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Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era [Kindle Edition]

James Barrat
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (191 customer reviews)

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Book Description

A Huffington Post Definitive Tech Book of 2013

Artificial Intelligence helps choose what books you buy, what movies you see, and even who you date. It puts the "smart" in your smartphone and soon it will drive your car. It makes most of the trades on Wall Street, and controls vital energy, water, and transportation infrastructure. But Artificial Intelligence can also threaten our existence.

In as little as a decade, AI could match and then surpass human intelligence. Corporations and government agencies are pouring billions into achieving AI's Holy Grail--human-level intelligence. Once AI has attained it, scientists argue, it will have survival drives much like our own. We may be forced to compete with a rival more cunning, more powerful, and more alien than we can imagine.

Through profiles of tech visionaries, industry watchdogs, and groundbreaking AI systems, Our Final Invention explores the perils of the heedless pursuit of advanced AI. Until now, human intelligence has had no rival. Can we coexist with beings whose intelligence dwarfs our own? And will they allow us to?

Editorial Reviews


A hard-hitting book about the most important topic of this century and possibly beyond -- the issue of whether our species can survive. I wish it was science fiction but I know it's not. (Jaan Tallinn, co-founder of Skype)

The compelling story of humanity's most critical challenge. A Silent Spring for the twenty-first century. (Michael Vassar, former President, Singularity Institute)

Barrat's book is excellently written and deeply researched. It does a great job of communicating to general readers the danger of mistakes in AI design and implementation. (Bill Hibbard, author of Super-Intelligent Machines)

An important and disturbing book. (Huw Price, co-founder, Cambridge University Center for the Study of Existential Risk)

Our Final Invention is a thrilling detective story, and also the best book yet written on the most important problem of the twenty-first century. (Luke Muehlhauser, Executive Director, Machine Intelligence Research Institute)

Enthusiasts dominate observers of progress in artificial intelligence; the minority who disagree are alarmed, articulate and perhaps growing in numbers, and Barrat delivers a thoughtful account of their worries. (Kirkus Reviews)

Science fiction has long explored the implications of humanlike machines (think of Asimov's I, Robot), but Barrat's thoughtful treatment adds a dose of reality. (Science News)

This book makes an important case that without extraordinary care in our planning, powerful 'thinking' machines present at least as many risks as benefits. … Our Final Invention makes an excellent read for technophiles as well as readers wishing to get a glimpse of the near future as colored by rapidly improving technological competence. (New York Journal of Books)

A dark new book by James Barrat, Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era, lays out a strong case for why we should be at least a little worried. (

You can skip coffee this week -- Our Final Invention will keep you wide-awake. (Singularity Hub)

Barrat has talked to all the significant American players in the effort to create recursively self-improving artificial general intelligence in machines. He makes a strong case that AGI with human-level intelligence will be developed in the next couple of decades. … His thoughtful case about the dangers of ASI gives even the most cheerful technological optimist much to think about. (Reason)

If you read just one book that makes you confront scary high-tech realities that we'll soon have no choice but to address, make it this one. (The Washington Post)

About the Author

James Barrat is a documentary filmmaker who's written and produced films for National Geographic, Discovery, PBS, and many other broadcasters in the United States and Europe. He lives in Annapolis, Maryland, with his wife and two children.

Product Details

  • File Size: 891 KB
  • Print Length: 335 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (October 1, 2013)
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,084 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
75 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Important Treatment of the Risks from Advanced AI October 4, 2013
By Jeff D.
"Our Final Invention" is a fascinating and well-written look at the risks posed by artificial super-intelligence. As other reviewers have pointed out, this book offers a relatively pessimistic take on the subject, but there is a lot of value in that perspective. There are plenty of other books, by Ray Kurzweil and others, that offer the optimistic viewpoint.

The danger highlighted by the book is that an intelligent machine would turn its energies toward building even better versions of itself--creating an accelerating feedback loop that could culminate in a machine THOUSANDS of times more intelligent than any human. Once such an intelligence "escaped from its box" there would be no way to protect ourselves.

This book focuses entirely on the long term risk of super-intelligence and does not touch at all on the near term consequences of less advanced and more specialized AI. For example, millions of routine jobs will be lost and the economy will be transformed, and this could happen quite soon.

In the longer run, the points raised in Our Final Invention are well worth thinking about. Some experts feel that an advanced AI would be controlled by programming in "friendliness" right from the start. Just as humans have basic drives (food, shelter, sex, etc.) a machine might be programmed to have an essential need to help humanity. As the author points out, however, in humans these basic drives often produce unpleasant and unexpected consequences -- like for example suicide bombers. A truly advanced, alien intelligence might exhibit some qualifies that are not unlike mental illness in humans. A machine might by nature be a sociopath.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ok if you don't know anything about the subject January 19, 2014
By Mac
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
If you don't know much about real-world AI research and/or you're totally unfamiliar with the nonfiction concerns about the risks it poses, then this book is a quick and easy read that will make you aware of the basics. However, the author is himself clearly non-technical and has a sensationalist style that feels too much like tabloid writing.

When I started reading it, I began bookmarking pages with passages that struck me as problematic. I thought I might write a short review on my wife's tech blog, or perhaps for LessWrong. But as I read further, I realized there were so many problem areas that I'd never bother to sit down and address them individually. Again, these problems would only matter to a technical audience -- experienced programmers, people with a more-than-passing-interest in AI, and so on.

