101 books directly related to artificial intelligence 📚

All 101 artificial intelligence books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

By Douglas R. Hofstadter,

Book cover of Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

Why this book?

The focus of this book is self-reference and recursion. By explaining what formal systems are and how they can be identified in music and art, Hofstadter illustrates how fundamental concepts of computing appear in unexpected areas of our lives. A focus of this book is on the principal limitations of formal systems and thus of computing. Some parts of the book may be hard to digest due to the significant use of formal symbol manipulation, and with 777 pages it is not a quick read. The effort is, however, rewarded with deep insights into Gödel's incompleteness theorem and its implication for computing. This is a brilliant book, a true classic, which contains much food for thought.


Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms

By Hannah Fry,

Book cover of Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms

Why this book?

This is a clever and highly readable guide to the brave new world of algorithms: what they are, how they work, and their strengths and weaknesses. It’s packed with stories and vivid examples, but Dr Fry is a serious mathematician and when it comes to the crunch she is well able to show it with clear and rigorous analysis.


Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution

By Steven Levy,

Book cover of Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution

Why this book?

Hackers is a classic account of the computer revolution, centered on the pioneering tinkerers, gamers, social theorists, entrepreneurs, and other explorers who made military and corporate technology personal. These are not hackers in the criminal sense most people understand the term today, but men (and a few women) like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and others far less famous. Their interwoven biographies are brilliantly researched and reported, underpinned by what Levy calls a common “hacker ethic” whose tenets dominate our economy, politics, and culture today.


Machines Like Me

By Ian McEwan,

Book cover of Machines Like Me

Why this book?

Adam is a limited edition robot who can pass for human (something I can’t do on a bad day). It takes a while for Adam to learn to be part of that world, but as time passes, he moves from being the slave of his owner Charlie to being better than him in every way (just ask his girlfriend!). I kept thinking of what would it be like to have a better version of me hanging around the house. It took slaves a long time to be recognized as people, how long for the robots?

The Deep Learning Revolution

By Terrence J. Sejnowski,

Book cover of The Deep Learning Revolution

Why this book?

The other books in this series are mostly about the real brain. But artificial intelligence promises us a new enhanced brain. What does the future hold? Terrence Sejnowski is a neuroscientist who was one of the first to realize the potential of AI. Since he has been there from the start, in this book he gives the reader an exciting inside story on the people and the advances that are reshaping our lives.

Early attempts at AI were limited, but once computational power took off big computers running multilayer neural nets began proving that they could defeat humans at the most demanding games, enhance human capabilities such as pattern recognition, text recognition, language translation, and driverless vehicles, and work to obtain rewards, just like a human. While these advances are dramatic, it is well to remember that the networks are built not from representations of real neurons, but rather from nodes connected by wires based on systems in physics. Our challenge is to constantly test these artificial nets against the connectivity of the real brain in order to enhance human lives for the good and not for the bad.


Architects of Intelligence: The truth about AI from the people building it

By Martin Ford,

Book cover of Architects of Intelligence: The truth about AI from the people building it

Why this book?

This book provides a good introduction to the current state of machine intelligence through interviews with many leading practitioners including Geoffrey Hinton, Yann LeCun, Stuart Russell, and Demis Hassabis (DeepMind). You will get a sense of both of AI’s recent accomplishments and how far it falls short of full human intelligence.


The Invincible

By Stanislaw Lem,

Book cover of The Invincible

Why this book?

Stanislaw Lem, the Polish philosopher and science fiction novelist, had the talent of writing novels that raise profound questions about the human condition. One of the issues he tackled was whether our human form of intelligence is just one of many types of intelligence that might be found in the universe.

In one of his most gripping and mind-stretching novels, The Invincible, an Earth spaceship lands on an apparently uninhabited planet only to find that many years previously, another race had crash-landed on the planet, and their small, robotic assistants were the main survivors of the crash. Those automata evolved into a collection of tiny “flies,” which, although not individually conscious or possessed of reasoning, use evolved herd behaviors to destroy their surviving alien masters and all other living creatures on the planet’s surface. When the humans from Earth explore the planet, they encounter clouds of these tiny metallic creatures who think as one entity and kill any other living creatures including the humans from Earth.

Lem’s novels, such as The Invincible, are groundbreaking from a philosophical point of view because they show us that conceptualizing intelligence and consciousness in human terms and elevating it to the peak of evolutionary development is a limitation in our thinking, based upon our anthropocentrism.


