cover image Possible Minds: 25 Ways of Looking at AI

Possible Minds: 25 Ways of Looking at AI

Edited by John Brockman. Penguin Press, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-525-55799-9

Brockman (This Idea Is Brilliant, editor), founder of the literary agency Brockman Inc., devotes this entry into his series of science-oriented essay anthologies to exploring the frontiers of artificial intelligence. The 25 contributors come from a wide range of disciplines and include philosopher Daniel Dennett, psychology professor Alison Gopnik, and Skype cofounder Jaan Tallinn. While the authors disagree on the answers, they agree on the major question: what dangers might AI present to humankind? Within that framework, the essays offer a host of novel ideas. Several argue that AI has already become a hallmark of human culture, with genetics researcher George M. Church provocatively suggesting that modern, technology-using humans, when compared with Stone Age cultures, are already “transhumans.” Other essays underscore the necessity for ensuring that advanced AI acts in alignment with human values, while science historian George Dyson explores the difficulties inherent in controlling the technology, ending with the unsettling observation that “provably ‘good’ AI is a myth.” Readers will appreciate that the discussion is accompanied by intriguing explanations of AI development strategies, among them “deep learning,” generative adversarial networks, and inverse-reinforcement learning. The combination of theory and practice makes for enlightening, entertaining, and exciting reading. (Feb.)