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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 (136 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $26.99
Kindle Price: $11.04
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Sold by: Macmillan

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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 technology visionaries, industry watchdogs, and groundbreaking AI systems, Our Final Invention explores the perils of the heedless pursuit of advanced AI science. 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 near Washington, D.C., with his wife and two children.

Product Details

  • File Size: 526 KB
  • Print Length: 335 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (October 1, 2013)
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,891 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
55 of 58 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. (For more on that check out also The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future).

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.
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61 of 67 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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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping and Informative, a Must-read July 3, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As someone who struggles to finish books in their entirety, I found Our Final Invention by James Barrat highly readable, deeply informative, and utterly gripping. The book contains a powerful message: through competition, distrust, desire and curiosity, humans will inevitably create an artificial intelligence (AI) that rivals or surpasses our own. Thus, it is wise and necessary to invest now in mitigation efforts and potential safeguards -- increased research and advocacy for AI risk and, most importantly, producing friendly AI.

Barrat covers a lot of ground, but his main argument is summarized as follows: Currently, we humans regularly utilize narrow AI technology (technology capable of achieving specific, programmed goals through unassisted human computing -- Siri, Google search, IBM's Watson, etc). We are also experimenting with "black box" tools and techniques (programs where inputs and outputs are understood and measurable, but the processes in between aren't -- genetic algorithms/programming and software that writes better software) and artificial neural networking (ANN), as seen through efforts to reverse engineer the human brain. And, below the surface, there is an ongoing race between world powers (driven mainly by national security, defense, and international business interests) and guided by AI developers to develop and achieve artificial general intelligence (AGI) -- human-level artificial intelligence. The problem is that once AGI is achieved it will be very difficult to manage, and may very well result in the manifestation of artificial super intelligence (ASI) -- greater than human-level intelligence.

ASI could theoretically become thousands of times smarter than the smartest human being alive.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Barrat's message of "what's wrong with assuming the worst because we...
This book initially appealed to my sense of adventure of the unknown, as if it were going to be a thrilling sci-fi piece. Read more
Published 7 days ago by eric funnekotter
1.0 out of 5 stars Designed to scare and bamboozle you
He makes loads of assumptions that "just ain't necessarily so" as far as AI goes now and in the near future, e.g. Read more
Published 11 days ago by Bali Dave
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book with Gravitas.
I was quite impressed with this material as it was presented and found it to be a sobering piece of work well worth examining. Read more
Published 19 days ago by Paul Toensing
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent book. I recommend it.
Published 21 days ago by Simon Boutin
5.0 out of 5 stars Super Terrifying Overview of Inestimably Important Topic
This is a magnificently assembled, well-reasoned, and utterly terrifying overview of the potential dark side of what Ray Kurzweil calls the "singularity" (go get that book too; it... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Seth Barkan
4.0 out of 5 stars scary
The author lays a strong case for artificial intelligence to dominate mankind, but leaves you wondering how it will happen. Read more
Published 1 month ago by John Phillips
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
same as above
Published 1 month ago by Gary Jack Brown
5.0 out of 5 stars I think that James is on to something here and ...
I think that James is on to something here and we should really pay attention before it is too late.
Published 1 month ago by Peter J. Meza
1.0 out of 5 stars Overly alarmist - don't bother reading
I love this topic, having studied AI in the 90's but found the writing style overly alarmist. I think this is a great topic for a book, I just don't think he's covered it at all... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Shaun W Ryan
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
deep advance thinking very well composed.
Published 1 month ago by jack freeman
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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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