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THE ALIGNMENT PROBLEM

MACHINE LEARNING AND HUMAN VALUES

An intriguing exploration of AI, which is advancing faster than—well, than we are.

The latest examination of the problems and pitfalls of artificial intelligence.

Computer scientist Christian begins this technically rich but accessible discussion of AI with a very real problem: When programming an algorithm to teach a machine analogies and substitutions, researchers discovered that the phrase “man – doctor + woman” came back with the answer “nurse” while “shopkeeper – man + woman” came back with “housewife.” An algorithm designed to examine and label photographs returned the caption “gorillas” when it depicted two African Americans. It happened that one of those men was a programmer himself, and he said, “It’s not even the algorithm at fault. It did exactly what it was designed to do.” In other words, the algorithm is returning human biases, just as algorithms do when examining criminal records that often lead to machine-assisted recommendations for sentencing that overwhelmingly give Whites lighter punishments than Blacks and Latinos and color calibration programs for TVs and movie screens that are indexed to white skin. So how to teach machines to be reliable and bias-free? Christian considers models of human learning, such as those developed by Jean Piaget, whom Christian finds off on a couple of key assumptions but still a useful guide. He recalls that Alan Turing wondered why machine-learning programs were geared as if the machines were adults instead of children. Children, of course, learn by mistakes and accidents and by emulating adult doings “that would lead to the interesting result,” but can a machine? On that score, Christian ponders how self-driving vehicles are taught how to be autonomous, making decisions that are logical—but logical to a machine mind, not a human one. “Perhaps, rather than painstakingly trying to hand-code the things we care about,” writes the author, “we should develop machines that simply observe human behavior and infer our values and desires from that—a task easier said than done.

An intriguing exploration of AI, which is advancing faster than—well, than we are.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-393-63582-9

Page Count: 356

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

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The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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CINEMA SPECULATION

A top-flight nonfiction debut from a unique artist.

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The acclaimed director displays his talents as a film critic.

Tarantino’s collection of essays about the important movies of his formative years is packed with everything needed for a powerful review: facts about the work, context about the creative decisions, and whether or not it was successful. The Oscar-winning director of classic films like Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs offers plenty of attitude with his thoughts on movies ranging from Animal House to Bullitt to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to The Big Chill. Whether you agree with his assessments or not, he provides the original reporting and insights only a veteran director would notice, and his engaging style makes it impossible to leave an essay without learning something. The concepts he smashes together in two sentences about Taxi Driver would take a semester of film theory class to unpack. Taxi Driver isn’t a “paraphrased remake” of The Searchers like Bogdanovich’s What’s Up, Doc? is a paraphrased remake of Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby or De Palma’s Dressed To Kill is a paraphrased remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho. But it’s about as close as you can get to a paraphrased remake without actually being one. Robert De Niro’s taxi driving protagonist Travis Bickle is John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards. Like any good critic, Tarantino reveals bits of himself as he discusses the films that are important to him, recalling where he was when he first saw them and what the crowd was like. Perhaps not surprisingly, the author was raised by movie-loving parents who took him along to watch whatever they were watching, even if it included violent or sexual imagery. At the age of 8, he had seen the very adult MASH three times. Suddenly the dark humor of Kill Bill makes much more sense. With this collection, Tarantino offers well-researched love letters to his favorite movies of one of Hollywood’s most ambitious eras.

A top-flight nonfiction debut from a unique artist.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-311258-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2022

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