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Thinking Machines: The Quest for Artificial Intelligence--And Where It's Taking Us Next

3.56  ·  Rating details ·  384 ratings  ·  68 reviews
A fascinating look at Artificial Intelligence, from its humble Cold War beginnings to the dazzling future that is just around the corner.

When most of us think about Artificial Intelligence, our minds go straight to cyborgs, robots, and sci-fi thrillers where machines take over the world. But the truth is that Artificial Intelligence is already among us. It exists in our sm
Paperback, 288 pages
Published March 7th 2017 by Tarcherperigee (first published June 2nd 2016)
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Mar 28, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-nature
I should note that I am not computer tech person. I usually say at least twice a week, why can't my computer do what I want it to do as opposed to what I accidently told it to do.

I enjoyed this book. It was the non-fiction selection in My Book Box for March. Dormehl writes about computers for the layman, and the concepts are easily grasped. He raises questions and even gives some answers. At times, the book is non-linear but it is never confusing.
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
There's nothing in this book for which I could recommend it. There's a little history of AI and multiple news stories from the recent press all probably familiar to most listeners. The world is changing and networks and AI are happening, but at the most the author only gives surface explanations for what's really going on. There is a story to be told for what's happening, but the author only seems to get the current events in themselves but can't tie them together and is out of his depth when it ...more
Nov 10, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, 2017, science
This was awful. Shallow, surface-level popular science writing of the worst sort, narrated by a boring British gentleman whose hemming and hawing and excessive pausing I had to set on 1.5x just to get through. I had already read or heard about nearly everything hastily discussed, and I barely skim the news on artificial intelligence and robotics. Not to mention this was an extended paean to all the great things AI will give us, with a teensy-tiny chapter about the possible ill effects tacked on ...more
Soubhagya Nayak
Jun 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: ai-ml
Thinking Machine tries to capture the innovation and progress happening in the field of Artificial Intelligence. It is targeted for laymen and is easy to read.
The author starts the book brilliantly by capturing the history of AI, initial enthusiasm followed by the dull period and then the rise of AI and deep learning. One chapter is dedicated for neural networks and deep learning. The author does a great job in explaining the concepts of symbolic AI and deep learning.
But after chapter 2, the c
May 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book involves a wide overview of the fast growing field of AI and served as an excellent read for anyone who is technology literate but no computer scientist.

It begins with the history of symbolic AI and the old guard of scientists that pioneered the field like Marvin Minsky and introduces classic AI thought experiments and the Turing Test.

The majority of the book thankfully delves straight into the more cutting edge technologies using neutral network systems and provides insight into the
Diana C. Nearhos
The subject matter of this book is really interesting. Multiple times, I remarked out loud or read something to my boyfriend.

The writing, however, left something to be desired. I don't like when a writer brings himself into the piece. If it's not about you, I don't want your first person. It was more than that, though, the way he referred back to other chapters felt jumpy. He over explained somethings and chose unrelatable examples at the extremes in others.
May 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: work
This book is a great discussion around the history of AI - where it started, where we're at today, and where it might go. My disappointment comes from the fact that I had thought I was getting a book that was more about the technical aspects of AI as it is today. ...more
Sotiris Makrygiannis
A very good overview from 40s to now on the AI and efforts related to that. Written in an easy to understand but does not take into account concerns related to the "omnipresent" nature of AI. I will gladly recommend this book to any one that wants to understand the history of AI, in layman terms. ...more
George Mount
Jan 31, 2021 rated it really liked it
More like 3.75 stars, but I rounded up to counter some of the unjustly rough reviews on here. It started strong, particularly by describing the history of the different schools of thought in AI and the surprising rise to dominance of the neural network school.

