Life 3.0: Being Human In The Age Of Artificial Intelligence by Max Tegmark

The Blurb On The Back:

We stand at the beginning of a new era.  What was once science fiction is fast becoming reality, as AI transforms war, crime, justice, jobs and society – and even, our very sense of what it means to be human.  More than any other technology, AI has the potential to revolutionise our collective future.

How can we grow our prosperity through automation, without leaving people lacking income or purpose?  How can we ensure that future AI systems do what we want without crashing, malfunctioning or getting hacked?  Will AI help life flourish as never before, or will machines eventually outsmart us at all tasks, and even, perhaps, replace us altogether?

Life 3.0 gives us the tools to join what may be the most important conversation of our time, guiding us through the most controversial issues around AI today – from super intelligence to meaning, consciousness and the ultimate physical limits of life in the cosmos.

What sort of future do you want?

You can order Life 3.0: Being Human In The Age Of Artificial Intelligence by Max Tegmark from Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Max Tegmark is professor of physics at MIT and president of the Future of Life Institute (which aims to keep AI beneficial).  Published in 2017, this is a ‘big idea’ book that focuses on the positives of AI and where it can take us rather than on the risks and dangers (although it does consider them) but it was too broad in scope for me and I struggled with some of the physics (especially the cosmology) and how white and male the AI field is.

Tegmark starts the book with a scenario depicting the development of an AI system by a team working within a private company and what happens next, which is then used a springboard for considering further issues such as what intelligence and consciousness is, how could AI help humanity, what could happen to humanity in the age of super intelligent AI and where AI could take us.

The book is written in quite broad brushstrokes rather than diving into the nitty gritty of AI but there’s still a lot that’s of use and interest, for example the chapters on what intelligence and consciousness are sets out a lot of science and philosophy, which I did find fascinating although I have to say that I did find some of the science difficult to follow.  This was also the case in the chapters where Tegmark looks at how super intelligent AI could help us to explore the universe.  His background is in cosmology so there’s a lot of physics in there and as soon with a very basic understanding of science, I really struggled with ideas such as Dyson spheres and entropy and using black holes to harness their energy.  It didn’t help that Tegmark makes a lot of assumptions about what super intelligent AI will be able to do (like rearranging atoms and particles), which just seemed like science fiction to me and made it difficult to believe in where AI could go because it seems so far off.

The other issue I had with the book is that Tegmark is (as he says) an optimist who is choosing to see the positives in what AI can do for us.  He isn’t blind to the dangers (indeed the Future of Life Institute is aimed at dealing with the ethical problems before they become dangerous) but I do think that he underplays some of the dangers.  For example, he places a lot of faith in private corporations developing AI when it is already clear that private companies like Amazon and Facebook are not dealing well with the ethical dilemmas of their current business models, making you question to what extent a super intelligent AI would be safe in their hands. What also becomes clear when reading the book is how white and male AI research seems to be – about the only woman Tegmark consistently mentions in the book is his wife, Meia Chita-Tegmark who is a post-doctoral researcher but who is mainly mentioned as accompanying him to AI events and being supportive).

All in all, it’s not a bad book – there was a lot here that I found conceptually interesting but it’s just too big in its ideas and slightly too academic for me and as a cynic, I’d have welcomed a little more skepticism in order to whole heartedly recommend it.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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