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

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  3,063 ratings  ·  395 reviews
In as little as a decade, artificial intelligence could match, then surpass human intelligence. Corporations & government agencies around the world are pouring billions into achieving AI’s Holy Grail—human-level intelligence. Once AI has attained it, scientists argue, it will have survival drives much like our own. We may be forced to compete with a rival more cunning, mor ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published October 1st 2013 by Thomas Dunne Books/St Martin's Press (NY) (first published January 1st 2013)
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Sebastian Melgin You're absolutely right ... but, we never know about DARPA, CIA and other's secret projects ... (when GIS started, the people "knews" the best precisi…moreYou're absolutely right ... but, we never know about DARPA, CIA and other's secret projects ... (when GIS started, the people "knews" the best precision was 5km and they had tech to 100 mts, after they had more precision, they delivered what they had ...) so, why we think we're still trying to create some ASI and we don't think we already was conquered by it ? May be it was created and is "sleeping" on Internet because it knows we don't know about it ... and it still feeding his database and waiting the best moment to take control ... :-O(less)

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Chris Via
Aug 07, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: ai, 2015
This should have been a 25-page essay, not a book-length stretching of a thin premise. Shame on the editors who allow dross like this. Most maddening was the redundancy of the definitions of AGI, ASI, and the theory of an intelligence explosion. Well into the book, I continued to shout, "I get it already!" Plus, there's really only one outcome that is stretched in a pessimist-sensationalist manner: namely, AI will, via feedback loop, or self-improving recursion, propel itself to ASI and become s ...more
Jan 13, 2017 rated it liked it
In 1863, English novelist Samuel Butler wrote an article titled “Darwin among the Machines.” He claimed that machines were a mechanical life undergoing constant evolution and that they might eventually supplant humanity as the dominant species. He writes,

Day by day, however, the machines are gaining ground upon us; day by day we are becoming more subservient to them; more men are daily bound down as slaves to tend them, more men are daily devoting the energies of their whole lives to the develop
Apr 01, 2014 rated it it was ok
This is a frustratingly written book. Barrat skates over important questions--what's intelligence? what's self-awareness? can a computer, something that thinks in binary, ever really perceive and emote?-- in order to constantly remind his readers that AI poses a threat to humankind. I agree, actually. I think that AI does pose a threat, but doomsday proclamations and continually harping on it makes me feel as a reader like he is trying to play off of my fears.

Speaking of fears, Barrat insists t
May 19, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-read-2015
Artificial intelligence; just the phrase brings a number of things to mind. Probably the best known is Siri, that cute, slightly funny app that lives on your iPhone, but AI is now embedded in all sorts of things now, from the programmes that high frequency traders use to buy and sell share, the software in drones and the computer systems in cars. Until now it has been very low level stuff, but it is the goal of some to make that machine that can pass the Turing test and seem, as they said in Bla ...more
Jul 23, 2013 rated it liked it
I received this book as part of the First Reads giveaways and was very excited to read it. The book wasn't exactly what I expected, and I'm not sure I agreed with everything Barrat proposes, but it did make me think about AI in a way I never had before, and that was, I believe, at least half his purpose. The book is an easy read for a layperson, and a brilliant foundation for a science fiction writer. Mostly, the book made me want to write about a superintelligent machine race that has been stea ...more
Belhor Crowley
Oct 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
We are going to be gods. It is inevitable!

AI is a by nature a complex concept. It is in fact in itself a complex system. In complex systems, when the system is manipulated, the outcome is often unknown. That is the nature of complex systems. And for that reason, if not any other reason, it will be hard to say what will be our future after we invent AI. Is there any reason for us to exist after there is an intelligent being with a power of understanding which will surpass our own by leaps and bo
Jul 19, 2014 rated it liked it
Let me say off the bat that this book was interesting and thought-provoking. The author asserts and defends the positions that Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI) is inevitable and humanity will likely not survive its invention. I recommend the book for its perspective, its review of the current state of AI development, and its set of plausible predictions. However, I thought the book had a number of holes, a few contradictions, and it left some basic questions unanswered.

