of two halves – unmissable, essential at first and good but not that good at the end.
For a while now I have been reading more about the history of computing (in the USA and in particular Silicon Valley). It started with the sublime article “The Tinkerings of Robert Noyce” by Tom Wolfe in Esquire magazine and followed by the revelatory – to me at least – Rolling Stone article “SPACEWAR” by Stewart Brand. Next up was the wonderful book “Troublemakers” which covered Silicon Valley from 1969 to 1984.
The reason I’m interested in this is because the more I find out about the history of computing, the more I realise that the world that we live in today was conceived several decades ago. Ideas that we think of as modern originated back then.
What they predicted back then, we are enmeshed in today.
The story “A Logic Named Joe” features in “Machines That Think”, a science fiction short story anthology from 1984.
The story is just 17 pages long but I was astounded. This story from 72 years ago appears to predict the internet, artificial intelligence and some of the less salubrious social consequences of having the world’s information at our fingertips.
The introduction talks about the importance of the story due to the way it predicted widespread ownership of computers, made possible by the reduction in size and cost of the machines. In fact, the world the story was describing had not yet arrived in 1984 – it was too early to comment on the story and truly understand how predictive it would become.
The “5 in 5” is IBM’s annual prediction of five things that will change our lives in the next five years.
If these are correct, the future will be here sooner than you might think…
The impact that exponential technological advance will have on the future of the economy really came into focus for me five years ago when I read “Race Against The Machine” and Martin Ford’s first book “The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future” in quick succession. The two were both were very cheap, unprofessional looking e-books and the writing could be improved. They were pedalling ideas that were outside of mainstream thinking. People where just coming to terms with the bombshell that was the Great Recession.
Fast-forward to today and the ideas have come to the attention of the general public. Back then we had a chess champion beaten by brute-force computing and IBM’s Watson beating humans at a quiz show. Now we have self driving cars, a Go champion beaten by a computer program using machine learning and dire warnings from important figures in science and technology warning of the risks of artificial intelligence to the future of the human race.
Also, in the meantime both books have had an upgrade and big improvements in quality. “Race Against The Machine” became “The Second Machine Age” and “The Lights in the Tunnel” became “The Rise of the Robots”.
Although the message is largely the same as the earlier book, the author’s writing is much improved, the arguments are clear and supported with data, there is little repetition in subject matter and the book is kept short (350 pages / 10 hours).
This book won the prize for Best Business Book of the Year 2015 and it is easy to see why. However, I do wonder – as this book has come to the attention of the business community – whether a large part of the book’s audience will actually take heed of what is being said especially in regard to the issues of income inequality and productivity if large scale automation is undertaken. They certainly cannot now say that they have not been warned. Will business leaders believe that the message applies to others but not to themselves?
A note on the narration as I listened to the audiobook version: sometimes these business books end up being read by a default-American-voice which can sound very bland and unenthusiastic. In the worst cases, this can actively detract from the content of the book (The Second Machine Age is a victim in this regard). When I heard the voice of the narrator for this book I was initially concerned. In the end Jeff Cummins does a good job, adding intonation and a relaxed tone which matches the style of the text.
In conclusion, this book should be read by everyone. I would go as far as saying that the book is an addictive read (or listen). If you have not thought about the subject before, it will really give you something to think about. You may be persuaded at least that the author has a point or you may be convinced he is right. He sounds right to me.
This week Leo was discussing some of the threats that might materialise as a result of improvements in the field of Artificial Intelligence.
Thinking back, the subject of AI has come up a few of times before. These episodes give some different viewpoints on the subject and are well worth checking out.