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Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  1,062 ratings  ·  164 reviews
A leading artificial intelligence researcher lays out a new approach to AI that will enable us to coexist successfully with increasingly intelligent machines

In the popular imagination, superhuman artificial intelligence is an approaching tidal wave that threatens not just jobs and human relationships, but civilization itself. Conflict between humans and machines is see
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published October 8th 2019 by Viking
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Let's start with the most important thing: if you have any interest in finding out where technology is heading, please read this book. I particularly recommend that people who know something about moral philosophy do so. You may dislike Human Compatible, you may object to the way the author treats your subject, but you really ought to learn about what's happening here. Moral philosophy has become shockingly relevant to the near-term future of humanity.

I'll back up a little. Since the beginning o
Jan 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Are you interested in Artificial Intelligence and the existential issues it heralds? Then this book is for you. If you, at some point in your travels, got so high on Jamaican hash that you experienced what might reasonably be called a psychotic break, causing you to collapse in supplication before your Vintage Vinyl Cape Jawa and serenade it with impromptu poetics:

We must assure good morals,
Inside future A-G-I.
To prevent a future quarrel,
In which many of us die.

And so that we may proceed,
In our
Michael Perkins
Jan 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Funny and true....

Douglas Adams came up with three rules concerning our interaction with technology:

1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things


“He who controls the algo
Dustin Juliano
Oct 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing

The thesis of this book is that we need to change the way we develop AI if we want it to remain beneficial to us in the future. Russell discusses a different kind of machine learning approach to help solve the problem.

The idea is to use something called Inverse Reinforcement Learning. It basically means having AI learn our preferences and goals by observing us. This is in contrast to us specifying goals for the AI, a mainstream practice that he refers to as the “standard model”. Add some game th

Sebastian Gebski
Oct 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It's quite specific, but personally I've enjoyed it A LOT.
It's a book about REAL AI (not statistics!) w/o buzzwords.

These are mainly philosophical considerations (about conscience, instincts, control mechanisms, ethics, superiority and many more) that DO have a lot of practical applicability. What I appreciate is:
* the book doesn't look for cheap publicity ("we're all doomed!")
* it doesn't try to "ride on the hype wave"
* it's really thorough when it comes to different dilemmas - possibly TOO muc
Aug 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm a computer guy, but I don't know much about how AI works. Russell added a lot to my knowledge & did so in basic steps that I appreciated. As in any field, there's a vocabulary to pick up & while it often resembles typical speech, there can important differences that need to be spelled out. This holds especially true with concepts that we don't understand well in ourselves & yet are trying to build into machines, specifically "intelligence". Just what that is only partially answered in the se ...more
Nilendu Misra
Sep 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A delightful book on theory, practicality and implications of AI from one of its pioneers. Has a strong intellectual rigor under the fluent style. Loved it!
Liina Bachmann
Feb 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
It took me ages to finish this one probably because it caused me such anxiety and to be honest, depressed me so, that I tolerated it only in small doses. The continuous striving for greater and greater efficiency and doing things faster (what AI largely aims for) - it reminds me of a hamster wheel that at one point will fall over. We all know that more efficiency will not give us more free time. Quite the contrary - the wheel will start to spin even faster. Let the hamster rather take a leisurel ...more
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
(4.5 stars) Clear down to earth discussion of the looming problem of AI especially superintelligent generalized AI. It all seems so remote in an age where intelligence is widely praised and little applied. It gets really interesting when the author talks about human preferences that AI should align with. Once we are talking about multiple humans things enter the realm of social life and politics. I'd love to see the algorithms a team of engineers would put into that equation. Messy problem best ...more
Bryan Murphy
Jan 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If ever a book deserved the epithet "must-read", it is this one.
Vidur Kapur
May 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
An engaging, well-written book by one of the leading experts in his field. Russell writes that a number of breakthroughs are needed before we're able to build an artificial general intelligence (AGI), and indeed is personally more conservative in his estimates of when AGI will be built than the median AI expert. These breakthroughs include language, abstract action discovery, and the management of mental activity.