One contradiction: At o
Oct 21, 2015 rated it it was ok
This was OK, but I probably wouldn't recommend it, even for those interested in artificial intelligence. The writer put himself too much into the making of his argument, to the point where he would just start to give another scientist's theory and then immediately say something along the lines of, "But I think he's wrong." The author is convinced that we'll achieve AGI (artificial general intelligence, or human-level intelligence) at the earlier end of the estimated discovery period. That will b ...more
Jul 31, 2013 rated it liked it
I received an advance copy of this book through the First Reads program; it's alternately one of the most interesting and frustrating books I've ever read. On one hand, it presents some highly disturbing information about the speed at which we're approaching ASI, but on the other, the author offers no real solution or ideas to stop our future robot overlords. Every theory offered on how to prevent the upcoming AI apocalypse is presented as doomed to fail anyway, so what was even the point of all ...more
Nate Kenyon
Aug 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Remarkable investigation of the state of AI research and where we might be headed. Terrifying, actually--billions of dollars are being thrown at AI research, while very little time or effort is being spent on safeguarding humanity from the very real threat of a creative ASI that can improve itself exponentially and far outpace the capabilities of the human mind. We are much closer than most people think to such a thing--some say twenty or thirty years at most. Barrat does a fantastic job keeping ...more
Oct 30, 2014 rated it liked it
James Barrat’s Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era is a disturbing, plangent response to the rosy-minded, “rapture of the nerds” mentality that has recently swept across the futurist landscape. Toeing the line between rational prudence and alarmist hand-wringing, Barrat makes the case not only that advanced artificial intelligence is just around the corner, but also that its chances of causing humanity’s extinction are much higher than anyone wants to admit. ...more
Feb 27, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: sf, computers
The author is flat out wrong on many issues, which really undermines dealing with things that are important like the complete commodification of intelligence. Everything is reduced to 'humans are wiped out immediately' so there is no discussion of credible scenarios and their real problems. Fundamentally human level AI if and when it arrives will emerge into a world of pre-existing very nearly human level AI, narrow AI that is much smarter than anything else at specific tasks, augmented humans t ...more
Todd Thompson
Oct 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The book has changed my entire outlook with regard to artificial intelligence, and has revealed to me many possible outcomes with regard to the ongoing advancement of artificial intelligence. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of technology.
Sep 08, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Babbs by: Elon Musk
I've read a few books around this topic at this point, and the idea that our inability to foresee what our creation would want and desire, might couple with the human nature of simple mistakes, causing thus unknown disasters a posibility, made the focus of this book appealing. It was also recommended as a top read by Elon Musk.

The book first covers the basic principles of artificial intelligence and historical discoveries thus far. This was both interesting and more focused than other books on
Jan 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
A very readable, if sobering text. I almost found myself pulled to it as one might be to a crisis unfolding on CNN - maybe I didn't want to contemplate what would happen next, but at the same time, I had to. Interesting to think back to the "dystopian" sci-fi movies of the late 60's and later 20th Century, e.g., "2001 A Space Odyssey", "Blade Runner", "The Terminator", etc. It's frightening to contemplate what kind of crises a type of Terminator "SkyNet" system could exasperate (or even cause). ...more
Laurent De Serres Berard
Nov 02, 2017 rated it did not like it

His writing abuse of strong warning language to inspire fear of a potential dangerous scenarios, without really exploring the odds that it could happen and how. It felt more like trying to scare the reader without giving him a real understanding of how it could work, and therefore doesn't let the reader grasp himself the risk and impact artifical intelligence. In this way, i don't think it is much far than conspiration theories.
This book spend the really short first chapter to more or less expla
Nov 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: computer-science
Although the writing style leans heavily towards the "layman" (in fact venturing into magazine article territory), the author succeeds in compiling an interesting case against the possibility of a bright "Singularity" where man merges with machine.

Instead, he argues, we may not be able to contain what we unleash. Artificial General Intelligence will lead to Artificial Super-Intelligence, and once that happens, Barrat argues, all bets are off.

It's also telling that the organizations at the bleedi
Martin Smrz
Mar 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very interesting topic and point of view, which balances the optimistic views of Artificial Intelligence. Really worth to read.
1 star less for sometimes repetitive passages covering things which has been said in the book once before. Despite of this a strong recommendation.
Beau Schutz
While I've read other books that have covered or touched on the same or similar topics e.g.; Nick Bostrom's Superintelligence and Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens and Homo Deus - and found those immensely informative (albeit worrisome), Barrat really has brought the whole AI issue into a really tight focus and done tremendous research and interviewing for this work. It is, needless to say, also some very ominous although illuminating reading. I think everyone needs to read it - and sooner rather than ...more
Jun 22, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci
I didn't know much about the author nor this book when I started it, but I ended up somewhat reading against myself. He gives interesting backstories about Yudkowsky and Ray Kurzweil (especially ironic, because I'm also reading Kurzweil currently) and adds a perspective that I don't normally get in my social circles. He does think that AI is the last thing humanity will create and that's where the story of humanity will come to an end. And not just - oh we will phase transition into another form ...more
Anthony Berglas
Aug 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Disclaimer: I am the author of the upcoming book (Please let me know if you would like to review a late draft --

This excellent and recent book focuses on the threat that intelligent computers could present to humanity.

