Book Review: Humans Need Not Apply by Jerry Kaplan

Humans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial IntelligenceHumans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Jerry Kaplan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

ABS brakes were the first step. The last will be us humans in observation cages next to the monkeys.

Jerry Kaplan is an expert in Artificial Intelligence and Computational Linguistics and attempts to guide the reader through what impacts AI and Robots will have on our future. In doing so, he raises many of the economic, ethical, and societal problems we are going to have to start addressing.

I first became aware of this book via CGP Grey’s short documentary of the same name (see below). To say there is a storm coming is an understatement. Kaplan guides us through the technological aspects of this topic with knowledge and skill. Where this book falls down is in his blind adherence to free-market solutions – ironically whilst pointing out several examples of where the free-market has failed in the past.

For example, some of his ideas about education are problematic. What he proposes with “job mortgages” is essentially traineeships and cadetships* that in my parents’ and grandparents’ generations were paid for by employers, with his modern twist being that employees should take out a job mortgage for. In other words, all of the cost and risk is moved from employers to employees.** How can anyone suggest that sort of thing as though they aren’t talking about slavery or indentured servitude?*** Sci-fi has been imagining that sort of scenario for decades and they weren’t calling it a good idea.

His comments about how rich people being in charge isn’t all bad, like back in ancient Eygpt… Because monarchies worked so well for everyone, who was a monarch.

Another gem was the idea that the free market could be in charge of wealth redistribution… Because it does such a great job of that right now. Now, in fairness, his plan was actually pretty good, but there were built in assumptions he didn’t really question despite laying out the framework with his discussion of automation taking our jobs.

Kaplan spent most of his book outlining what amounts to a post-scarcity world, a world where human “work” would essentially cease to exist, and thus cost, value and products become meaningless. How can you maintain our current economic system in that world? Don’t we need to be rethinking about what utopia we wish to design and the machines that will make that happen?

The final chapter has some interesting questions and ideas about what role humans can play in a world that the robots run and own. Whilst the ideas aren’t new, since science fiction has been prodding that topic for the best part of 70 years, he has grounded them in reality. If there is one takeaway from this book, it is that we all need to start planning the future now.

Overall, this was a fascinating book that is well worth reading.

* A point he acknowledges he is updating to be free-market and more “beneficial”
** It could be argued that this has already happened and Kaplan is just taking it one step further.
*** Again, a point he acknowledges with reference to AIs becoming free of ownership.

https://www.reddit.com/r/Futurology/c…
https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2…

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Book review: The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett

The Fifth Elephant (Discworld, #24; City Watch, #5)The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Do sugar lumps disappear or were they never there in the first place?

Sam Vimes is making sure The Watch is moving with the times and keeping Ankh-Morpork in line when Lord Vetinari summons him for a new job: ambassador. He is despatched to Uberwald for the upcoming coronation of the Low King. It isn’t long before he is using diplomacy to take care of bandits, solve a mystery, break traditions, and stop a coup. As Vimes says, “So this is diplomacy. It’s like lying, only to a better class of people.”

The first Discworld novel I read was Guards! Guards! so the City Watch series are always among my favourites. The Fifth Elephant is more plot orientated than some other Discworld novels, so it feels more streamlined and ordered than some others. That doesn’t mean that the humour or satire are lacking, even if they can be a bit subtle at times (e.g. feudalism vs capitalism commentary is rife but takes a backseat to the plot).

I really enjoyed this novel. Nothing more to say really.

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Book review: Stone Cold by Robert B Parker

Stone Cold (Jesse Stone, #4)Stone Cold by Robert B. Parker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wonder if new sex partners actually enjoy being told how much you love your ex?

In the affluent town of Paradise, someone has decided to start killing people. Two shots to the chest. The victims are unconnected and there are no clues for Jesse Stone to investigate. As the pressure mounts, he has to balance the murder investigation against getting justice for the rape of a high school girl, and his love life. Especially when one of Jesse’s sex partners becomes a victim of the serial killer.

I’ve been meaning to read some of Robert B Parker’s novels for quite some time. Parker was regarded as one of the best detective crime novelists in contemporary (American*) fiction, like Michael Connelly or James Lee Burke. I can see the similarities between Parker and Connelly, both having a relatively bleak and realism to their investigative tales. The life of an investigation is important to Parker and Connelly’s narratives, which often involves waiting on the lab results, or going home without having solved the crime, or going on a drive to chase a dead-end – a Connelly staple. Parker tends to pare back the prose, however, which made this feel like quite a short and fast-paced novel.