The middle of the book wasn't that great; the usual case studies and thought experiments that anyone who's done any study of AI will know by now. In particular, the chapter on AI and creativity seemed contrived. If I wanted to read about w
Peter Tillman
Nov 29, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: sci-tech
This is a pretty good, short, up-to-date summary of the current state of the art, and future prospects for, artificial intelligence (AI). It's well-written, but I kept losing interest, and it sat on the bedside table until it came due and I made a push to finish it, skimming some.

I took some notes, which aren't very valuable. I learned some trivia: 4.4 trillion gigabytes of stuff online, as of 2016! The Google Brain project is training its AI by having it watch cat videos!! Is this truly the hig
Nov 26, 2017 rated it it was ok
Well, this isn't quite what I was looking for. If you want a light, breezy overview of the history and issues involved in AI then this is a probably a good place to start, but if you're at all familiar with the subject, by which I mean, you've read at least a single other survey of computer development and AI research, then there's not a whole heck of a lot to be added in this volume. The writing style is very much like what one might find on or one of the breezier tech-oriented sites. ...more
Joséphine (Word Revel)
Actual rating: 4.5 stars

Initial thoughts: Even though the potential of artificial intelligence and its underlying principles usually fascinate me in science fiction, I've shied away from reading technical books about it. See, my grasp of science is considerably basic. For someone like me, Thinking Machines was very accessible. The concepts were broken down such that a laymen could understand them.

I gained a broader overview of the origins and state of AI today in a manner that also challenged an
Nov 29, 2017 rated it liked it
As someone who has very little understanding of the whole AI/Neural Networks topic I expected that I will clarify a lot of my questions by reading this book; that was not the case.

While the book covers numerous aspects of the AI topic, I can't stop feeling that it could have been summarised in a long blog post; especially the parts in which most of the information presented is just reference & mentions of others sources and studies.

On the positive side, I feel it covers quite well the part abou
Daniel Chen
May 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
An engaging broad overview of the recent boom of studies in artificial intelligence that veers a little too sharply towards wild conjecture towards the end, though I suppose that is the point of A.I. research. I would have appreciated a more focused and streamlined look at ways A.I. has evolved in terms of both academic research and business-driven research, whereas Dormehl preferred to focus on the latter. Contrast and structure are always important. It was overall an enjoyable and thought-prov ...more
Emma Scriver
As a broad summative overview of the field of work in Artifical Intelligence from its beginnings to today, this book is brilliant! It's also only a year or so old which is nice, as it's therefore a reasonably up-to-date look at a very interesting area indeed. I enjoyed it very much. ...more
Gabriel Thurau
Dec 20, 2019 rated it liked it
This book was OK. It did its job, provided an overview, and ultimately the writing was polished enough to pass as status quo journalism. This may sound like a backhanded compliment, but writing is difficult, so producing a status quo overview on AI is a commendable accomplishment.

I learned a few things - but as other readers have expressed, I expected a deeper dive into neural networks. To me, the most interesting parts of AI didn't get the camera time they deserved, and the book suffered becau
May 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I was initially not planning to finish the book after reading the first few chapters, but I'm glad I gave it a chance. While it begins with an overview of the history of artificial intelligence, the book only gets interesting as it begins delving into the developments that have taken place in the field, the discussions that are being held on how to define the term AI, and the challenges we might face as a society in the future, as AI, slowly but steadily becomes a bigger and bigger part of our l ...more
Bradley Saund
Feb 25, 2019 rated it did not like it
Decent high level overview, but I noticed several factual errors so I am now worried I have "learned" false information from the book. A decent editor and fact-checker would have drastically improved my review

