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.

10 best A.I. books. (Image: Ralph McQuarrie cover art for "Robot Visions" by Isaac Asimov, 1990.)
Ralph McQuarrie cover art for 'Robot Visions' by Isaac Asimov, 1990.

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.

Changes on the horizon

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.

Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots

Machines of Loving Grace, by John Markoff

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


c/o Amazing Stories Magazine

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.

Practical programming

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.

Iron Age discoveries uncovered outside London, including a ‘murder’ victim

A man's skeleton, found facedown with his hands bound, was unearthed near an ancient ceremonial circle during a high speed rail excavation project.

Photo Credit: HS2
Culture & Religion
  • A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during an excavation outside of London.
  • The discovery was made during a high speed rail project that has been a bonanza for archaeology, as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route.
  • An ornate grave of a high status individual from the Roman period and an ancient ceremonial circle were also discovered during the excavations.
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Are we really addicted to technology?

Fear that new technologies are addictive isn't a modern phenomenon.

Credit: Rodion Kutsaev via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink, which has partnered with the Build for Tomorrow podcast to go inside new episodes each month. Subscribe here to learn more about the crazy, curious things from history that shaped us, and how we can shape the future.

In many ways, technology has made our lives better. Through smartphones, apps, and social media platforms we can now work more efficiently and connect in ways that would have been unimaginable just decades ago.

But as we've grown to rely on technology for a lot of our professional and personal needs, most of us are asking tough questions about the role technology plays in our own lives. Are we becoming too dependent on technology to the point that it's actually harming us?

In the latest episode of Build for Tomorrow, host and Entrepreneur Editor-in-Chief Jason Feifer takes on the thorny question: is technology addictive?

Popularizing medical language

What makes something addictive rather than just engaging? It's a meaningful distinction because if technology is addictive, the next question could be: are the creators of popular digital technologies, like smartphones and social media apps, intentionally creating things that are addictive? If so, should they be held responsible?

To answer those questions, we've first got to agree on a definition of "addiction." As it turns out, that's not quite as easy as it sounds.

If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people.

LIAM SATCHELL UNIVERSITY OF WINCHESTER

"Over the past few decades, a lot of effort has gone into destigmatizing conversations about mental health, which of course is a very good thing," Feifer explains. It also means that medical language has entered into our vernacular —we're now more comfortable using clinical words outside of a specific diagnosis.

"We've all got that one friend who says, 'Oh, I'm a little bit OCD' or that friend who says, 'Oh, this is my big PTSD moment,'" Liam Satchell, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Winchester and guest on the podcast, says. He's concerned about how the word "addiction" gets tossed around by people with no background in mental health. An increased concern surrounding "tech addiction" isn't actually being driven by concern among psychiatric professionals, he says.

"These sorts of concerns about things like internet use or social media use haven't come from the psychiatric community as much," Satchell says. "They've come from people who are interested in technology first."

The casual use of medical language can lead to confusion about what is actually a mental health concern. We need a reliable standard for recognizing, discussing, and ultimately treating psychological conditions.

"If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people," Satchell says. That's why, according to Satchell, the psychiatric definition of addiction being based around experiencing distress or significant family, social, or occupational disruption needs to be included in any definition of addiction we may use.

Too much reading causes... heat rashes?

But as Feifer points out in his podcast, both popularizing medical language and the fear that new technologies are addictive aren't totally modern phenomena.

Take, for instance, the concept of "reading mania."

In the 18th Century, an author named J. G. Heinzmann claimed that people who read too many novels could experience something called "reading mania." This condition, Heinzmann explained, could cause many symptoms, including: "weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."

"That is all very specific! But really, even the term 'reading mania' is medical," Feifer says.

"Manic episodes are not a joke, folks. But this didn't stop people a century later from applying the same term to wristwatches."

Indeed, an 1889 piece in the Newcastle Weekly Courant declared: "The watch mania, as it is called, is certainly excessive; indeed it becomes rabid."

Similar concerns have echoed throughout history about the radio, telephone, TV, and video games.