In order to control such an AI, and align it with human interests, Russell propose
Apr 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ai
A lot of writing on AI safety (lots from the effective altruism community) can't help but sound far-fetched and crazy. One of my main gripes is that most of these theoretical analyses and hypothetical scenarios are too distanced from what is actually happening in research / practice.

Russell somehow manages to communicate the minority view on the importance of the safety / control problem, while remaining grounded in practical problems and research methods. It's such a difficult topic to write a
Gevorg Yeghikyan
Dec 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Just F***ING read this book!
Laura Hill
Feb 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An extremely well-written, comprehensive overview of Artificial Intelligence (AI) — with a focus on the very real risks it poses to the continued viability of the human race and a proposal for how to move forward reaping the benefits of AI without making us “seriously unhappy.”

AI Pioneer Stuart Russell is a Professor of Computer Science at UC Berkeley, has numerous awards, fellowships, chairmanships, etc. and has co-authored a textbook on AI with Peter Norvig. This is a book written by that rar
Jun 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
An interesting study about possible threats of artificial intelligence on humans and on the existence of civilization. Learned quite a bit of new information from this book.
It is actually a 5* book but wasn't overly happy with the style of writing.
Keith Swenson
Dec 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
After years of disappointing expectations, AI is finally arriving. It is here today in nascent form, and will surely expand capabilities quickly. But can we avoid creating a super intelligence that destroys humanity? This concern is routinely listed on the top five possible ways for humanity to terminate itself -- so listen up: this is important.

Russell steps back from this dire prognostication to begin the book with a review of AI, how it has come along to where we are today. The Baldwin effect
Oct 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Human compatibility, in regards to the subject of A.I is the notion of a superintellegent* complex of software which is compatible with humans. This may sound funky. So allow me to explain.

Given our present trajectory of civilization - in where we are becoming not only more automated, but more reliant on computers, it seems likely that A.I will become omnipresent. This is, in other words, software that can take in new data, react, and change its data structure to respond more approp
Jay Batson
Oct 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is worthy of reading if you have any interest in AI, for three reasons.

First, it is a super-well-informed author who provides a very-well balanced discussion of the issues humans might face upon the emergence of a super-intelligent AI. I'm much more able to get my arms around Russell's arguments than I am Nick Bostrom's Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies; though Bostrom is well-informed, his tendency is to inflame fear, while Russell is better at simply making a well-reasoned cas
Dec 11, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: junk
Another nobody who has found the best solution ever: we should get a czar to lead us!
Henry Cooksley
Oct 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great introduction to the AI alignment problem, but written for a more popular audience than e.g. Nick Bostrom's book Superintelligence. This was particularly useful for understanding Stuart Russell's passion for exploring AI safety and control concepts in CS education. For that reason, I'm very excited to see a release date for the 4th edition of Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach is now public: February 4, 2020, according to

“More than one hundred billion people have lived
May 08, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: technology, return-bin, ai
This was terrible...
I did not finish it. I made it ~halfway through and then pulled the plug, which is something I almost never do.
I was excited to read this one, as I am very interested in AI. Author Stuart Russell's delivery left much to be desired, however...
The book is written in an extremely dry and long-winded manner. I found my attention wandering, and was getting irritated. The reading was extremely tedious and jumped around quite a lot.
The final straw was hearing him talk about how c
Nov 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Not all AI books work as audiobooks, but this one did. The author uses a sense of humor and very clear descriptions to explain everything from AI to blockchain to quantum computing. He suggests many thought provoking approaches to how we should pursue AI research, while also considering it's implications.
Taylor Barkley
Nov 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is indeed a stand out book in the AI genre. It both presents a clear challenge, but unlike others that do the same, doesn’t wallow in the problem but instead charts a path forward. I found it challenging in a good way to my own perspective and will be thinking about it a lot.
Fernando Escobar
Feb 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Not an expert in the subject, but I thought ir was great. I liked he took the time to explain the mathematical and scientific underpinnings of modern AI. I wished he would of gone more "apocalyptic" on the threats of AI, but you do leave the book with a lot of concerns.
Teo 2050