2001: A Space Odyssey

By Arthur C. Clarke,

Book cover of 2001: A Space Odyssey

Why this book?

Obviously we have passed 2001 chronologically, but unfortunately we haven't reached the levels of technology depicted in this novel. Part of 2001: A Space Odyssey takes place on the Moon, where it introduces a large, well-established lunar base at Tycho (that I alluded to in my own novel). The mysterious alien monolith nearby pushes the action beyond Luna and toward the outer planets aboard the spaceship Discovery, which I consider still to be one of the best-designed spacecraft ever. Clarke wrote the novel while Stanley Kubrick was making the 1968 film, but expanded the story to take the action beyond Jupiter all the way to Saturn; however, much of the basic plot remains the same, including the sinister malfunction of the HAL-9000 computer. 


AI: Its Nature and Future

By Margaret A. Boden,

Book cover of AI: Its Nature and Future

Why 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.


Artifictional Intelligence: Against Humanity's Surrender to Computers

By Harry Collins,

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

Why 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.


The Integral Trees: And the Smoke Ring

By Larry Niven,

Book cover of The Integral Trees: And the Smoke Ring

Why 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?


Auxiliary: London 2039

By Jon Richter,

Book cover of Auxiliary: London 2039

Why this book?

A noir Cyberpunk book set in the UK (which itself makes it distinctive). Great characters, crazy technology, and lots of drama make Auxiliary seriously gripping. If you like Cyberpunk, robotics/Artificial Intelligence, and dark, dystopian thrillers, you will love this! Just a word of warning, though, this is not for the faint of heart...

AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order

By Kai-Fu Lee,

Book cover of AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order

Why this book?

I spend a lot of time thinking about the relationship between science in Europe and Asia. Most of my work is historical. But I’m also interested in the future. In AI Superpowers, Kai-Fu Lee gives a first-hand account of the development of artificial intelligence in China and the United States. This book also made me realise that, if you want to know what the future of the digital world will look like, you need to look to China. Even since this book was published, many of the features that Lee describes as characteristic of digital technology in China are now commonplace in the United States and elsewhere. An essential, if somewhat terrifying, vision of the future.


Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control

By Stuart Russell,

Book cover of Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control

Why this book?

As ever more powerful AI-based tools are created, Russell asks the question (and provides some answers) as to how we can ensure that we stay in the control of our creations. In particular, what safeguards are needed to protect us from something that will potentially be more intelligent than ourselves? Some might argue that this is all just science fiction and, even if it’s possible to build machines that are more intelligent than we are, it’s a problem for the distant future. However, there are many areas where AI is already making the key decisions about how we are treated. For example, whether or not to offer you a job or if you should get that loan you applied for. Consequently, I found this book to present a compelling case that controlling AI is something that we need to address as a matter of urgency, sooner rather than later.


The Voice Catchers: How Marketers Listen in to Exploit Your Feelings, Your Privacy, and Your Wallet

By Joseph Turow,

Book cover of The Voice Catchers: How Marketers Listen in to Exploit Your Feelings, Your Privacy, and Your Wallet

Why this book?

Turow takes the reader on a fascinating dive into the evolution of the voice intelligence industry. He reveals what these devices do now, what they may do in the future, and where they come from. I loved the historical perspective in this book—today’s home smart speakers can trace their lineage back to department stores and debt collectors. With inside access to industry leaders, Turow shows how we got to the point where tens of millions now willingly admit commercial listening devices into their most private physical spaces.


Illuminae

By Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff,

Book cover of Illuminae

Why this book?

The coolest thing about Illuminae is the sheer variety of storytelling techniques. You weave in and out of people’s heads, journals, and hacked conversations as you try to piece together the frightening story of what really happened on the planet Kady and Ezra had to flee. The story is so fast-paced you won’t have a minute to gasp for breath until the book sucker punches you out of nowhere, leaving you reeling and desperate to learn what happens next!


The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms

By Margaret A. Boden,

Book cover of The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms

Why this book?

What is creativity, and what makes it possible? If a new idea came from nothing, would it be magic? If a new idea were generated by recombining old ones, would it really be “creative”? In this book, Margaret Boden, a distinguished philosopher of science, thinks through what creativity really is, whether it takes the form of a world-altering advance in science or a novel jazz improvisation. To help understand human creativity, the book compares it to the workings of computer programs—ones capable of generating art or music that at least appears creative. Readers who have followed more recent developments in artificial intelligence will be able to consider for themselves whether machine creativity is, or could be, a reality. The book helped me think about what it means to create an “authentic” poem.


Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

By Max Tegmark,

Book cover of Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

Why this book?

This book looks into a distant future when machines are much more capable than humans of doing absolutely everything. How do we ensure humanity continues to flourish? Max is a physicist and he thinks on a much longer time scale than the rest of us. But he does so in an entertaining and provocative way.

The Alignment Problem: Machine Learning and Human Values

By Brian Christian,

Book cover of The Alignment Problem: Machine Learning and Human Values

Why this book?

One example of an especially pressing threat facing humanity is the rapid development of artificial intelligence. If we want this new technology to go well, it needs to be ‘aligned’ – that is, it should have or act on the same values as us. 

In this book, Brian sets out why aligning artificial intelligence is an extremely tricky issue and one which deserves more attention from talented and dedicated people.


Hope's Folly

By Linnea Sinclair,

Book cover of Hope's Folly

Why this book?

After a slow start, Hope's Folly is packed with action and intrigue. Everybody seems to be trying to stop the ship from reaching its destination – including someone on board. In Linnea Sinclair's universe the spaceships are not run by all-powerful artificial intelligence. The engine room, weapons systems, and the all-important environment systems all run using computers but with people running the show. Guys get to cut code, hack, and mess about in the systems. The characters are real. They have faults, make mistakes. They're ordinary people forced to cope with extraordinary circumstances in a disintegrating Empire reminiscent of Stalin taking over in the USSR. I loved the romance. There's a big age difference, but Rya is in her thirties and knows what she's doing.


Discriminating Data: Correlation, Neighborhoods, and the New Politics of Recognition

By Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Alex Barnett (illustrator),

Book cover of Discriminating Data: Correlation, Neighborhoods, and the New Politics of Recognition

Why this book?

Digital technology, like technology generally, is commonly assumed to be value neutral. Wendy Chun reveals that structurally embedded in digital operating systems and data collection are values that reproduce and extend existing modes of discriminating while also originating new ones. In prompting and promoting the grouping together of people who are alike—in habits, culture, looks, and preferences—the logic of the algorithm reproduces and amplifies discriminatory trends. Chun reveals how the logics of the digital reinforce the restructuring of racism by the neoliberal turn that my own book lays out.


Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence

By Ajay Agrawal, Joshua Gans, Avi Goldfarb

Book cover of Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence

Why this book?

This book lays out one of the most useful big-picture ways to put AI to use:  as a predictive tool. The central point of the book is that from a business/economic standpoint, AI increases accuracy and reduces the cost of making data-driven predictions. The benefit of reducing the cost of predicting in business is enormous and this book lays that out clearly. And the rest of it is focused on how that will affect the world around us. I recommend this book highly to any manager who is thinking through what AI means for their firm. The writing style is clear – not excessively technical. A great read for everyone!


Human + Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI

By Paul R. Daugherty, H. James Wilson,

Book cover of Human + Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI

Why this book?

Many writers have discussed the dangers that artificial intelligence and machine learning represent to our livelihoods, and how clever computers and autonomous robots will supplant us all in the workplace. What I like about this book is that it provides an alternative, and very optimistic, view of how these new technologies are being deployed. The authors present a future based on a partnership, in which artificial intelligence-based tools work in tandem with human workers, enhancing what individuals can do in the workplace rather than replacing them.


Anthropocene Rag

By Alex Irvine,

Book cover of Anthropocene Rag

Why this book?

The nanotechnological apocalypse at the background of Anthropocene Rag has turned the United States into a mythological vision. A mysterious construct known as Prospector Ed (who sometimes adopts the persona of Mark Twain) delivers six magical tickets to various scattered Americans, all of whom have lost something in the “Boom.” While the post-nanoboom landscape is deadly (one of the main characters was orphaned when an intelligence-imbued stadium containing her parents simply decided to become something else), there’s also a lot of wonder, and the book is a loving homage to American mythology and lore.


Bash Bash Revolution

By Douglas Lain,

Book cover of Bash Bash Revolution

Why this book?

