Get smarter, faster. Subscribe to our daily newsletter.
The 10 best books about A.I.
Here are some of the best books on the rich history, rabid speculations and intriguing fictionalized world of artificial intelligence.
Artificial intelligence has been the stuff of mad dreams, and sometimes nightmares, throughout our collective history. We've come a long way from a 15th-century automaton knight crafted by Leonardo da Vinci. Within the past century, artificial intelligence has inched itself further into our realities and day to day lives and there is now no doubt we're entering into a new age of intelligence.
Early computing technology ushered in a new branch of computer science dealing with the simulated intelligence of machines. In recent history, we've used A.I. for common tasks, such as playing against the computer in chess matches and other gameplay behaviors. Thanks to advances in computer technology, however, A.I. is advancing now 10 times faster than it had before. A.I. can also be defined as the capability of a machine to imitate human behavior. The holy grail—and what most people probably think about when they hear A.I.—is something called artificial general intelligence or AGI. With advanced AGI, robots would, in theory, be able to do anything a human could do. This usually conjures up pictures of anthropomorphic robot butlers or Westworld type androids.
One can get lost in the rich history, rabid speculations, and intriguing fictionalized world of A.I. Here are some of the best books on artificial intelligence that'll guide you and provide a multifaceted view of this incredible technology.
We have personal assistants in our pockets and on our desks. Automated factories and self-driving cars being tested on the daily. We're living in the imagined futures of our past. Here's some books to help us get to the next step.
Author and journalist John Markoff offers a detailed and rich history of the field of robotics and artificial intelligence. He's interested in the interplay between human societies and the effect that increasing automation and intelligence will have in the workplace and other areas. Markoff explores the views of the designers behind these machines and the paradoxical nature of the potentialities of this new tech. He states: “The same technologies that extend the intellectual power of humans can displace them as well"
Markoff writes about the concept of AI vs IA – or artificial intelligence versus intelligence automation. He believes that this and building a human element into the technologies is one of the more important aspects of this field.
Isaac Asimov's Robot Series
Science fiction often has a way of not only predicting the future, but preparing us for it as well. During the Golden Age of Science Fiction, Issac Asimov, along with Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein, was part of “the big three" in the sci-fi genre. These authors covered topics ranging from philosophical free-love martians to spaceship robots having mental breakdowns.
Asimov's contribution paved the way for something many robot ethicists and people are still thinking about today: The Three Laws of Robotics. These were immortalized in his anthology and Robot novel series.
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
The complete robot series includes all of Asimov's short fiction and novellas and if you're interested in his novels then start with Caves of Steel and follow that to his last robot novel: Robots and Empire. Almost every common robotics trope we have in our culture today was seeded by Asimov.
How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed
Ray Kurzweil was arguably responsible for popularizing the idea of the technological singularity. In which, much to the hopes of sun-deprived dreamers everywhere that the end was nigh for a super-intelligence would eventually emerge out of a self-improving runaway reaction. With it there'd be no telling what comes next in a world unknowable, ending history in its wake and bringing in a time of unfathomable change. While not all of Kurzweil's predictions are as verbose, many of Kurzweil's lesser predictions from years past have rung true.
By combining an investigation into the neocortex, study of language and the development of AI, this book dives into many thought-provoking lines of inquiry. How to Create a Mind is part twenty-first century AI treatise and part philosophical doctrine on the implications of unlocking the unbridled power of artificial intelligence.
While we can sometimes get lost within the existential or even eschatological ramifications (sorry Kurzweil!) of artificial intelligence, we're still very much in the infancy of the technology. The early seeds of this enterprise still require human ingenuity and some good old-fashioned hard coding.
Python Machine Learning
Many of the breakthroughs in current A.I. research come from applications of machine learning. Python has proved to be an excellent language to use to further one's knowledge in the field. This book includes a Github link and helps teach the fundamentals of machine learning through Python.
