Saturday, October 14, 2017

Is there one book you’d recommend as an introduction to AI? Yes. Android Dreams by Toby Walsh

Although there are books galore on AI, from technical textbooks to potboilers, few are actually readable. Nick Bostrom’s ‘Superintelligence’ is dense and needed a good edit, ‘The Future of the Professions’ too dense, ‘The Rise of the Robots’ good but a bit dated, and lacks depth, and ‘Weapons of Math Destruction’ a one-sided and exaggerated contrarian tract. At last there’s an answer to that question “Is there one book you’d recommend as an introduction to AI?” That book is Android Dreams by Toby Walsh.
I met Toby Walsh in Berlin and he’s measured and a serious researcher in AI. So I was looking forward to this book and wasn’t disappointed. The book, like the man, is neither too utopian nor dystopian. He rightly describes AI as an IDIOT SAVANT, and this sets the tone for the whole book. In general, you could identify his position on AI, as overestimated in the short-term, underestimated in the long-term. He sees AI as having some limitations and that progress in robotics, and even the much lauded deep learning, have their Achille’s heels – back-propagation being one.
On ethics he focuses not on the surface criticisms about algorithmic bias but on whether weaponised AI is a threat – it is – and it’s terrifying. Loved it when he skewered the Frey & Osborne Oxford report on the idea that 47% of jobs are at threat from AI. He explains why they got so many things wrong by going through a series of job types, explaining why robots will not be cutting your hair or serving your food in restaurants any time soon. He also takes a healthy potshot at academics and teachers who think that everyone else’s jobs are at risk, except their own.

The book has all the hallmarks of being written by an expert in the field with none of the usual exaggeration or ill-informed negativity, that many commentators have when it comes to AI. AI is not one thing, it is many things, he explains that well. AI can be used for good as well as evil, he explains that well. AI is probably the most important tech development since language, writing and printing – he explains that well. Worth reading, if only for some of his speculative predictions – driverless cars, doctor will be your computer, Marilyn Monroe back in the movies, computer recruitment, talking to rooms,  AI/robot sports, ghost ships, planes and trains, TV news made without humans, personal bot that lives on after you die. This review was partly written using AI. Really.

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