Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence – What to Read Now

At, or near the top of Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Emerging Technology, 2017 sits machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). To understand precisely what these concepts are and what they will disrupt – we need to do some homework. The following list of key readings will help policy makers and military strategists alike set a course on mastering not only the basics of machine learning – but also the various speculations on where it is taking artificial intelligence.

Statistics 101 and Predictive Analytics – the Building Blocks of Machine Learning

⁕        Eric Seigels’ book on Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie, or Die is an excellent, non-technical primer on the statistical underpinnings of machine learning – and it may scratch the itch for those interested in big data.

⁕        Nate Silver’s book The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail–but Some Don’t is a nice primer on statistical approaches – both regarding big data – but also as it relates to predictive algorithms in general.

⁕        Forbes has a recent article on the 17 Predictions About The Future Of Big Data Everyone Should Read, by Bernard Marr. This run down offers some compelling basics for leaders to consider.

Machine Learning 101 – Want to Dig Deep – Start Here

 ⁕        The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World, by Pedro Domingos, provides a comprehensive look at the basics of machine learning. Domingos summarizese a very detailed review of the five primary schools of statistical thought found in most machine learning approaches. He does a great job of running down the history behind the statisticians that devised their given procedures. He then elaborates on their use in current artificial intelligent development efforts.

Applications of Machine Learning – In Society, At Work, and At War

 ⁕        The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, by Ray Kurzweil, and his empire of thought and research, that continues to dominate many in the field will offer you the most extreme view on where AI and machine learning is headed (among other trends. Kurzweil is a proven futurist that many tech leaders turn to for predicting driving forces. He elaborates on what the singularity might mean for humanity.

⁕        The Technological Singularity, by Murray Shanahan does not attempt to repeat the predictions of Kurzweil, but instead focuses on the implications of such an event occurring. He both explains advances in AI and predicts an accelerating timeline for large-scale adoption.

 ⁕        Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, by Martin Ford offers a clear-eyed analysis of how AI endowed systems will systematically replace, improve, and upgrade human endeavors.  Ford considers how these technologies might make our lives more comfortable while also making “good” jobs obsolete.

 ⁕        The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee offer a similar analysis along the lines of Martin Ford. They expand on the realm of the possible when AI is applied in self-driving cars and robots as well as when it is expanded to knowledge work such as information synthesis and medical diagnosis.

⁕        Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, by Nick Bostrom is probably the most cited by leading AI thinkers such as Stuart Russell, Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, etc. when they discuss how an AI that gains a level of self-awareness might respond to humans. Bostrom looks for the philosophical conclusions when the premise of super intelligence in machines reaches various extremes. A must read for military leaders.

⁕        Surviving AI: The Promise and Peril of Artificial Intelligence, by Calum Chace much like Bostrom, takes a sober look at what lays beyond a world saturated with super-intelligent systems.

⁕        The Industries of the Future, by Alec Ross, repeats the theme of what types of employment and work will be replaced by AI systems. However, as the Senior Advisor for Innovation to the Secretary of State under Hillary Rodham Clinton, he offers a policymaker’s perspective on the implications of these changes globally.

⁕        The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts, by Richard Susskind and Daniel Susskind provides the most thorough analysis of how artificially intelligent systems will displace knowledge workers. The authors argue that doctors, teachers, accountants, architects, the clergy, consultants, lawyers will not be needed soon. Read this, and then consider the future of intelligence analysts…

⁕        Our Robots, Ourselves: Robotics and the Myths of Autonomy, by David Mindell consider what doors unmanned systems can unlock for humanity – mostly focused on the dull, dirty, dangerous aspect of applying these systems. He explores the history of robots undersea, in space, etc. and questions just how much can be outsourced to these systems.

⁕        The Future of Violence: Robots and Germs, Hackers and Drones—Confronting A New Age of Threat, by Benjamin Wittes and Gabriella Blum provide a good start at some of the dialogue that should be occurring within policy circles on the use of unmanned systems and “human in the loop” concerns regarding warfare with intelligent machines.