I’m not sure if Stone Cold is a good representation of Parker’s writing or not, but this was only a serviceable crime novel. Nothing really elevated it above okay to my mind.

*An important caveat that is often left out of these accolades for American authors.

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Book review: Torment by Hank Janson

TormentTorment by Hank Janson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dames: amiright?!

Hank Janson spots an old friend who has a new mentalist act they claim is really clairvoyance. He offers to promote the friend and his female assistants’ act via a test. Meanwhile, a woman approaches Janson about helping her find her sister’s killer. Also meanwhile, another woman approaches Janson about helping her brother with a pornography conviction. Then finally, the police contact Janson about covering a gruesome suicide – no women needing help with this one, so he was a bit disappointed. How are all of these things linked? Janson intends to find out.

A friend from my writers’ group recommended the Hank Janson novels to me last year. Janson was the pseudonym of Stephen D Frances and was used as the main character in a series of highly successful pulp crime novels in the 40s and 50s. It is immediately obvious why these novels were popular: fast-paced, women wanting Janson, intriguing plot, women wanting Janson, noir sensibilities, and women wanting Janson.

Noir, particularly crime noir, doesn’t date as badly as some other genres. Even with the dated attitudes and ideas, Torment didn’t make you start shaking your finger in admonishment of the -isms on display. For example, a subplot about going to prison for possessing (run-of-the-mill) porn might seem ridiculous today, but it doesn’t feel odd here.

These re-released 50th Anniversary Janson novels by Telos Publishing are worth a read for anyone chasing a crime noir or great pulp crime novels from yesteryear.

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Book review: Ice Station by Matthew Reilly

Ice Station (Shane Schofield, #1)Ice Station by Matthew Reilly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Suddenly I have a sudden urge to suddenly write a review of this book. Very sudden.

Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield has been dispatched to Wilkes Station after receiving their distress call. Some of the Wilkes science team have mysteriously disappeared after finding an unidentified “alien” craft deep under the ice. His crack team of Marines arrive to find they aren’t the only ones who responded. Clearly, more than one nation are interested in securing the craft, less so rescuing the scientists. With no support, and enemies coming from everywhere, Scarecrow will have to stay alive long enough to be in even more danger.

I can’t remember exactly when I first read Ice Station, but it must have been roughly a decade ago. It has been interesting to revisit a novel I enjoyed from an author who reinvigorated my love of reading. Some books lose their magic the second time around, and Ice Station, despite its fun and fast-paced narrative, wasn’t the novel I remembered.

Ice Station was still entertaining but the flaws stuck out this time. I found myself laughing a little bit everytime Reilly used the word sudden or suddenly. I’m not sure if I’m being too harsh or too forgiving – I derided a book for using a phrase I saw in this book – so I’ll have to revisit all of Reilly’s novels to check.

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Book vs Movie: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – What’s the Difference?

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This month’s What’s the Difference? from Cinefix covers Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

This month I’m just sharing.

Yep, that means I’ve neither read the book nor watched the movie.

Feel superior in the comments.

20 years ago a new generation was introduced to the peak of Gonzo Journalism with Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Really great filmmakers have tried and failed to bring the savage journey into the American Dream, so what makes Terry Gilliam’s version so successful? Time to get cracking and ask What’s the Difference?!

Book review: Zen in the Age of Anxiety by Tim Burkett

Zen in the Age of AnxietyZen in the Age of Anxiety by Tim Burkett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Clear your mind, relax, and read this review.

Zen in the Age of Anxiety is a guidebook and teaching manual that focuses on how to deal with stress, anxiety, and address the underlying mental behaviours that cause them. Burkett lays out the teachings and key points with easy to follow explanations and a series of anecdotes from his +50 years as a Zen practitioner and draws on his background in psychology.

This was a very interesting book. I originally borrowed a copy from the library because I’d previously read Lao Tzu’s Dao De Jing. Okay, a bit of a leap between the two, but Zen teachings have their roots in Buddhism, which in turn has roots in the Dao (Tao), something Burkett mentions in passing. There are a lot of helpful insights and practices in this book that could help most people in their lives. At the very least, it was interesting to read something with such a different perspective on life.

My only gripe was a minor one. A lot of practices and philosophies, especially those with “Eastern” origins, tend to be tied up with spiritualism and mysticism. As a result, there tends to be a blending of nonsense (both ancient and modern) with the good stuff. As an example, in a later chapter, there is an example given that involves an analogy with how vaccines and homoeopathy work. Except that it incorrectly describes how vaccines work, and incorrectly describes homoeopathy as working at all. So best to use a critical eye when reading.

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