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The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  992 ratings  ·  152 reviews
A call-to-arms about the broken nature of artificial intelligence, and the powerful corporations that are turning the human-machine relationship on its head.

We like to think that we are in control of the future of "artificial" intelligence. The reality, though, is that we -- the everyday people whose data powers AI -- aren't actually in control of anything. When, for exam
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published March 5th 2019 by PublicAffairs (first published 2019)
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Mal Warwick
Apr 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
If you're looking for an expert to confirm your fears about killer robots, the grey goo problem, or robots taking all our jobs, you're in the wrong place. Amy Webb began her career as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. She has become a widely respected futurist, author, and founder of the Future Today Institute in Philadelphia. Webb is also a professor of strategic foresight at New York University's Stern School of Business and frequently advises corporate and government leaders. It would b ...more
Jacques Coulardeau

The author has spent long periods of time in China and Japan. She thus knows what she is speaking about, and yet she is direct testimony of what they start considering in the USA in various fields, first police work, second the Silicon Valley, that is to say, unconscious bias. In her case she would swear to god or gods that it is true, that it is factual, that it is undeniable that China is first an absolute dictatorship, even when she only says a totalitarian state, def
Mar 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The future is really scary. Or it's kind of awesome. Or it's somewhere in between. The fact is, even futurists as smart as Amy Webb don't know for sure. But what Amy Webb does here is lay out how we got here, where we are, and some options of where we might be headed. She does so with an incredible amount of research, knowledge and foresight. And she does so with crisp, clear writing.

The important part is that she also lays out the questions we need to ask ourselves today and the questions we ne
Aug 09, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I thought this book would cover something about the current state of AI in the "big nine" as well as China. Nope, the author doesn't know anything about what these companies are doing. Instead, this is another book which is better treated as a novel when she describes, at length, various future scenarios for AI. Her warnings appear to be two-fold: that AI development will be hamstrung by implicit biases by non-diverse developers (she seems to have particular concern that gender non-conforming pe ...more
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
This book provides a business person’s perspective on how AI might shape the world, and tells how the current power brokers will use their dominance for control. For me, there did not seem to be that much meat to the author’s overall narrative and her last half of the book were even more substance free with her scenario storytelling, that is, her narratives about her narratives seemed hollow and not actually particularly good scenarios at that.

Diversity is good and necessary for exploring and un
Jul 18, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first part of the book feels very well researched and carefully written. Here the author gives us a somewhat brief history of AI and gives us some information about the Big Nine tech giants – Google, Amazon, Apple, IBM, Microsoft, Facebook, Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent. If I had to rate only this section, I would give it five stars.

In the second part the author throws us three different scenarios: an optimistic one, a pragmatic one and a catastrophic one. These “scenarios” could’ve easily been
Dan J
May 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Interesting history of AI beginnings, current events, and future revelations. The history is not especially different than what most already know, but valuable to the novice reader. I think her description of the current state of the glass ceiling for women in tech is her next book.

The last section on future AI was a bit novelistic.
The big takeaway is that much of AI may be baked in without female representation, which may negatively affect us all. And AI is and will be used to manipulate ever
Mar 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
4/2/19 My review after having finished The Big Nine:

Book Review: The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity
Author: Amy Webb
Publisher: Perseus Books, Public Affairs
Publication Date: March 5, 2019
Review Date: April 2, 2019

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

From the blurb:
“A call-to-arms about the broken nature of artificial intelligence, and the powerful corporations that are turning the human-machine relation
Feb 13, 2020 rated it it was ok
A better subtitle would be: "How the Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp USA"

Before I present my criticism let me say that I really enjoyed the first part (out of three) of the book. The other parts, yikes... I picked it up in hopes of learning new arguments for why we should "regulate" (read change-our-mind-set-about) AI, I did not learn any new arguments but the book did present an excellent history of AI and the present problems.