The book sets out to teach:
- Development of Learning Algorithms
- Transforming Raw Data into Useful Information
- Classifying Objects
- Regression Analysis
Author Sebastian Raschka sets out step-by-step examples of real-world machine learning applications. You can follow along and by the end of the book have the skills necessary to implement your own machine learning system for sentiment analysis in a live web app.
Deep Learning with R
Written by Google A.I. researcher and Keras library creator François Chollet, Deep Learning with R sets out to teach the fundamentals of deep learning in the R programming language. It serves as an excellent instruction manual for Keras and can be supplemented with more theoretical works for a fuller picture of the discipline.
- Deep learning from first principles
- Setting up your own deep-learning environment
- Image classification and generation
- Deep learning for text and sequences
Readers should have an intermediate skill level with R programming. You won't need any previous experience with machine learning, but this paired with another practical book like Python Learning is a plus.
Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach (3rd Edition)
You all knew we were going to get to this one. An accessible book for undergraduate or graduate level students in Artificial intelligence, this is a standard across in academia. Written by Peter Norvig, Artificial Intelligence: a Modern Approach has been used in over 1200 universities and is one of the most highly cited publications.
Many students find it an accessible read as it's also approachable for laymen, scientists, and tinkerers too. As a best seller in the field, the text offers a comprehensive and constantly updated stream of information to the theory and growing practice of A.I.
Ethics and philosophical musings
Enough movies and stories have been written about the potential pitfalls of this tech. Metropolis occult rituals and Arnold Schwarzenegger terminators have left some people weary and a bit scared. But that hasn't stopped us yet, has it?
Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies
Nick Bostrom's highly ambitious book has already become a classic. It raises more questions than it answers – as any great philosophical work should. Bostrom wonders about what will happen in the world when machines surpass humans in general intelligence. Will these new beings be our downfall or our saving grace?
On the subject of our origins of intelligence, Bostrom writes: “We know that blind evolutionary processes can produce human-level general intelligence since they have already done so at least once. Evolutionary processes with foresight—that is, genetic programs designed and guided by an intelligent human programmer—should be able to achieve a similar outcome with far greater efficiency."
Bostrom assumes the mantle of 21st-century techno-sage, breathing life into a real possibility of a much greater intelligence in this universe.
Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
A favorite book of Elon Musk and one in which Musk was inspired to describe developing advanced A.I. as akin to “summoning the demon."
Max Tegmark, an MIT professor (and Big Think guest), covers a wide range of spectrums in the potential future of AI. It's a little watered down compared to Bostrom's Superintelligence. But it gets the point across that things are changing rapidly. What it does best is it helps inform the layperson in areas of impact that will be affected most by AI in our day to day lives.
Robot Ethics: The Ethical and Social Implications of Robotics
The first book in a two-part series, Robot Ethics is a starting point for learning how to design and hard-code ethics into robotic artificial systems. As ethical concerns become even more pressing, roboticists and other technologists need to start thinking about what they can do now to stop any future catastrophic events.
Some of the covered topics include:
- Exploring Emotional Bonds With Robots
- Programming A Code of Ethics
- Ethical Military Use in War
- Liability and Privacy Concerns
Regulation often comes too late with new technologies. But the authors of this book state that we must reverse this trend. Ethics and regulations need to be on the forefront for such a game-changing tech.
Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era
Author James Barrat explores the many governments and agencies around the world researching AGI and pouring billions into funding. Many scientists believe that once this lofty goal has been reached, these machines will have similar survival drives as we do.
Barratt explores this line of thinking and takes it to its logical conclusion as many others have. A superintelligent AGI would become an alien-like entity to the human race.
James wonders if we would serve any further purpose to a being as powerful as this. Would it begin to suck up as much matter and energy as it could for its foreign purposes and simply brush us aside? It's a despondent and completely apocalyptic view of what may happen, bringing up images of The Matrix and other fictional worlds bereft of biological life.