This is my big problem with the book: It's a critically important subject which deserves better treatment than this. Barrat seems to understand the basic problem well enough, but much of the time I had the feeling his primary goal was hitting a page-count target. For example, most of the section about malware is largely irrelevant to the real problem, but it felt like one of the longer chapters in the book (I didn't bother to confirm this, that's just my impression). His TV documentary background shows at the start of each paragraph: each time I felt like I was coming back from a commercial break. He'll shoot somebody down in one chapter, then use that same person to support his argument in the next. He tosses around concepts like cognitive bias and logical fallacies apparently without realizing the book is mostly one big appeal to authority. There is a very good, very important story here waiting to be told. This book only scratches the surface.
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80 of 94 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Light and Tasty! October 14, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Just done the new-ish book Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era by James Barrat. It explains the inevitably of super-intelligent machines evolving to the point of wiping out all biological life in the galaxy - with opening day coming soon to a species near you (yours).

First off I have to say this is a very enjoyable read. This guy has the kind of snappy, crisp, slightly sarcastic, slightly smartass style that I enjoy. He has some sense of humor. (That's a human trait right there which I bet our smarty-pants AI Overlords won't be able to replicate convincingly.)

So it's fun. And though as somebody with a doctorate from MIT earned through cross-disciplinary work in Theoretical Linguistics, Computational Linguistics at the MIT AI Lab, and speech modeling at the MIT Research Laboratory of Electronics, not to mention my 25 years as a Senior Researcher in high tech for companies including IBM, Apple, and Microsoft I can claim to know some few things about this subject, yet still I learned a lot about the current state of the art from this guy. He particularly emphasizes the small attempted counterweigth efforts to offest Kurzweil's manic robotic boosterism for his uptopian Singularity, which boils down basically to a few guys chatting over the interet about how to create "Friendly AI".

Well ... good luck suckers! ... seems to be the author's final conclusion on the dim hope that super intelligent systems could be constrained to maintain a commitment ot honor any kind of human moral values over many interations of recursive upgrading and exponentially awesome self-agrandizement.

Basically these machines will end up as gods.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Engrossing and truly eye-opening. As tickling to the imagination as it is frightening.
Published 3 days ago by Andreas Ottosson
5.0 out of 5 stars enjoyed the book
easy to read,fun and informative!
Published 4 days ago by jlb
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth the Time
A fascinating read. I think a little redundant and overdramatic in some places otherwise it gets 5 stars. Read more
Published 6 days ago by goldengate98
5.0 out of 5 stars very good book
Eye-opening book, written for the layman. Excellent read...
Published 9 days ago by Mark
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Wonderfully informative and entertaining.
Published 23 days ago by Donald E Rushing
4.0 out of 5 stars A book you will return to not just for the ...
A book you will return to not just for the outcomes later but to help you share the topics, points and ideas with fiends. Raced through it - was hard to put down.
Published 28 days ago by rob0bOy
4.0 out of 5 stars A clear layman's coverage of an important topic
Interesting and fascinating. I've never read a documentary before so I was taken aback by how much the author pushes his own opinion, sometimes in direct disagreement with experts... Read more
Published 1 month ago by James
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great book, lots of interesting concepts.
Published 1 month ago by Chaos9519
4.0 out of 5 stars Barrat does a great job explaining the dangers of AI both...
Very interesting perspective and well written. I've read Kurzweil and was always a little concerned with his seemingly over optimistic perspective regarding AI. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Samuel Merritt
4.0 out of 5 stars Good look about the possible dangers of AI
This requires no knowledge of AI. It's a warning about the development of AI without safeguards. I found some parts to be repetitive. Read more
Published 1 month ago by frank
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More About the Author

For about 20 years I've written and produced documentaries, one of the most rewarding ways of telling stories ever invented. It's a privilege to plunge into different cultures and eras and put together deeply human narratives that can be enjoyed by everyone. My clients include National Geographic, Discovery, PBS, and other broadcasters in the US and Europe.

My long fascination with Artificial Intelligence came to a head in 2000, when I interviewed inventor Ray Kurzweil, roboticist Rodney Brooks, and sci-fi legend Arthur C. Clarke. Kurzweil and Brooks were casually optimistic about a future they considered inevitable - a time when we will share the planet with intelligent machines. "It won't be some alien invasion of robots coming over the hill," Kurzweil told me, "because they'll be made by us." In his compound in Sri Lanka, Clarke wasn't so sure. "I think it's just a matter of time before machines dominate mankind," he said. "Intelligence will win out."

Intelligence, not charm or beauty, is the special power that enables humans to dominate Earth. That dominance wasn't won by a huge intellectual margin either, but by a relatively small one. It doesn't take much to take it all. Now, propelled by a powerful economic wind, scientists are developing intelligent machines. Each year intelligence grows closer to shuffling off its biological coil and taking on an infinitely faster and more powerful synthetic one. But before machine intelligence matches our own, we have a chance. We must develop a science for understanding and coexisting with smart, even superintelligent machines. If we fail, we'll be stuck in an unwinnable dilemma. We'll have to rely on the kindness of machines to survive. Will machines naturally love us and protect us?
Should we bet our existence on it?

Our Final Invention is about what can go wrong with the development and application of advanced AI. It's about AI's catastrophic downside, one you'll never hear about from Google, Apple, IBM, and DARPA. I think it's the most important conversation of our time, and I hope you'll join in.

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