William Gibson, Viking, RRP£18.99
The veteran science-fiction writer, credited with inventing the term “cyberspace”, conjures up another phantasmagoric novel set in a post-apocalyptic 22nd-century London, revolving around an “app whisperer” and a super-smart digital assistant. Given recent events, our world seems to be rapidly catching up with Gibson’s futuristic vision.
The Road to Conscious Machines: The Story of AI
Michael Wooldridge, Pelican Books, RRP£20
A heap of books has been written on artificial intelligence in recent years. This is among the best of them. Combining a lucid explanation of what AI is all about with a sensible discussion of its likely impact, a professor of computer science at Oxford university provides a definitive introduction to the field.
Uncanny Valley: A Memoir
Anna Wiener, Fourth Estate/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, RRP£16.99/$27
This sprightly memoir from a sociology major turned West Coast tech employee captures the disillusionment of a generation. After moving to San Francisco, “an underdog city struggling to absorb an influx of aspiring alphas”, Wiener falls in and out of love with the start-up world.
The Internet in Everything: Freedom and Security in a World with No Off Switch
Laura DeNardis, Yale University Press, RRP£25/$32
One of the world’s leading scholars of digital governance analyses how the “internet of things” will change our world as billions of devices, ranging from autonomous cars to home appliances to cardiac monitors, come online. DeNardis warns that the internet of communication is being transformed into an internet of control, with serious consequences for society.
The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity
Toby Ord, Bloomsbury, RRP£25
The philosopher Toby Ord rates humanity’s chances of being wiped out this century at about one in six. Runaway artificial intelligence, pandemics, environmental collapse and nuclear war are some of the threats that should keep us awake at night. “Either humanity takes control of its destiny and reduces the risk to a sustainable level, or we destroy ourselves,” he writes in this sobering but stimulating read. We have a bit of work to do.
Summer Books 2020
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