A different mindset Jul 12, 2017

One of the things I get to do on vacation, and especially while traveling by train, is reading (e-)books - tons of them, in fact.

I tend to read a lot all year round, technical articles, textbooks, techie weblogs, world news, and of course code… masses of code.

But on the road (track?), I prefer a different mindset, reading (i.e. devouring) thrillers, and … stuff that gives me new perspectives.

Here’s my selection of this year’s material, which ended up going in a pretty thought-provoking direction: our place in the world and the path we’re on. Heavy stuff.

Not strictly this year’s reading, although I only finished it this vacation: “Digitale Demenz” by Manfred Spitzer (in German) - 2014, 368 pages, ISBN 9783426300565:

The byline says it all: “How we’re making our kids crazy”. Smartphones and such…

The second book really blew my mind: “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari - 2015, 464 pages, ISBN 9780062316097:

It’s a fascinating view on the role of our species across all history, and what made Homo Sapiens so dominant and successful (at least in evolutionary terms). The magic word is storytelling - read the book, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Seriously.

In his second book, the story continues: “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow” by Yuval Noah Harari - 2017, 464 pages, ISBN 9780062464316:

This one is very intriguing: a historian who identifies trends and dares to extrapolate them to the future? I found it to be a great analysis of where we are and the places we might be headed for. Tricky stuff.

Next on the list, this one again in German: “Evolution Ohne Uns” by Jay Tuck - 2016, 338 pages, ISBN 3864704014:

The byline says it all again: “Will artificial intelligence kill us?” - according to Tuck, we’re creating a perfect encyclopedia of all our knowledge, strengths, and weaknesses, in the form of the web - which can then be instantly devoured by AI when it reaches a certain level. And once that happens, it’ll be game over in the blink of an eye.

Can we avoid it? Consider “merely” asking the machine to calculate the digits of π to arbitrary precision, the AI then “deciding” that it needs more computing power, taking over most of the internet, performing its task as requested by redirecting all the planet’s energy to that task, and killing off humans and other life as side effect - oops?

And that’s where my last book comes in: “Daring Greatly” by Brené Brown - 2015, 320 pages, ISBN 9781592408412:

She also gave a few presentations on TED. It’s a wonderful story about what matters.

Sooo… that was quite some heavy reading while traveling in Germany and Denmark! As a tech geek, hopelessly infatuated with gadgets, algorithms, and circuits, I’ve now become a bit scared of where we’re headed.

Have we lost ourselves in technology?

PS. The next book on my list is probably: “Superintelligence”, by Nick Bostrom - 2013, 352 pages, ISBN 9780199678112.

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