"It may sound comical in our modern context, but back then, when those new technologies were the latest distraction, they were probably really engaging. People spent too much time doing them," Feifer says. "And what can we say about that now, having seen it play out over and over and over again? We can say it's common. It's a common behavior. Doesn't mean it's the healthiest one. It's just not a medical problem."

Few today would argue that novels are in-and-of-themselves addictive — regardless of how voraciously you may have consumed your last favorite novel. So, what happened? Were these things ever addictive — and if not, what was happening in these moments of concern?

People are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm.

JASON FEIFER HOST OF BUILD FOR TOMORROW

There's a risk of pathologizing normal behavior, says Joel Billieux, professor of clinical psychology and psychological assessment at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and guest on the podcast. He's on a mission to understand how we can suss out what is truly addictive behavior versus what is normal behavior that we're calling addictive.

For Billieux and other professionals, this isn't just a rhetorical game. He uses the example of gaming addiction, which has come under increased scrutiny over the past half-decade. The language used around the subject of gaming addiction will determine how behaviors of potential patients are analyzed — and ultimately what treatment is recommended.

"For a lot of people you can realize that the gaming is actually a coping (mechanism for) social anxiety or trauma or depression," says Billieux.

"Those cases, of course, you will not necessarily target gaming per se. You will target what caused depression. And then as a result, If you succeed, gaming will diminish."

In some instances, a person might legitimately be addicted to gaming or technology, and require the corresponding treatment — but that treatment might be the wrong answer for another person.

"None of this is to discount that for some people, technology is a factor in a mental health problem," says Feifer.

"I am also not discounting that individual people can use technology such as smartphones or social media to a degree where it has a genuine negative impact on their lives. But the point here to understand is that people are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm."

Behavioral addiction is a notoriously complex thing for professionals to diagnose — even more so since the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the book professionals use to classify mental disorders, introduced a new idea about addiction in 2013.

"The DSM-5 grouped substance addiction with gambling addiction — this is the first time that substance addiction was directly categorized with any kind of behavioral addiction," Feifer says.

"And then, the DSM-5 went a tiny bit further — and proposed that other potentially addictive behaviors require further study."

This might not sound like that big of a deal to laypeople, but its effect was massive in medicine.

"Researchers started launching studies — not to see if a behavior like social media use can be addictive, but rather, to start with the assumption that social media use is addictive, and then to see how many people have the addiction," says Feifer.

Learned helplessness

The assumption that a lot of us are addicted to technology may itself be harming us by undermining our autonomy and belief that we have agency to create change in our own lives. That's what Nir Eyal, author of the books Hooked and Indistractable, calls 'learned helplessness.'

"The price of living in a world with so many good things in it is that sometimes we have to learn these new skills, these new behaviors to moderate our use," Eyal says. "One surefire way to not do anything is to believe you are powerless. That's what learned helplessness is all about."

So if it's not an addiction that most of us are experiencing when we check our phones 90 times a day or are wondering about what our followers are saying on Twitter — then what is it?

"A choice, a willful choice, and perhaps some people would not agree or would criticize your choices. But I think we cannot consider that as something that is pathological in the clinical sense," says Billieux.

Of course, for some people technology can be addictive.

"If something is genuinely interfering with your social or occupational life, and you have no ability to control it, then please seek help," says Feifer.

But for the vast majority of people, thinking about our use of technology as a choice — albeit not always a healthy one — can be the first step to overcoming unwanted habits.

For more, be sure to check out the Build for Tomorrow episode here.

Why the U.S. and Belgium are culture buddies

The Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural map replaces geographic accuracy with closeness in terms of values.

According to the latest version of the Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural Map, Belgium and the United States are now each other's closest neighbors in terms of cultural values.

Credit: World Values Survey, public domain.
Strange Maps
  • This map replaces geography with another type of closeness: cultural values.
  • Although the groups it depicts have familiar names, their shapes are not.
  • The map makes for strange bedfellows: Brazil next to South Africa and Belgium neighboring the U.S.
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