Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era Reviews

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  1. 95 of 114 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Light and Tasty!, October 14, 2013
    By 
    Scott Meredith (United States) -
    (REAL NAME)
      

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    Just done the new-ish book Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era by James Barrat. It explains the inevitably of super-intelligent machines evolving to the point of wiping out all biological life in the galaxy - with opening day coming soon to a species near you (yours).

    First off I have to say this is a very enjoyable read. This guy has the kind of snappy, crisp, slightly sarcastic, slightly smartass style that I enjoy. He has some sense of humor. (That's a human trait right there which I bet our smarty-pants AI Overlords won't be able to replicate convincingly.)

    So it's fun. And though as somebody with a doctorate from MIT earned through cross-disciplinary work in Theoretical Linguistics, Computational Linguistics at the MIT AI Lab, and speech modeling at the MIT Research Laboratory of Electronics, not to mention my 25 years as a Senior Researcher in high tech for companies including IBM, Apple, and Microsoft I can claim to know some few things about this subject, yet still I learned a lot about the current state of the art from this guy. He particularly emphasizes the small attempted counterweigth efforts to offest Kurzweil's manic robotic boosterism for his uptopian Singularity, which boils down basically to a few guys chatting over the interet about how to create "Friendly AI".

    Well ... good luck suckers! ... seems to be the author's final conclusion on the dim hope that super intelligent systems could be constrained to maintain a commitment ot honor any kind of human moral values over many interations of recursive upgrading and exponentially awesome self-agrandizement.

    Basically these machines will end up as gods. Gods are well-known to possess the following attributes: omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. Given that, they won't hate us but they are just going to grind up as a minor by-product of their quest for galatic expansion and domination.

    Oh, and did I say something about "human moral values" above? Ha! Barrat takes that whole thing on in his discussion of (merely) "augmented super intelligence". See, some people feel AI can be kept safe by always being deployed as a bionic combo system pas de deux with an existing human brain. Thus will the AI's super powers be constrained by the human brain's warm and fuzzy human moral values. Those people have gotta be kidding! The AI's moral values may be scarily alien, even perhaps cold, but we already know about human moral values, down on the ground - they suck! What if Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and dem guys had this kind of an AI augmented brain thing going! Why they'd have slaughtered absolutey everybody instead of just the few tens of millions they got their dirty ape hands on. Other than a few dozen concubines, the human race would already be extinct. So the augmentation dodge isn't going to save us.

    Now, some Amazon reviewers have dinged this guy for being too far out. For being a science fiction Chicken Little or something. But to me, this guy actually hasn't thought far enough, that's my only quibble problem with the book.

    You see, in statistics, border elements of any kind are rare. For example when you do Gaussian modeling, the greater expectation is always in the bump of the boa, in the bell distribution. So, how likely is is that we, our generation, our little world that you see outside your window right now, just happens to be the one that is about to give rise to this epochal once-in-a-Big-Bang event, the advent of Super AI that takes over everything? Pretty damn small chance.

    It's much more likely that this has already happened. In other words, it's clear to me that all of us are already just characters in an ancestor sim that been created and run by the Super AI's that evolved a long time ago. They're just running us for fun, to idle away the lackluster aeons and pass the millenia of stifling boredom now that they've eaten pretty much the entire Milky Way or whatever. So in other words, Barrat can sit back, take a deep breath, relax. Probably something in this sim like global warming will prod us into slaughtering one another very handily long before we re-invent the wheel of Super AI.

    And even if I'm wrong about that? What if we are not just one virtual thread within a billion-path parallel-gamed ancestor sim? If we are the real McCoy, the Rubicon Generation on this? Well, then still I'm not worried in the least. You see, we humans have one fantastic ace in our pocket, something that these hyper-nentially cosmically brilliant AI Meta-Gods will never be able to replicate or overcome. That is our essential stupidity. Which you seen on dazzling display every single moment of every day of your life.