Examples of incorrect statements:
> Thomas Edison was able to produce a reliable, long-lasting electric lightbulb in his laboratory in Menlo Park, California.
> ENIAC...weighed 60 pounds and took up an entire room
> A regular clamshell cellphone... manages to be 1,3000 times faster
> For examp
Jun 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
it was very slow buildinf at first, to go over all the history behind the building of AI as we know (or not know) of today. it reminded me a lot about my grduate work in neuroscience and some of the lectures that i had discussing about connectome and where neuroscience as a whole was growing in parelle to what AI and what we know how we know things are being researched. i am happy to say that I am not only part of what makes AI (or I guess, AGI) is going to soon become but also will be able to s ...more
Shenard Robinson
Jun 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Challenge yourself to pick-up a copy of this book and read up on why Artifical Intelligence (AI) is more than a computer generated program. Can you live in a world that is self-sustaining? The answer is that we already do, now imagine living in a world that is artifically sustained. Will the parallels intersect much like space travel from one universe to another, and with the discovery of another universe the plausibility of travel between "worlds" is no longer philosophical, theoritical, or cos ...more
Michael Tapp
Jun 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
I feel like this book is aimed at people who don’t know much about the current state of AI and want to get a general surface level grasp on it. I fall into that camp and I learned a lot from this book. I am 34 and writing this review in 2017 and my takeaway is that the world is going to drastically change within my lifetime. "47% of jobs in the US are susceptible to automation within the next 20 years” <- I am still processing that one. No one knows what the future holds but Thinking Machines cl ...more
A really easy read (and I mean that as a positive) for anyone looking to dip their toes into the world of Artificial Intelligence. A light book that skims across a wide range of AI topics and some of the most important figures and movements in its history. While this likely won't satisfy those well-read on the subject, I'd highly recommend this to someone curious about AI and looking for a solid starting point. There's a snappiness and modernity to the writing that I think would appeal to a lot ...more
Sep 27, 2018 rated it liked it
This is a nice little overview of the history of the development of machine intelligence for a general audience. The author touches briefly on the issue of whether machines will finally be developed that are more intelligent than human beings. He gives arguments on both sides of the question.
He doesn't mention the famous statement "It will be a very long time before computers are smarter than human beings. It may take a 100 years." In other words, just a second or two in real historical time.
Aug 31, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio-book, stopped
Stopped after about the first third of the book. The beginning was a decent review of the history of AI and the personalities involved. As a software engineer who has lived through much of that history, I found it reminiscent. Then the author transitioned into futurist promises of utopia where AI-driven machines make ours lives carefree and every move we make is monitored. From my perspective, such a society is a dystopia. My genre of choice is non-fiction and all the fore-telling in the book re ...more
Ravi Calyanakoti
Sep 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is the first book on AI I have read. It starts with a history of AI and covers the different areas of AI - different types of AI, use cases - past, present and future, research taking place in AI world with real world examples. As the book is written by a journalist, it is an easy read like reading a set of magazine articles.

Overall I would recommend this for a beginner reader to get an understanding into the world of AI.
Jul 28, 2017 rated it liked it
It's more of an explanation of the history and world of AI than exploration of ideas. It's about the 3rd book I've read on AI and it is almost exactly the same. They all talk about IBM's Watson, which I've read up on and it's kind of a joke. Fairly disappointing but adding a star for giving a good history on AI. ...more
Jan 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a good overview of the history of AI in layman's terms. I found it a fascinating look at where AI came from and where it's headed. Bonus is finding out that IBM's Watson not only authored a cook book but also has an app to help you make something great out of whatever you have lying around your kitchen. ...more
Feb 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Carmen Watts
May 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Head Spinning

I like books that make me think and I will be thinking a lot about this book. Too many issues too many things to think about and too many possibilities to resolve. Yes my head is still spinning.
Jun 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Past, present, and future of AI. It's on the science side, but not too heavy. When I was reading, I was interested. When I put it down I didn't have a strong urge to pick it up. I don't know why. It seemed well put together. ...more
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Luke Dormehl is a journalist and author, with a background working in documentary film. His writing has appeared in Wired, Digital Trends, The Guardian, Fast Company, Empire, Cult of Mac, Politico, The Huffington Post, and Techmeme.

He is the author of Thinking Machines, The Formula: How Algorithms Solve All Our Problems (And Create More), The Apple Revolution: Steve Jobs, The Counterculture, and H

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