What to think about Machines that think – John Brockman


I am an opinionated person. So much so that I cannot hide it. People who do not know me very well know that I am opinionated. I am pretty annoying about it.

And I task myself with being opinionated on even really tough issues, like the AI debate. Anyone who wants to be a person who is keeping up with the world probably does have an opinion on AI, and mine is that AI is not really an existential threat to humanity, and that we are as of yet unjustified in fearing it. Almost a year ago, I told this opinion to a friend of min and they handed me a book in response.

What to think about Machines that think is a compilation of short essays about AI from the world’s leading thinkers working in all manners of different fields. The contributors are pretty diverse, ranging from philosophers to science-fiction writers. They opinions are as well pretty diverse.

I don’t think this book has an effect in an traditional sense. It is a series of arguments, but each one is so vastly different from the argument that preceded it that if you sit down to read twenty pages of this book in a sitting you will walk away with a feeling of not having learned anything at all. I also think that you are very likely to simply recall the arguments that you already agreed with more than those that could potentially change your mind. This book ends up being a big book of multiple choice, where if you want to pull arguments celebrating the coming AI, you can have them, and if you want to have an argument against AI, you can have that as well. However, the book did help me in coming to a better understanding of my own opinion. As I read it, I encountered arguments I had long ago consumed and forgotten, and these arguments are tributaries into my own opinon.

It’s like that old joke about the bartender who say you can have whatever drink you like but its all coming out of the same bottle.

This book then becomes much more effective if consumed in a very precise way. One should really challenge themselves to read a singular essay in a given sitting and then meditate on it pretty heavily. That would mean that the book would take forever to consume, and for me it did. But this gives you time to really let the various view points sink in and to understand just how complex this singular issue really is. Which is one of the virtues of this book, it can certainly get you caught up very quickly. And it can also introduce you to some very cool ideas.

I did enjoy reading this book. I would most certainly challenge myself to reading the next another one in the series by the same editor.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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