Although sometimes too abstruse, this is mostly a surprisingly lucid introduction to techniques that are making computers...

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

A GUIDE FOR THINKING HUMANS

A nonmathematical yet still somewhat technical explanation of how researchers are going about achieving artificial intelligence.

This is not another cheerful or alarming exercise in futurology. Science writer Mitchell (Computer Science/Portland State Univ.; Complexity: A Guided Tour, 2011, etc.) begins by wondering if an intelligent machine would “require us to reverse engineer the human in all its complexity or is there a shortcut, a clever set of yet unknown algorithms, that will produce what we recognize as full intelligence.” She then explains what researchers have done so far. Beginning in the 1950s, when success seemed just around the corner, there was symbolic AI, which involved programmers using symbols that humans could understand to solve straightforward logical problems. This led to “expert systems,” which used massively detailed instructions to make decisions in narrow fields such as disease diagnosis better than human experts. By the 1980s, the limitations of AI became more obvious. Today, concepts such as “deep learning,” relying on artificial neural networks, evaluate information without following rigid instructions. Despite the name and hype (and accomplishments—e.g., being unbeatable at Jeopardy), machine and human learning are not comparable. Highly advanced computers are “trained” by immense inputs, made possible only with the advent of 21st-century “big data.” After evaluating their outputs, programmers retrain them to improve their accuracy. Like humans, they are not perfect. Mitchell maintains that true superintelligence will not happen until machines acquire human qualities such as common sense and consciousness. These are nowhere in sight despite recent spectacular advances—in translation, facial recognition, etc.—and the author believes that this absence makes it unlikely that one anticipated breakthrough, true driverless cars, will happen any time soon. “It’s worth remembering,” she writes, “that the first 90 percent of a complex technology project takes 10 percent of the time and the last 10 percent takes 90 percent of the time.”

Although sometimes too abstruse, this is mostly a surprisingly lucid introduction to techniques that are making computers smarter.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-374-25783-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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