The dystopia in Bash Bash Revolution is a bit closer to reality than the others on this list: it’s set specifically in 2017, but in a world pushed far closer to the brink of nuclear war than ours, with a much more psychotic version of Donald Trump in charge. Main character Matthew Munson’s mad programmer of a father creates an AI that might save the world from its own destruction, but only by locking every person into a solipsistic nightmare run on video game technology. In a way this book is about choosing between an apocalypse and a dystopia, which is something you don’t see very often.


The Cult of Information: A Neo-Luddite Treatise on High-Tech, Artificial Intelligence, and the True Art of Thinking

By Theodore Roszak,

Book cover of The Cult of Information: A Neo-Luddite Treatise on High-Tech, Artificial Intelligence, and the True Art of Thinking

Why this book?

Technology is always moving on. And so it should be forgiven the author that many of the concrete examples in this book are now somewhat dated. They provide some interesting insight into the history of computing and media technology, but the real value of Roszak’s argument lies in his analysis of how—thanks to computer technology—society has become obsessed with “information”. It’s almost a cult. But information is not knowledge, data does not in itself provide understanding. In fact, in a peculiarly paradoxical way, the more information we have, the less we actually know. Thirty years later, as we swim daily in the disinformation of the murky waters of social media and disappear down Youtube rabbit holes, Roszak’s point seems more pertinent than ever.


Run Program

By Scott Meyer,

Book cover of Run Program

Why this book?

Is it even a list of sci-fi books if you don’t include a story with a rogue artificial intelligence? Sure, it’s not necessarily the funniest premise, but when you throw in the fact that the A.I. in question has the mind of a six-year-old, the heroes trying to catch him are essentially his daycare providers, and the author is Scott Meyer, creator of the webcomic Basic Instructions and the Magic 2.0 series, and you’re sure to have a good time.


Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies

By Nick Bostrom,

Book cover of Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies

Why this book?

I saved the most sobering and existentially terrifying book for last. This is the book that made Elon Musk famously tweet that strong A.I. is more dangerous than “nukes.” 

On the flip side, strong A.I. (superhuman level intelligence) is an extraordinary concept that, once one accepts its almost certain inevitability, is worldview altering.  

It’s also existentially horrific when one stops to examine the odds of successfully creating and remaining in control of an intelligence greater than ours. 

Bostrom takes us through the problem and, for every solution he postulates, he demonstrates the several ways this hypothetical A.I. would circumvent them. 

It’s the most existentially horrific book you’ll ever read, and it’s non-fiction philosophy. Who would’ve thought? 

Enjoy the existential chills!


Permutation City

By Greg Egan,

Book cover of Permutation City

Why this book?

A different version of the AI problem is the one discussed by a multitude of scientific and philosophical authors: what if the world in which we live, including our own consciousness, is a computer simulation? Permutation City, by Greg Egan, is one version of this dilemma. In this novel, those wealthy enough to afford it may upload their consciousness into a virtual world, one which they have a part in creating, and one which aims to be self-sustaining after they die.

The plot revolves around a researcher who has invented a virtual self-generating chemical germ-seed that can evolve and populate such a world. However, eventually, the germ-seed creates its own world and rejects the presence of the uploaded human consciousness in it, who are then faced with having to decide whether to leave and seek another virtual universe that the mathematics predicts exists. This novel challenged my intelligence at every turn of the page, but was also mind-expanding, and, although written in 1994, it is still considered a classic example of philosophical techno-sci-fi.


Klara and the Sun

By Kazuo Ishiguro,

Book cover of Klara and the Sun

Why this book?

Klara and the Sun is narrated from the perspective of a female AI in a close future. Explicitly, the novel tackles the responsibilities of loving someone and an unreachable core of “humanness.” But not-so-explicitly, its peculiar and endearing voice detaches the female identity from a biological body. It pushes the boundaries of femininity beyond visual signs and appearances. All the while, the protagonist is continually making sense of human nature, finding the worth of ourselves in the way we love who’s around us. The novel redefines not just what it is to be female, but what it is to be human.

All Systems Red

By Martha Wells,

Book cover of All Systems Red

Why this book?

Who doesn’t like bad boys? None are worse than the SecUnit with a violent past who calls himself Murderbot. He is addicted to consuming digital entertainment, including Space Operas he knows from experience are bogus and he is our sly commentator on human foibles and absurdities. When he gets himself into a “Protection Racket” job for a science group on one of the Company’s colonies, he grasps what is going down faster and more realistically than all of them and goes into action. An almost indestructible conjoining of human and machine, he exhibits the worst attributes of each—to this reader’s utter delight. Wells followed up this short novel with four more, all starring Murderbot.  