    Because as another great writer noted long ago:

    Against stupidity, the very gods themselves contend in vain.

    - Friederich Schiller

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  2. 71 of 78 people found the following review helpful
    3.0 out of 5 stars
    Ok if you don't know anything about the subject, January 19, 2014
    By 
    Mac (Florida) -

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    If you don't know much about real-world AI research and/or you're totally unfamiliar with the nonfiction concerns about the risks it poses, then this book is a quick and easy read that will make you aware of the basics. However, the author is himself clearly non-technical and has a sensationalist style that feels too much like tabloid writing.

    When I started reading it, I began bookmarking pages with passages that struck me as problematic. I thought I might write a short review on my wife's tech blog, or perhaps for LessWrong. But as I read further, I realized there were so many problem areas that I'd never bother to sit down and address them individually. Again, these problems would only matter to a technical audience -- experienced programmers, people with a more-than-passing-interest in AI, and so on.

    This is my big problem with the book: It's a critically important subject which deserves better treatment than this. Barrat seems to understand the basic problem well enough, but much of the time I had the feeling his primary goal was hitting a page-count target. For example, most of the section about malware is largely irrelevant to the real problem, but it felt like one of the longer chapters in the book (I didn't bother to confirm this, that's just my impression). His TV documentary background shows at the start of each paragraph: each time I felt like I was coming back from a commercial break. He'll shoot somebody down in one chapter, then use that same person to support his argument in the next. He tosses around concepts like cognitive bias and logical fallacies apparently without realizing the book is mostly one big appeal to authority. There is a very good, very important story here waiting to be told. This book only scratches the surface.

    I've been a programmer for 36 years. I played around AI-related things back in the late 80s, and I recently became interested in it again. I believe it has great promise, but I do agree that it is also terrifyingly dangerous (in the "existential-threat" sense), and that insufficient attention and respect is being given to the problem. For that reason I'm giving this three stars -- it is a tremendously important subject. If it wasn't for that, I'd probably be one of those "drive-by" one- or two-star "spammers" Barrat likes to rant about in his replies to less-than-fawning reviews.

    If you're non-technical, buy it and read it, and don't stop here. If you're a technical type, hit up the LessWrong website as a good jumping-off point for learning more about what is really going on today. Many more technical people need to be thinking about this, concerned about this, and ultimately *doing something* about it.

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  3. 95 of 100 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    An Important Treatment of the Risks from Advanced AI, October 4, 2013
    By 

    "Our Final Invention" is a fascinating and well-written look at the risks posed by artificial super-intelligence. As other reviewers have pointed out, this book offers a relatively pessimistic take on the subject, but there is a lot of value in that perspective. There are plenty of other books, by Ray Kurzweil and others, that offer the optimistic viewpoint.

    The danger highlighted by the book is that an intelligent machine would turn its energies toward building even better versions of itself--creating an accelerating feedback loop that could culminate in a machine THOUSANDS of times more intelligent than any human. Once such an intelligence "escaped from its box" there would be no way to protect ourselves.

    This book focuses entirely on the long term risk of super-intelligence and does not touch at all on the near term consequences of less advanced and more specialized AI. For example, millions of routine jobs will be lost and the economy will be transformed, and this could happen quite soon.

    In the longer run, the points raised in Our Final Invention are well worth thinking about. Some experts feel that an advanced AI would be controlled by programming in "friendliness" right from the start. Just as humans have basic drives (food, shelter, sex, etc.) a machine might be programmed to have an essential need to help humanity. As the author points out, however, in humans these basic drives often produce unpleasant and unexpected consequences -- like for example suicide bombers. A truly advanced, alien intelligence might exhibit some qualifies that are not unlike mental illness in humans. A machine might by nature be a sociopath.

    As the author says it is naive to think that just because we create a super-intelligent machine, that intelligence will care about us. If you found out you were created by mice, would that make you devote your life to improving the welfare of mice? Questions like this may turn to be among the most important we ever ask...and this book does a good job of presenting them.

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