Artificial intelligence (AI) may well be the most important technology emerging in the 21st century. It’s certainly on a par with genetics in its potential to reshape the way we live our lives. The more than two dozen good books about artificial intelligence reviewed here, including 13 works of nonfiction and 16 novels, examine the impact of the field from a wide range of different perspectives. Each of the titles is followed by the linked headline of its review.
Good books about artificial intelligence: nonfiction
Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler – Does technology promise humanity a bright future?
Though Diamandis’ focus is squarely on the exponential growth in speed, capability, and spread of information processing technologies, he is not a gadget freak. He recognizes the social and political context in which technology is brought to light, although he may downplay the ferocity of humanity’s innate resistance to change.
Thinking Machines: The Quest for Artificial Intelligence and Where It’s Taking Us Next by Luke Dormehl – Will robots run amok?
British science journalist Luke Dormehl delves deeply into the past, present, and future of humankind’s attempts to create machines capable of learning and decision-making on their own. His book serves up the background readers need to understand why such luminaries as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have warned us that AI poses a grave threat to our future as a species—while others including Ray Kurzweil, a pioneer in the field, predict a new Golden Age.
Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future by Martin Ford – Will robots create a jobless future?
The emerging application of robotics poses a real threat to the future wellbeing of our country and the world. In Rise of the Robots, Silicon Valley software developer Martin Ford lays out the case for that claim in a balanced and temperate way that’s all the scarier as a result. If you’re tempted to think that this threat will emerge only in the distant future, think again.
Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It by Marc Goodman – Future Crimes: the harsh truth about cyber security
Already, the car you drive may have as many as fifty microprocessors embedded within it. If your home becomes a smarthome, with all lights, locks, heating, cooling, and appliances controllable through a handheld device, your life will truly become vulnerable to malware (viruses, Trojans, and worms) as well as the predations of an identity thief or some other variety of Internet crook.
The Sentient Machine: The Coming Age of Artificial Intelligence by Amir Husain – Today’s artificial intelligence is transforming our lives, an expert insists
Artificial intelligence researchers draw a clear distinction between Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI) or Weak AI, which is present in Siri and self-driving cars, and Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), which is essentially the stuff of science fiction.
AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order by Kai-Fu Lee – The best book about artificial intelligence I’ve read so far
One of the world’s foremost experts on artificial intelligence asserts that China may soon reach parity with the US in most applications of AI. The result of advances in the field, he believes, will be massive concentration of wealth in the handful of AI companies, economic inequality far surpassing today’s, and widespread social and political disruption.
Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots by John Markoff – Will robots seize the day?
Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times technology and science reporter John Markoff asserts: “just as personal computing and the Internet have transformed the world during the past four decades, artificial intelligence and robotics will have an even larger impact during the next several.” However, Markoff is unclear what that impact will be.
Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think by Viktor Mayer-Schoeneberger and Kenneth Cukier – From two experts: The coming Big Data revolution
“At its core big data is about predictions. Though it is described as part of the branch of computer science called artificial intelligence, and more specifically, an area called machine learning, this characterization is misleading. Big data is not about trying to ‘teach’ a computer to ‘think’ like humans. Instead, it’s about applying math to huge quantities of data in order to infer probabilities: the likelihood that an email message is spam; that the typed letters ‘teh’ are supposed to be ‘the’; that the trajectory and velocity of a person jaywalking mean he’ll make it across the street in time [so that] the self-driving car need only slow slightly.” And what other than an intelligent machine could possibly accomplish this?
More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement by Ramez Naam – How to make humans smarter, stronger, and healthier
Researchers have proven in laboratories that they can help the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and stroke patients to communicate when they’re otherwise unable to do so. But Ramez Naam’s More Than Human will give you a sense of what these techniques can do for people who aren’t blind, deaf, or locked in to immobility. In his thought-provoking book, Naam lays out the proof that scientists will soon understand how to make humans smarter, stronger, and healthier.
AIQ: How Artificial Intelligence Works and How We Can Harness Its Power for a Better World by Nick Polson and James Scott—Two data scientists explain artificial intelligence for the lay reader
Most of the books about artificial intelligence highlight such things as self-driving cars and facial recognition—the brilliant innovations in hardware and software by the engineers and coders who build the stuff and make it work. They dwell variously on the field’s potential and its impact on our lives today. This book, by two academic data scientists, instead drills down into the underlying logic of AI, the fuel that powers it, and the statistical rules that govern its operations. Because artificial intelligence is all about statistical probabilities. And AIQ by Nick Polson and James Scott truly fulfills the promise of its subtitle: How Artificial Intelligence Works and How We Can Harness Its Power for a Better World.
Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World by Clive Thompson—Women programmers, blue-collar coders, and the world they’re building
“Programmers are . . . among the most quietly influential people on the planet. As we live in a world made of software, they’re the architects.” And their biases work their way willy-nilly into their work, which sometimes leads to tragic consequences. For example, the artificial-intelligence-based software used today in many court systems to screen prisoners for bail, probation, or diversionary treatment has been well-documented to discriminate against prisoners of color. Why? Because the limited data on which its decisions are based simply reflect the racist outcomes of the past. (“ProPublica found that [the software] was almost twice as likely to label a black defendant as getting a high-risk recidivist score than a white defendant, even when they controlled for these defendants’ prior crimes, age, and gender.”) And because the programmers who created and tweak this software weren’t sensitive enough to this problem to find ways around it.
2062: The World That AI Made by Toby Walsh—An AI expert worries about the robots of the future
Whether or not machines ever achieve consciousness, they will never be human. And should we be frightened? This AI expert worries that much could go wrong as artificial intelligence comes to play an ever-larger role in our lives. However, it’s highly unlikely robots will ever exterminate the human race, as some seem to suggest. Instead, Walsh writes about the practical, easily foreseeable threats already beginning to surface.
The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity by Amy Webb—An artificial intelligence skeptic paints a chilling picture of a future dominated by AI
A futurist well-versed in artificial intelligence speculates knowledgeably about AI’s impact on our future. She predicts that China will dominate the planet by mid-century unless the US government quickly reverses course and invests heavily in artificial intelligence research.
Good books about artificial intelligence: novels
Feed by M. T. Anderson – A terrifying vision of the future in an award-winning young adult novel
Feed tells the tale of Titus and his friends, six teenagers who hang out and party together. Like a majority of their fellow citizens—those who can afford the cost—they access all their news, advertising, education, games, “m-chat,” and money through implants in their brains—not just embedded chips but multipurpose devices that are fully integrated into their nervous systems.
Retrograde by Peter Cawdron—What life on Mars would really be like
In an international colony on Mars, a handful of scientists are forced to battle an amoral and aggressive artificial intelligence that has set off a nuclear war on Earth and is attempting to murder the humans in the colony.
Reentry (Retrograde #2) by Peter Cawdron—A fast-paced science fiction thriller grounded in believable science
Reentry picks up the story of Dr. Elizabeth Anderson as she returns from Mars to face an investigation of the battle she led there against the artificial intelligence that had ignited nuclear war on Earth. And in telling the tale, Cawdron paints a convincing picture of how astronauts, both past and present, experience life in space.
The Perfect Wife by J. P. Delaney—A psychological thriller in a science fiction setting
Abbie Cullen wakes up to discover that she is a cobot, a companion robot to her husband, a brilliant AI entrepreneur. How did she die? And did her husband kill her, even though he was charged and cleared of the crime? Or is Abbie in fact dead?
The Fear Index by Robert Harris – A taut thriller about the world of multibillion-dollar hedge funds
An extraordinarily brilliant and eccentric American physicist enters into a partnership with an English financier to form a hedge fund based on the scientist’s evolving AI research. The fund quickly grows to multibillion-dollar proportions because of the accuracy of the securities-trading algorithms developed by the physicist and his band of eccentric young mathematical researchers. What happens next isn’t pretty.
Avogadro Corp: The Singularity Is Closer Than it Appears (Singularity #1) by William Hertling—A cautionary tale about artificial intelligence
Will AI prove to be a boon to humanity — or our undoing? Or is neither extreme a likely outcome of the frenzied research now underway in corporate and university laboratories in China and the US? Take your pick. You’ll find advocates on every side of this debate, from the most wildly optimistic (Ray Kurzweil) to the balanced view (Bill Gates) to the gloomiest (Stephen Hawking). And where does the author of this novel stand? You’ll have to read it to find out.
This Perfect Day by Ira Levin – A superb tale of a future where artificial intelligence rules
Centuries in the future, the people of Earth live under the control of an artificial intelligence called UniComp. The result is a worldwide society free of war, hunger, crime, and violence of any sort. “Hate” and “fight” are swear words. This is the totalitarian society Ira Levin describes in his superb science fiction novel.
Nexus (Nexus Trilogy #1) by Ramez Naam – The post-human future explored in an outstanding SF novel
Will the transformation of humanity by artificial intelligence stop when computers begin to exceed the cognitive abilities of human beings? Is there a step far beyond into post-human abilities so far superior to those of humans today that a new species will result? This is the premise of computer scientist Ramez Naam’s brilliant SF trilogy.
