A strong case for planning for the day when machines can outsmart us.

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HUMAN COMPATIBLE

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND THE PROBLEM OF CONTROL

A leading computer scientist urges a “radically new direction” for artificial intelligence research to ensure that superhuman AI benefits humankind.

“The march towards superhuman intelligence is unstoppable, but success might be the undoing of the human race,” warns Russell (Computer Science and Engineering/Univ. of California), co-author of Artificial Intelligence (1995), a widely used textbook. In this authoritative trade debut, he examines the idea of human and machine intelligence, the problems involved in creating extremely intelligent machines, and the need to retain human control of them. Although more scientific breakthroughs are needed, he writes, AI will certainly be the dominant technology of the future. We must have a serious discussion of “the implications of introducing a second intelligent species onto Earth.” After all, “making something smarter than yourself could be a bad idea.” Examining the enormous potential of AI, from its evolving benefits (home robots for the elderly, tutoring for children) to its misuses (automated blackmail, autonomous weapons), Russell writes that AI researchers must refocus their work if humans are to remain in charge. Rather than developing machines that optimize fixed, known objectives—a driving idea of 20th-century technology—they must design systems that defer to human preferences and intentions. As the author writes, “they will ask humans questions or ask for permission when appropriate; they will do ‘trial runs’ to see if we like what they propose to do; they will accept correction when they do something wrong.” An accessible writer, Russell is addressing nonspecialist readers, and he largely succeeds, although some will find his detailed explications challenging. (Refreshingly, he appends the most technical text.) The author is strongly optimistic that increasingly powerful machines that achieve our objectives are feasible. There is still time to change course: If a team of AI’s leading experts, with unlimited resources, was charged today with creating “an integrated, human-level intelligent system by combining all our best ideas, the result would be failure.”

A strong case for planning for the day when machines can outsmart us.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-55861-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

CAPITAL AND IDEOLOGY

A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.

Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, à la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it’s a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to “non-European trifunctional societies,” Chinese-style communism, and “hypercapitalist” orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and “every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice.” In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are “the most enterprising, deserving, and useful.” In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there’s more to inequality than the mere “size of the income gap.” Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a “participatory socialism” in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word “socialism,” he allows, is a kind of Pandora’s box that can scare people off—and, he further acknowledges, “the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go.” Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.

A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98082-2

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

STILLNESS IS THE KEY

An exploration of the importance of clarity through calmness in an increasingly fast-paced world.

Austin-based speaker and strategist Holiday (Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, 2018, etc.) believes in downshifting one’s life and activities in order to fully grasp the wonder of stillness. He bolsters this theory with a wide array of perspectives—some based on ancient wisdom (one of the author’s specialties), others more modern—all with the intent to direct readers toward the essential importance of stillness and its “attainable path to enlightenment and excellence, greatness and happiness, performance as well as presence.” Readers will be encouraged by Holiday’s insistence that his methods are within anyone’s grasp. He acknowledges that this rare and coveted calm is already inside each of us, but it’s been worn down by the hustle of busy lives and distractions. Recognizing that this goal requires immense personal discipline, the author draws on the representational histories of John F. Kennedy, Buddha, Tiger Woods, Fred Rogers, Leonardo da Vinci, and many other creative thinkers and scholarly, scientific texts. These examples demonstrate how others have evolved past the noise of modern life and into the solitude of productive thought and cleansing tranquility. Holiday splits his accessible, empowering, and sporadically meandering narrative into a three-part “timeless trinity of mind, body, soul—the head, the heart, the human body.” He juxtaposes Stoic philosopher Seneca’s internal reflection and wisdom against Donald Trump’s egocentric existence, with much of his time spent “in his bathrobe, ranting about the news.” Holiday stresses that while contemporary life is filled with a dizzying variety of “competing priorities and beliefs,” the frenzy can be quelled and serenity maintained through a deliberative calming of the mind and body. The author shows how “stillness is what aims the arrow,” fostering focus, internal harmony, and the kind of holistic self-examination necessary for optimal contentment and mind-body centeredness. Throughout the narrative, he promotes that concept mindfully and convincingly.

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53858-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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