Russell S (2019) (11:38) Human Compatible - Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control


• Why This Book? Why Now?
• Overview of the Book

01. If We Succeed
• How Did We Get Here?
• What Happens Next?
• What Went Wrong?
• Can We Fix It?

02. Intelligence in Humans and Machines
• Intelligence
• • Evolutionary origins
• • Evolutionary accelerator
• • Rationality for one
• • Rationality for two
• Computers
• • The limits of computation
• Intelligent Computers
• • Ag
Apr 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Human Compatible is a book by an eminent AI researcher that looks at how AI works and the questions that need to be considered, philosophically and practically, to try and ensure AI follows the right objectives and control. Russell runs through ideas of intelligence, how AI might be used and misused, key debates in AI, and the complications of humans themselves, in a mostly approachable way, with more complex explanations put in appendices at the end. As someone who co-wrote a popular textbook o ...more
Dec 30, 2019 rated it liked it
The topic is good and Stuart Russel is a great mind, but this book lacks depth unfortunately. It's a good overview, and there's good discussion of one model that people consider for this problem, so it's worth reading I think, but I continually felt like there were topics that should have been elaborated, or cases where depth should have been more thoroughly explored.

In a way, I suspect this could be a result of the book lacking clarity in terms of audience. It could also be that some areas (suc
Cliff Moyce
Jun 11, 2020 rated it liked it
An interesting book, though I don’t recommend the version on Audible - which is read by a Shakespearean actor who recently arrived from the 19th century. The irony of the contrast between his performance and the subject of AI is hysterical .
But back to the book... it’s ok but it suffers from the competing demands of popular science books: ending enough detail to satisfy people with more than a passing interest in AI (for science, engineering or business purposes) but not so much that the average
Feb 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Pathbreaking in its hypothesis. Gives a totally new approach to building general purpose AI machines. The key is to develop them to handle uncertainty and make them ask humans the question when they are not sure. Also they should be happy to allow themselves to be shut off. With these ideas Russell comes up with a crystal clear path that if explored and made a reality, could become a game changer. Go for it.
Jul 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Short and easily accessible intro to contemporary AI issues. I was familiar with most of the content but still found some insightful perspective on what to be worried about (and not worried about) as well as theoretical paths forward for safe AI. However, the book basically stops there, with very little in the practical “how” to proceed from there. For those looking for what’s next in AI, you won’t find much here to satisfy you. That said, those new to AI or unfamiliar with the context, this is ...more
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Ashley Poston made her name with Once Upon a Con, a contemporary series set in the world of fandom, and her two-part space opera, Heart of...
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“Finally, methods of control can be direct if a government is able to implement rewards and punishments based on behavior. Such a system treats people as reinforcement learning algorithms, training them to optimize the objective set by the state. The temptation for a government, particularly one with a top-down, engineering mind-set, is to reason as follows: it would be better if everyone behaved well, had a patriotic attitude, and contributed to the progress of the country; technology enables measurement of individual behavior, attitudes, and contributions; therefore, everyone will be better off if we set up a technology-based system of monitoring and control based on rewards and punishments.” 2 likes
“There’s only a limited amount that AI researchers can do to influence the evolution of global policy on AI. We can point to possible applications that would provide economic and social benefits; we can warn about possible misuses such as surveillance and weapons; and we can provide roadmaps for the likely path of future developments and their impacts. Perhaps the most important thing we can do is to design AI systems that are, to the extent possible, provably safe and beneficial for humans.” 1 likes
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