The best books on artificial intelligence that are not full of hype and nonsense

Who am I?

I’ve been a geeky kid all my life. (I don’t think I’ve quite grown up yet.) Born in the 1970s, my childhood was a wonderful playground of building robots and software. I was awarded one of the early degrees in AI, and a PhD in genetic algorithms. I’ve since spent 25 years exploring how to make computers think, build, invent, compose… and I’ve also spent 20 years writing popular science books. I’m lucky enough to be a Professor in one of the world’s best universities for Computer Science and Machine Learning: UCL, and I guess I’ve written two or three hundred scientific papers over the years. I still think I know nothing at all about real or artificial intelligence, but then does anyone?

I wrote...

Artificial Intelligence and Robotics: Ten Short Lessons

By Peter J. Bentley,

Book cover of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics: Ten Short Lessons

What is my book about?

In Artificial Intelligence and Robotics: Ten Short Lessons, leading expert Peter J. Bentley breaks down the fast-moving world of computers into ten pivotal lessons, presenting the reader with the essential information they need to get to understand our most powerful technology and its remarkable implications for our species.

From the origins and motivation behind the birth of AI and robotics to using smart algorithms that allow us to build good robots, from the technologies that enable computers to understand a huge range of sensory information, including language and communication, to the challenges of emotional intelligence, unpredictable environments, and imagination in artificial intelligence, this is a cutting-edge, expert-led guide for curious minds. Packed full of easy-to-understand diagrams, pictures, and fact boxes, these ten lessons cover all the basics, as well as the latest understanding and developments, to enlighten the nonscientist.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Rage Inside the Machine: The Prejudice of Algorithms, and How to Stop the Internet Making Bigots of Us All

Peter J. Bentley Why did I love this book?

OK, I’m biased here because Rob is an old friend of mine. We first met at academic conferences and had several heated debates (arguments). But after spending a little time together at a workshop we realised each probably knew what they were talking about after all. Robert Elliott Smith, I should make clear it's not the Rob Smith who writes about “Artificial Superintelligence”. Those books definitely do not make this list.

Our Rob is a coherent, grounded scientist with bags of real-world experience, and he brings his knowledge to this title with gusto, telling us about how AI is affecting our lives in ways you never thought possible – and often not in a good way. If you want to understand what can go wrong with AI and what we should be doing to stop it, don’t read about singularities or other such nonsense, read this.

By Robert Elliott Smith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rage Inside the Machine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shortlisted for the 2020 Business Book Awards

We live in a world increasingly ruled by technology; we seem as governed by technology as we do by laws and regulations. Frighteningly often, the influence of technology in and on our lives goes completely unchallenged by citizens and governments. We comfort ourselves with the soothing refrain that technology has no morals and can display no prejudice, and it's only the users of technology who distort certain aspects of it.

But is this statement actually true? Dr Robert Smith thinks it is dangerously untrue in the modern era.

Having worked in the field…

Book cover of AI: Its Nature and Future

Peter J. Bentley Why did I love this book?

Maggie is a force of nature and anyone involved in the philosophy of AI knows (or should know) her extensive work. This book is an easy-to-read and beautifully-written introduction to Artificial Intelligence, which tells some of the recent history while explaining how and why intelligence is much harder to make than many of the pundits seem to think. No nonsense here – a good solid read by a hugely experienced scientist at the top of her field.

By Margaret A. Boden,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked AI as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The applications of Artificial Intelligence lie all around us; in our homes, schools and offices, in our cinemas, in art galleries and - not least - on the Internet. The results of Artificial Intelligence have been invaluable to biologists, psychologists, and linguists in helping to understand the processes of memory, learning, and language from a fresh angle.

As a concept, Artificial Intelligence has fuelled and sharpened the philosophical debates concerning the nature of the mind, intelligence, and the uniqueness of human beings. Margaret A. Boden reviews the philosophical and technological challenges raised by Artificial Intelligence, considering whether programs could ever…

Book cover of Artifictional Intelligence: Against Humanity's Surrender to Computers

Peter J. Bentley Why did I love this book?

I’ve not met Harry, but he seems to have a logical and sensible head on his shoulders. His writing is considered and grounded, which is exactly what you need when discussing the hype that forever seems to surround AI. This book is another look at this topic and finds yet more ways to explain to readers the difference between human intelligence and our algorithmic attempts at intelligence – which are frequently pretty stupid.