- Why aligning AI to our values may be harder than you think - Big Think ›
- 10 ways we should prepare for rise of intelligent machines – MIT study - Big Think ›
- 5 eBook bundles that can raise your earning potential - Big Think ›
- Why democratizing AI is absolutely crucial - Big Think ›
- Computing history: From government secrets to a failed tech utopia - Big Think ›
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
It's hard to stop looking back and forth between these faces and the busts they came from.
- A quarantine project gone wild produces the possibly realistic faces of ancient Roman rulers.
- A designer worked with a machine learning app to produce the images.
- It's impossible to know if they're accurate, but they sure look plausible.
How the Roman emperors got faced<a href="https://payload.cargocollective.com/1/6/201108/14127595/2K-ENGLISH-24x36-Educational_v8_WATERMARKED_2000.jpg" ><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NDk2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyOTUzMzIxMX0.OwHMrgKu4pzu0eCsmOUjybdkTcSlJpL_uWDCF2djRfc/img.jpg?width=980" id="775ca" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="436000b6976931b8320313478c624c82" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="lineup of emperor faces" data-width="1440" data-height="963" /></a>
Credit: Daniel Voshart<p>Voshart's imaginings began with an AI/neural-net program called <a href="https://www.artbreeder.com" target="_blank">Artbreeder</a>. The freemium online app intelligently generates new images from existing ones and can combine multiple images into…well, who knows. It's addictive — people have so far used it to generate nearly 72.7 million images, says the site — and it's easy to see how Voshart fell down the rabbit hole.</p><p>The Roman emperor project began with Voshart feeding Artbreeder images of 800 busts. Obviously, not all busts have weathered the centuries equally. Voshart told <a href="https://www.livescience.com/ai-roman-emperor-portraits.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Live Science</a>, "There is a rule of thumb in computer programming called 'garbage in garbage out,' and it applies to Artbreeder. A well-lit, well-sculpted bust with little damage and standard face features is going to be quite easy to get a result." Fortunately, there were multiple busts for some of the emperors, and different angles of busts captured in different photographs.</p><p>For the renderings Artbreeder produced, each face required some 15-16 hours of additional input from Voshart, who was left to deduce/guess such details as hair and skin coloring, though in many cases, an individual's features suggested likely pigmentations. Voshart was also aided by written descriptions of some of the rulers.</p><p>There's no way to know for sure how frequently Voshart's guesses hit their marks. It is obviously the case, though, that his interpretations look incredibly plausible when you compare one of his emperors to the sculpture(s) from which it was derived.</p><p>For an in-depth description of Voshart's process, check out his posts on <a href="https://medium.com/@voshart/photoreal-roman-emperor-project-236be7f06c8f" target="_blank">Medium</a> or on his <a href="https://voshart.com/ROMAN-EMPEROR-PROJECT" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a>.</p><p>It's fascinating to feel like you're face-to-face with these ancient and sometimes notorious figures. Here are two examples, along with some of what we think we know about the men behind the faces.</p>
Caligula<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NDk4Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3MzQ1NTE5NX0.LiTmhPQlygl9Fa9lxay8PFPCSqShv4ELxbBRFkOW_qM/img.jpg?width=980" id="7bae0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ce795c554490fe0a36a8714b86f55b16" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="992" data-height="558" />
One of numerous sculptures of Caligula, left
Nero<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NTAwMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTQ2ODU0NX0.AgYuQZzRQCanqehSI5UeakpxU8fwLagMc_POH7xB3-M/img.jpg?width=980" id="a8825" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9e0593d79c591c97af4bd70f3423885e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="992" data-height="558" />
One of numerous sculptures of Nero, left
A popular and longstanding wave of thought in psychology and psychotherapy is that diagnosis is not relevant for practitioners in those fields.
Scientists regenerate damaged spinal cord nerve fibers with designer protein, helping paralyzed mice walk again.
- Researchers from Germany use a designer protein to treat spinal cord damage in mice.
- The procedure employs gene therapy to regenerate damaged nerve fibers that carry signals to and from the brain.
- The scientists aim to eventually apply the technique to humans.