THE DIGITAL APE by Nigel Shadbolt
Kirkus Star


How to Live (in Peace) with Smart Machines
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Two British experts offer an antidote to widespread “scaremongering” about “the unstoppable dangers of artificial intelligence.”

In this calm, deeply informed, and accessible consideration of artificial intelligence, Shadbolt (Computer Science/Oxford Univ.; co-author: The Spy in The Coffee Machine: The End of Privacy as We Know It, 2014), chairman of the Open Data Institute, and Hampson, an economist who has implemented technological change in the public sector, examine our lives as “digital apes” in a “super-fast and hyper-complex interconnected world of immensely powerful devices.” Recalling the “utter interdependence of Homo sapiens and tools, each shaping the other over the millennia,” and the rise of AI, the authors offer a leisurely, engaging account of our present digital landscape, explaining how mathematically driven technologies affect us every day. Algorithms, they write, run “significant parts of our lives.” The authors range widely, covering robotics, gene editing, “social machines” (Wikipedia, etc.), the rise of giant tech companies, and AI and the world of work, and they find both challenges and opportunities. Rich in ideas and insights, the book is especially strong on our growing personal relationships with Alexa and other robots. “We are optimists,” write the authors, dismissing predictions of machines running amok in the streets: “It will be a long time before people have to worry about self-aware AIs, let alone jealous or malevolent ones….[We] are more afraid of what harm natural stupidity, rather than artificial intelligence, might wreak in the next 50 years of gradually more pervasive machines and smartness.” Besides, humans control “the supply of silicon and aluminum and the power switch.” However, the broad population does not manage the tech elites who make digital decisions. “A dozen white American businessmen” dominate the world of AI through “private mega-corporations, extraordinarily rich and answerable only to themselves.” The authors describe the many dangers of mixing digital elites and machines, and they urge readers to remain vigilant and choose wisely.

An upbeat—even reassuring—take on what will be an AI–saturated future.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-19-093298-5
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2019


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