By Harry Collins,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Artifictional Intelligence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Recent startling successes in machine intelligence using a technique called 'deep learning' seem to blur the line between human and machine as never before. Are computers on the cusp of becoming so intelligent that they will render humans obsolete? Harry Collins argues we are getting ahead of ourselves, caught up in images of a fantastical future dreamt up in fictional portrayals. The greater present danger is that we lose sight of the very real limitations of artificial intelligence and readily enslave ourselves to stupid computers: the 'Surrender'.

By dissecting the intricacies of language use and meaning, Collins shows how far…

Book cover of The Integral Trees: And the Smoke Ring

Peter J. Bentley Why did I love this book?

When I’m not developing AI methods (or writing about them) I read. Most of what I read is science fiction. There’s nothing more imaginative than a good science fiction book, and many science fiction stories have inspired us to develop whole new technologies. This one probably won’t do that, but it has such a bizarre mind-bending world that I couldn’t resist recommending it. Niven is great at this kind of thing – the Ringworld books were a favourite of mine as a kid, and frankly, I could recommend another 30 of his books. But Integral Trees is entertaining, a little bizarre, and it even has diagrams to illustrate the underlying concepts at the start – what more could you ask for in a science fiction book?

By Larry Niven,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Integral Trees as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Niven has come up with an idea about as far out as one can get. . . . This is certainly classic science fiction—the idea is truly the hero.”—Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine

When leaving Earth, the crew of the spaceship Discipline was prepared for a routine assignment. Dispatched by the all-powerful State on a mission of interstellar exploration and colonization, Discipline was aided (and secretly spied upon) by Sharls Davis Kendy, an emotionless computer intelligence programmed to monitor the loyalty and obedience of the crew. But what they weren’t prepared for was the smoke ring–an immense gaseous envelope that had…

Book cover of On

Peter J. Bentley Why did I love this book?

This is another break from AI, and it’s another bizarre world. Why do computer scientists like this kind of thing? I think it’s because we invent mind-bending mathematical worlds in which our algorithms live – we like to explore the strange and weird. When reading this book, at first you wonder if this is science fiction at all – the story seems fantastical. But check out the Appendix and there’s the scientific explanation, complete with equations for the weird laws of physics. Now, this is a proper hard science fiction book… somehow disguised almost as a fairy tale. A lovely read and the ending is suitably in keeping with the rest of the story… Unexpected.

By Adam Roberts,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Tighe lives on the wall. It towers above his village and falls away below it. It is vast and unforgiving and it is everything he knows. Life is hard on the wall, little more than a clinging on for dear life. And then one day Tighe falls off the wall. And falls, and falls, and falls ...Lavishly praised everywhere from Asimov's magazine to Interzone, ON is proof positive that Adam Roberts is a new author whose potential for greatness is rapidly being realised. ON is at once a vertiginous concept novel, a coming of age saga, a picaresque journey across…

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Why We Hate: Understanding the Roots of Human Conflict

By Michael Ruse,

Book cover of Why We Hate: Understanding the Roots of Human Conflict

Michael Ruse Author Of Why We Hate: Understanding the Roots of Human Conflict

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Teacher (professor) Author Darwin specialist Charles Dickens fanatic

Michael's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Why We Hate asks why a social animal like Homo sapiens shows such hostility to fellow species members. The invasion of the Ukraine by Russia? The antisemitism found on US campuses in the last year? The answer and solution lies in the Darwinian theory of evolution through natural selection.

Being social is biology’s way of ensuring survival and reproduction. With the coming of agriculture 10,000 years ago, new conditions – primarily much-increased population numbers – meant that sociality broke down as we battled for our share of much-reduced resources. But, as cultural change brought about our troubles, so culture offers prospects of a future where our social natures can emerge and thrive again.

Why We Hate: Understanding the Roots of Human Conflict

By Michael Ruse,

What is this book about?

An insightful and probing exploration of the contradiction between humans' enormous capacity for hatred and their evolutionary development as a social species

Why We Hate tackles a pressing issue of both longstanding interest and fresh relevance: why a social species like Homo sapiens should nevertheless be so hateful to itself. We go to war and are prejudiced against our fellow human beings. We discriminate on the basis of nationality, class, race, sexual orientation, religion, and gender. Why are humans at once so social and so hateful to each other? In this book, prominent philosopher Michael Ruse looks at scientific

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