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Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era Hardcover – October 1, 2013
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“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.” ―NewYorker.com
“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.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
As the author says it is naive to think that just because we create a super-intelligent machine, that intelligence will care about us. If you found out you were created by mice, would that make you devote your life to improving the welfare of mice? Questions like this may turn to be among the most important we ever ask...and this book does a good job of presenting them.
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.
I've been a programmer for 36 years. I played around AI-related things back in the late 80s, and I recently became interested in it again. I believe it has great promise, but I do agree that it is also terrifyingly dangerous (in the "existential-threat" sense), and that insufficient attention and respect is being given to the problem. For that reason I'm giving this three stars -- it is a tremendously important subject. If it wasn't for that, I'd probably be one of those "drive-by" one- or two-star "spammers" Barrat likes to rant about in his replies to less-than-fawning reviews.
If you're non-technical, buy it and read it, and don't stop here. If you're a technical type, hit up the LessWrong website as a good jumping-off point for learning more about what is really going on today. Many more technical people need to be thinking about this, concerned about this, and ultimately *doing something* about it.
On the other hand there is a lot of interesting material that gives the reader insights into the developments of artificial intelligence and both the risks and benefits that is already bringing and can bring in the future. The chapter on malware and it's risks are real and of particular concern. This book is wor reading but the predictions seem to me to be enormously overstated and should be considered skeptically.
I agree with the author in the sense that , like in the final scene of Terminator , "there is a storm coming "....and either we like it or not , it's gonna explode in our faces.
Better be prepared, although it's seems that to the vast majority of people out there , nothing is gonna happen .