Reading about AI

There have been quite a few general books about AI published recently. I’ve read a few and wrote about them here. The post also lists a number of books on the subject recommended by people on Twitter. Subsequently I also really enjoyed Janelle Shane’s hilarious You Look Like A Thing and I Love You – I literally cried with laughter. And actually there are many others that are less about AI itself and more about its consequences; Cathy O’Neill’s Weapons of Math Destruction, for instance, on AI bias.

This week I added to the roster also The Road to Conscious Machines: The Story of AI by Michael Wooldridge, which is another very good introduction. It is for the most part a chronological account of how AI developed to where it is today, with clear explanations of the successive approaches (with some appendices setting out more detail). The final chapters turn to possible risks and consequences. Wooldridge is impatient with the obsession about ethics and the trolley problem but alert to challenges like bias, the effect of automation on jobs, and safety of autonomous vehicles. He’s rather positive about the potential for AI alongside humans to make great achievements in some areas such as healthcare.

The Road to Conscious Machines is probably closest to Melanie Mitchell’s Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Humans. Having read so many of these books now, quite a lot of it was pretty familiar. But I still enjoyed reading it. This is a clear and accessible history of AI, one that performs the useful service of debunking both the hype and the hysteria. If you’re only going to read one book about AI, this would be a good one to choose. But whichever you go for, you should read at least one book about AI: this is an important technology and it will still be there in the post-pandemic world.

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