If you are a white person living in the US (or an
Jul 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, 2019-list
What. A. Book. Interested in artificial intelligence, technology, the way the future could be shaped by the intersection of the two? It’s coming — the future and the dominance of AI. But what does that mean? Webb not only provides detailed analysis, an impressive bibliography, and a history that’s multifaceted, but she also crafts storylines that support different decisions we could all make. Yes, us. You and me. Worth reading and rereading and taking action as a result!
A Million Books
Jun 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, 2019
I've never read a book on AI before, but this one was intriguing, informing and a warning all at the same time. Thoroughly enjoyed it. ...more
Mar 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I like this book a lot. It has some good (if very selective) bits of history of the AI evolution. I appreciated the (realistic) scenarios presented, and the framework of principles for the continuing evolution of ANI into ASI.

I learned a lot.
Ricardo Acuña
Most of the books nowadays about AI irruption focus on technology and job impacts, however this book from Amy Webb focus on AI GEOPOLITICS. You surely have heard that most analyst dramatically overestimate the applicability of AI or picture apocalyptic nightmares. This book goes different, raising a creative approach: an optimistic, a realistic and pessimistic scenario. The world map of geopolitics is the confrontation between two AI power nations: US and China. This is not new, most of the jour ...more
Apr 04, 2019 rated it liked it
My husband was thrilled with this book and plans to reread it. For me, it was a bit of a slog. I got bogged down in the technical details, was skeptical of the precise nature of the author's future forecasts, and thought the content was somewhat repetitious. Perhaps I was prejudiced by having first read Harari's "Homo Deus" which was also a forecast of the future and, in my opinion, a much more readable book. Still, if you are willing to put in the effort (and don't get easily depressed), you sh ...more
May 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Lots of fluff. US-centric and biased. Thinks the Chinese are hellbent on world domination.
Mar 27, 2020 rated it it was ok
If you’re looking for an in-depth exploration of the Big Nine’s individual and collective policies and histories regarding artificial intelligence (AI), this probably isn’t the writing for you. If you’re looking for a data- and expert-driven exploration of the future of artificial intelligence… this still isn’t the book for you. Unfortunately, I was a bit let down by this book, which covers an ambitious topic but manages to do so only superficially and without a cohesive stance on the present an ...more
This is a bit of a weird book.
The author has great experience in the world she speaks of, she spent decades immersed in the rarefied world of AI conglomerates as a researcher. She is like an ethnographer of the AI industry.

The author protests too much that the tech titans, like Google and Facebook, are benign. she keeps repeating this point and offers as proof the fact that they belong in the general liberal-democratic sphere, in contrast to Chinese industries like Baidu and Tencent
Mar 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
We’re on the cusp of an evolutionary moment for humankind – unleashing Artificial Intelligence forces that will fundamentally change the world and the way we live.

Big data analysis, pattern recognition and algorithmic decision-making will bring transformed energy use, efficient water consumption, improved traffic flows, better health care, smarter machines, lower costs, you name it.

The “thinking machines” tech is already scarily advanced – in some cases beyond the comprehension of its creators –
Steve Stanton
Apr 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This scary book about AI is an important read for anyone who is interested in the future of the human race. This is no longer science fiction. We all use AI every day, and our personal data is mined every time we text or email or log in our global position by using a phone. We have given up our privacy for ease of communication and convenience in banking, but now machines are building better machines that operate above human understanding. What happens next? Noted international futurist Amy Webb ...more
Sep 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Predicting future is extremely hard work. No doubt technology companies have way too much hold over our lives already. And in the future with the advent of AI and machine learning it will only get stronger.
Keeping these things in mind - the author foresees three scenarios - good, average and bad for humanity. And none of them seem acceptable.

Fitness trackers reporting our daily activities to insurance companies which not only alter our insurance rates but also disable our connected-to-internet
Sep 28, 2019 rated it liked it
This falls into a book that I feel is difficult to rate on Goodreads. In many respects, it was just okay; as I discuss below, there were certain aspects of the book that I found lacking. On the other hand, it was informative and challenging, and certainly worthwhile. Balancing those two sides of the read makes me default to the 3 of 5 stars ranking.

