In the Ideal Gifts series, The Next Web team shares personal recommendations for gifts to give this holiday season.
No single book has inspired me this year more than Our Final Invention, a book by documentary maker James Barrat.
This book is a really accessible guide to the argument that artificial intelligence will eventually become ‘super-intelligence’ and kill us all. That may sound like something from a Terminator movie, but it’s a threat that increasing numbers of people are taking seriously.
If annihilation-by-AI is a topic you’ve never thought much about, this is a great place to start. It starts by explaining a hypothetical ‘Busy Child’ scenario in which an artificial intelligence develops way beyond the goals humans had intended for it, to become a threat to humanity.
Think a super-intelligent AI would be safe because we created it? The book counters the rosy outlook of optimists like Google’s Ray Kurzweil. It also explains why the oft-cited ‘safety valve’, Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, won’t necessarily be enough to stop an AI with cognitive powers way beyond our own and the ability to develop them exponentially.
My key takeaway from the book was the notion that a super-intelligent AI doesn’t have to be ‘evil’ to threaten us. Just as we swat flies without particularly meaning them harm, the ‘Skynet’ of the future may simply see us as an inconvenience that needs dealing with (or ‘swatting out of the way’) so it can get on with achieving its goals. And just as a fly could never hope to outsmart a human, we’d have no chance of taking on this AI and winning.
My interest in this field was piqued when I happened to get talking to Stuart Armstrong from Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute last year. I went on to interview Armstrong about the threat of annihilation-by-AI. Our Final Invention was the perfect way to expand my knowledge.
If you want to get deeper into the economic impact that AI and robots may have on our future, The Second Machine Age by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee is well worth a read. If you’d like a slightly more involved, technical look at how artificial intelligence could threaten humanity, Nick Bostrum’s Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies is the one for you.
➤ Our Final Invention by James Barratt [$16.25, Amazon]