⁕        Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence – one of the latest works on this topic – was written by Max Tegmark. The world-renowned mathematician provides many allegories and illustrative examples to consider the second and third order effects of a world with AI. A leading figure in this area, he helped author an open letter of concerns regarding AI that the preponderance of AI researchers signed subsequently. His questions move beyond examinations of AI’s effect on work – but also its impacts more broadly on societal issues such as crime, war, and governance.

Human Machine Interfaces – Bridging Man and Smart-Machines

⁕        Age of Context: Mobile, Sensors, Data and the Future of Privacy, by Shel Israel and Robert Scobie provided an early look at what the age of IoT would mean for the harvesting of big data and the application of predictive analytics that has come to fuel the machine learning hype engine. The authors argue that social media, along with four other driving forces, will fundamentally change every aspect of our lives.

⁕        Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better, by Clive Thompson discusses how revolutions in information technologies – from writing to printing press, to today’s global access to information – is raising all intellectual ships. Given this argument, the next question concerns how AI will take on more significant roles in curating the information that feeds a societies intellectual development. For policymakers wrestling with the scourge of “fake news” claims – this is a good starting point for consideration.

⁕        Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking, by Richard Nisbet, a renowned psychologist, considers the frailties of human cognitive faculties and the many errors in reasoning our biological brains produce. His findings, make a compelling argument for enhancements to our “system 2” reasoning via artificially intelligent means.

⁕        The Brain Electric: The Dramatic High-Tech Race to Merge Minds and Machines, by Malcom Gay, a leading neuroscientist, accounts for the drive to connect the biological world to the digital both for medical fixes as well as for future enhancements.

⁕        You Are Not a Gadget: Being Human in an Age of Technology, written by Jaron Lanier in 2009 provides a manifesto of sort that illustrates the negative impact the rise of advanced technologies and the global internet is having on humanity. His concern stems from the dimming of individual creativity and the rise of a hive collective followership.

Other Notables

⁕        Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, by Thomas Friedman provides a great history of convergence of factors that have led to the broad acceleration of innovation in the areas of artificially intelligent systems, human-machine teaming, human-machine interfaces, etc. He does so in a compelling narrative that also addresses the many philosophical questions treating the positive and negative results of this accelerating pace.

⁕        Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think, by Peter Diamandis, the X-Prize founder, believes the future will be brighter when AI, unmanned systems, and many other emerging technologies are put to best use. His optimistic approach is a welcome counterargument to many of the dystopian views others have of artificially intelligent systems.

⁕        The Royal Society has a nice report on Machine learning: the power and promise of computers that learn by example, that provides an exec sum view of applications of machine learning within organizations. Other consulting firms such as Deloitte, McKinsey, and Pew also offer detailed predictions of where various industries using and integrating machine learning developments are heading.

⁕        Watch Spike Jonze’s Her and Alex Garland’s Ex Machina for some great thought pieces on a world with fully realized AI.

Absolutely Relevant Brain Candy

⁕        Isaac Asimov’s Robot Visions, are not only entertaining but also very prescient. Readers will recognize predictions that have already come and gone and will benefit from considering many of the moral conundrums that arise with intelligent machines.

⁕        Dennis Taylor’s Bobiverse Series imagines a future where an AI becomes self-aware and manages to overcome engineering, relationship, political, and military problems.

⁕        Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is Harsh Mistress, has the reader imagine how an AI system could be leveraged to assist in military and governmental decision-making.

In conclusion, governments and militaries alike are at a point where they cannot ignore the abundance of research and anecdote pointing to a sea-change due to machine learning and the rise of artificially intelligent systems. Leaders need to become familiar both with the science and art of this emerging field. Master the references provided above and you will be well postured to influence this future.

As always – the views in this piece are mine alone and do not represent the U.S. government, Department of Defense, United States Army, or any other organization with which I have had any association.


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