It begins with a discussion about the awesome power of recursive self improvement once it has been initiated. That super computers could grind away twenty four hours per day working on the problem of making themselves smarter, and thereb
Thomas Frank
Oct 20, 2013 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book, and it's an eye-opening read that does a good job of both explaining our current progress in the field of AI and illustrating the dangers of that progress. I particularly enjoyed learning about the different approaches researchers are taking in their attempts to achieve AGI.

This is the kind of book I want to see gaining attention, as the general public's perception of AI is, I believe, horribly tainted by grossly inaccurate media depictions (i.e. the machines in the Animatri
Patrick Ross
Feb 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sociology, science
I believe every thinking person should read this book. Advancements in artificial intelligence are occurring at a dizzying rate. It's in our cars, in our smartphones, and our lives benefit from this technology. But I believe Barrat is correct in arguing that AI developers suffer from optimism bias and normalcy bias, failing to see the threat to mankind's existence that can stem from machines gaining intelligence beyond what we can understand.

Barrat interviews many leading researchers and thinker
Nov 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book could be titled "the unintended consequences of goal oriented machines that possess the ability to learn and improve themselves" - Thought provoking? - yes. Thrilling? - yes. A book you read to feel good about the future of mankind? No.

The author poses many questions related to artificial super intelligence for which we currently have no clear answers.

What if autonomous AI software we build is as error prone as typical software and makes harmful decisions? Since human decision making
Jan 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think the author sounds a bit paranoid in the way he presents his ideas but he as some valid points.
This book makes you think about where we're going and the risks associated with that, but I think we still have a long way to go before we arrive. It's good to think about it, but I don't think it's something that's going to happen tomorrow.
He said some things that didn't make any sense and were obviously not even mentioned to someone who knows a bit about artificial intelligence, but I was able
Karel Baloun
Jul 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Barrat covers a lot of important ground, deep interviews with key AI developers and semi-technical coverage of several conferences and meetings. Includes numerous pointers to thought leaders and cutting edge projects.

Unfortunately, he started with the conclusion, and built a scaffold of anecdotes and reasons biased to it, without really being able to prove his point. Dismissing Kurzweil without refuting him, repeatedly referring to the Busy Child scenario without proving it is likely or even pos
While I can see the point that the author was making, he hit the same main point(s) in every chapter, making it repetitive. The author did have logical arguments but to control and rain in an AI that’s self aware is like trying to control a human. You may be able to get a human to do some things you want, but you may not be able to have everything. The same thing will occur with an AI that’s self aware.

Another issue with the book is that, while I agree we should be somewhat cautious of developi
Nov 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Very interesting book. The author contends that Artificial Super Intelligence(1000 times smarter than humans)may mean the end of mankind. We are creating something that we may not be able to control or contain. Of course the author is speculating on these outcomes from his AGI-level brain (Artificial General Intelligence= that of humans). Great food for thought. Chapter 15 was most interesting as it discussed cyber threats and cyber warfare that are already able to be waged, and have been to a l ...more
Patrick Pilz
Aug 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
James Barrat gives us IT professionals a lot to think about. while we all enjoy the writings of Marvin Minsky or Ray Kurzweil, James Barrat counters with profound concerns about the future of Artificial Intelligence and our own. At times a little depressive, but still a must read to get a balanced education on the future of AI and humanity.
Jul 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a really good book about artificial intelligence and the benefits and possible consequences of it. It makes you question weather or not the production of artificial intelligence is a good idea or not. It also talks about all the different theories scientist have on this subject.
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For about 20 years I’ve written and produced documentaries, one of the most rewarding ways of telling stories ever invented. It’s a privilege to plunge into different cultures and eras and put together deeply human narratives that can be enjoyed by everyone. My clients include National Geographic, Discovery, PBS, and other broadcasters in th

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