Nexus, the first of the three books, portrays the impact of the development and spread of a drug called Nexus 5 that endows its users with transhuman abilities, including telepathic communication with other users. The novel revolves around the fierce and violent resistance of both the American and Chinese governments. The two countries have led the rest of the world to ban the drug’s use and imprison anyone found to be using it (including babies born with it in their systems.
Crux, the second book, focuses on the life-and-death struggle of Nexus’ creators to evade capture and inevitable torture and death at the hands of governments desperate to stamp out its use. In Apex, the final volume, war between human and posthuman breaks out and comes within a hair’s breadth of forever destroying human civilization.
The link above connects to my review of the first novel in the trilogy, Nexus. You’ll find my review of the second, Crux, at Not a single dull page in this science-based sci-fi thriller. The third book, Apex, can be found at In a brilliant sci-fi trilogy, a new post-human species emerges.
Autonomous by Annalee Newitz – In 2144, Arctic resorts, autonomous robots, and killer drugs
In Annalee Newitz’s brilliant science fiction novel, robots may take on an unlimited variety of shapes, sizes, and forms. Biobots closely resemble humans and include both biological and manufactured materials. Other robots, only vaguely humanoid, possess human brains to supplement their cybernetic capabilities. Yet others may be configured as insects, birds, or machines. A cybernetic soldier named Paladin is much more than a military machine: it communicates both wirelessly and by vocalizing, it is curious and continuously absorbs new information—and it hopes to gain its freedom from indenture and join the ranks of autonomous robots.
After Atlas (Planetfall, A) by Emma Newman – A 22nd century police procedural in a fascinating future Earth
British science fiction author Emma Newman paints a picture of a world you or I wouldn’t want to live in. Virtually everyone is “chipped” with implants in their brains that connect them to the world around them—and make them vulnerable to their bosses or public authorities. Many of the most talented people are enslaved in decades-long contracts resembling what was once called indentured servitude.
Absence of Mind by H.C.H. Ritz – In an unusually original sci-fi technothriller, technology meets neuroscience
In the near future, most people have implanted communication devices that allow them to communicate telepathically as well as by using their voices. A psychiatric nurse at Atlanta’s largest hospital encounters a baffling neurological pandemic that is flooding the city’s hospitals with “aggressive and paranoid people.” The nurse investigates this curious epidemic, fearing a connection to the device she has in her head.
Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut – Kurt Vonnegut’s warning about automation
A sprawling automated factory in the town of Ilium, New York, produces a multitude of products, as determined by EPICAC XIV, the computer that manages the country’s economy with nominal human supervision. It’s one of a number of such facilities, all integrated into the economic machine that supplies everything anyone in the U.S. might need to live comfortably. The problem is that machines have displaced people from virtually all the jobs.”
Amped by Daniel H. Wilson – Want to buy a brain implant? Think twice
Amped ventures into the near future to depict American society in upheaval over the brain implants installed in half a million of its least fortunate citizens. The implants “amplify” the brains of the elderly and infirm, accident victims, and those with severe mental illness and mental retardation, allowing them to focus clearly and to make the most efficient use possible of their bodies. These “amps” are smarter, quicker, and stronger than the average bear—and the vast majority of Americans don’t like it one bit.
Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson – Outstanding speculative novel about one possible future
If you’re imagining ranks of humanoid robots marching in lockstep as they trample on humanity and all else that we’ve created, you’re on the wrong track. This is a science fiction novel, to be sure, and as the title suggests it depicts an apocalyptic future, but it’s a future with a difference. This is a treatment of robots and automation from an entirely different perspective—and it’s written by a robotics scientist. It’s engaging. And it’s very, very scary.
For additional reading
For an excellent survey of the thinking about the potential impact of Artificial General Intelligence, see “How Frightened Should We Be by A.I.?” by Tad Friend in The New Yorker (May 14, 2018). And for an insightful account of the debate about the potential impact of artificial intelligence, see “Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and the Feud Over Killer Robots” by Cade Metz, which appeared in the New York Times (June 9, 2018). And for more perspective on the impact of AI, see “‘Disastrous’ lack of diversity in AI industry perpetuates bias, study finds” (The Guardian, April 16, 2019).
If these books about artificial intelligence intrigue you, you might also be interested in The top 10 dystopian novels reviewed here (plus dozens of others), Great sci-fi novels reviewed: my top 10 (plus dozens of runners-up), or Science explained in 10 excellent popular books (plus dozens of others).
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