As the subtitle of the book suggests, the book looks at the rise of the so called "Big Nine" - Apple, Amazon, Google, IBM, Facebook, and Microsoft in
Malin Näfstadius
5 stars because this is the book we all need to read, since it's already too late to opt out of a future with AI.
The author outlines the major risks that threaten to lead us down a path where our technology no longer gives us ease, but instead increasing amounts of "paper cuts" that eventually turns into a surveillance nightmare: basically bias, transparency and money.

Bias for so many reasons, like that the vast majority of developers are, in US, white male seculars with liberal inclinations, an
Mar 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I stumbled upon this book on Amazon when I saw it among the top books in Artificial Intelligence. I was exploring this topic for finding good coding books on the subject. I have always been interested in knowing more about AI ever since it got into prominence and increasing use in the past few years. I believe that Google is the organization that has contributed the most to the third wave of AI (as the author mentions in the book). This wave may persist unlike its predecessors, which fizzled out ...more
May 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Webb rehearses the history of AI and explains how far it has progressed today in order to set up three possible future scenarios, which she calls optimistic, pragmatic, and catastrophic. The optimistic scenario is very Jetsons: all the tech titans and their spinoffs and their machines and software work together to give us delightful choices, harmonious work, surroundings, and lives. Possible even very safe sex. The catastrophic scenario is totalitarian, inhuman, and ugly. Webb believes that unle ...more
Eric Abell
Jun 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I'm still processing much of what this book presents. I like Amy Webb's style. She presents clear and cohesive arguments about a subject that could easily turn into an unreadable PhD thesis. This book is both easily accessible for folks not familiar with the subject of AI and presents some real questions that even the most seasoned AI expert needs to consider carefully.
I've always found it difficult to avoid the catastrophe bias and look at the way things are heading and think to myself that thi
Dec 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: abandoned
I was captivated by the first chapters, struggled through the next few, and gave up halfway. This "book" could have been a meaty article or even a series; the wealth of experience and anecdote certainly supports the author's thesis, but for me, it was clutter without further insight. I really didn't need to be told more than I needed to know or had already inferred. Undoubtedly we USers are in for some trouble because we have delegated the development of AI to huge multinationals whose only true ...more
Antonio Skarica
Feb 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
The Big Nine is a pretty fascinating book on the future of AI technologies and big business, with a great deal of scenario analysis and most importantly, specific policy proposals. It reads like a summary of much of the coverage of the topic by some of the bigger news outlets. For someone who's followed the debate on AI over the last few years the book won't offer anything new. The author does, however, offer a great discussion of future developments, with 3 scenarios regarding the potential rel ...more
Phil Simon
Mar 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Webb's thesis is sound: Unless we fully understand the history of AI, we're doomed. In fact, unless we get our arms around the issue and engage in some real long-term planning, we're doomed.

I for one hope that we come to our senses and adopt a prudent national and international strategy. Still, I'm skeptical for all sorts of reasons that Webb so adroitly manifests: the political winds that blow every four years, the current administration's disgraceful aversion to science and technology, Wall S
Oct 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
The book starts off well offering an interesting concise background on the historical roots of research on artificial intelligence. It is also helpful in explaining Chinese initiatives and progress in this domain. There are two major concerns with the book. First, it’s baffling that the author managed to write a whole book on this topic without ever mentioning Europe while she manages to mention pretty much every other continent (okay, not Antarctica). This includes ignoring GDPR altogether. Sec ...more
Peter Pereira
Jan 20, 2020 rated it liked it
Great book on many levels, but it is not really about what the Big Nine are specifically doing with AI, but rather an analysis of what possible outcomes we have in our AI dominated futures. A great read nonetheless, with some in-depth analysis. I don't want to spoil it here, but none of the outcomes are good LOL. ...more
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Amy Webb is a quantitative futurist and a bestselling, award-wining author. Her latest book is The Big Nine: How The Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity, a call-to-arms about the broken nature of artificial intelligence, and the powerful corporations that are turning the human-machine relationship on its head. 

She is a professor of strategic foresight at the NYU Stern Schoo

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