Prophesies have a dreadful record, but they are also endlessly fascinating. Readers may balk now and then—Tegmark’s...

LIFE 3.0

BEING HUMAN IN THE AGE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

The founder of the Future of Life Institute explores one of the most intriguing scientific frontiers, artificial general intelligence, and how humans can grow along with it.

Nowadays, computers read, learn, recognize faces, translate languages, and consult other computers. They don’t yet think, but the contingent of researchers who believe that they will never be smarter than humans is steadily shrinking. In this expert but often wildly speculative rumination, Tegmark (Physics/MIT; Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality, 2014, etc.) joins the fierce debate on what will happen when AGI reaches human level and beyond. He dismisses tabloid scenarios of rampaging robots but warns, “we might create societies that flourish like never before…or a Kafkasque global surveillance state so powerful that it could never be toppled.” The author defines intelligence as the ability to accomplish complex goals. This sounds trivial until he points out that both brains and computers are able to do this. Since computers are improving faster than brains, superhuman AGI will happen, and a beneficial outcome is not guaranteed. Thus, autonomous, self-driving cars will save lives. Autonomous battlefield drones will save soldiers’ lives, but keeping them away from rogue nations, terrorists, and criminals will prove impossible. In the early chapters, Tegmark portrays near futures that range from Utopian to Orwellian. Later in the book, he delivers a vision of the far future: a universe filled with the products of superintelligence, with organic Homo sapiens a distant memory. Throughout, the author lays out his ideas in precisely detailed scenarios. Many read like science fiction; others, such as a fine chapter on the nature of consciousness, are simply good popular science.

Prophesies have a dreadful record, but they are also endlessly fascinating. Readers may balk now and then—Tegmark’s solutions to inevitable mass unemployment are a stretch—but most will find the narrative irresistible.

Pub Date: Aug. 29, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-94659-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

more