The Red, 1: First Light

By Linda Nagata,

Book cover of The Red, 1: First Light

Why this book?

First Light is another interesting exploration of artificial intelligence and brain/body modification. The story focuses on a soldier and has a good amount of techno-thriller type action. It keeps the pace nice and quick, and I found the main character and his squad to be full of fun, sympathetic characters. Nagata has written some excellent far-future worlds (e.g. The Bohr Maker), but in this novel, she sticks to the upcoming decades, and along the way, she raises some great questions about morality and humanity.


I, Robot

By Isaac Asimov,

Book cover of I, Robot

Why this book?

There’s no other author who I’ve been compared to more than Asimov, and my readers have been astonished when I’ve confessed to them that I’ve never read any Asimov…that is until I was putting this list together and delved into I, Robot, Asimov’s collection of short stories in which his famous “Three Laws of Robotics,” first appears.

And after reading it, to all my readers, I get it. 

I wish I’d read him earlier!  

The concepts are gigantic, both technologically, but also philosophically. I love the way he uses paradoxes to demonstrate that answers are not as simple as they may appear at first glance. And what other writer would dare have his omniscient narrator say: “it was as simple as a syllogism” absent irony? 

Asimov is the G.O.A.T.    


The Punch Escrow

By Tal M. Klein,

Book cover of The Punch Escrow

Why this book?

I adored this fast-paced near-future dystopian book by debut author Tal M. Klein. Prepare to be thrown into an innovative world where teleportation is the primary means of travel, and people don't think twice before taking advantage of this convenience. Though, as we soon find out, maybe they should. 

There are so many fun tidbits in this novel such as nanotechnology and genetically engineered mosquitoes that help clean the air. You'll also find plenty of nostalgic references for fans of books such as Ready Player One. Prepare for engaging characters, unique worldbuilding, thought-provoking philosophical questions, and plenty of twists to keep you guessing.


Iron Prince: A Progression Sci-Fi Epic (Warformed: Stormweaver)

By Bryce O'Connor, Luke Chmilenko,

Book cover of Iron Prince: A Progression Sci-Fi Epic (Warformed: Stormweaver)

Why this book?

The Iron Prince by Bryce O’Connor and Luke Chmilenko is the gold standard for academy-style adventure fantasy. And it’s the only one on my list that has definite sci-fi elements, which I adore!

The progression in this novel is litRPG in that we have numbers/letters used to denote power levels. If you’ve never read a litRPG, think Dragonball Z or a video game level-up system. The whole point of this story is following Reidon’s ascension to godhood (or at least, the start of it) since his special power is to have the highest rate of gain stat ever seen! He starts with the lowest starting stats, but that quickly turns around. 

A fantastic start to what should be an amazing series.


On

By Adam Roberts,

Book cover of On

Why 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.


City of Shattered Light

By Claire Winn,

Book cover of City of Shattered Light

Why this book?

The two girls in City of Shattered Light could not be fiercer! Asa’s a runaway rich girl who flees home to save her sister, a victim of scientific tests. Riven’s a tough smuggler gunning for a big bounty to guarantee her a place in one of the city’s matriarchal (!) crime syndicates. There’s kidnapping, a wild neon sci-fi world, and a healthy portion of romantic longing. I loved this misfit team!


Liar!

By Isaac Asimov,

Book cover of Liar!

Why this book?

Asimov is known as the grandfather of A.I. Science Fiction, and yet, you don’t have to have much of an interest in robotics in order to appreciate many of his stories. One of the best examples of this would be Liar! A story that tackles how a robot, one which isn’t allowed to hurt humans, would try to circumvent peoples’ emotions in a situation in which their desire for career success and romance are on the line. As someone who has dealt with all sides of these affairs, Lair! Is one of those stories that reminded me that no matter what, I’m only human.


Kiln People

By David Brin,

Book cover of Kiln People

Why this book?

Speaking of noir, Kiln People is basically Mickey Spillane with replicants. This book posits a future where the well-off use temporary copies of themselves to do things that are dangerous or difficult or just boring. The copies fall apart after a few days, at which point they ideally merge their memories back into their original. Brin’s protagonists are a private detective and one of his copies who decides he’d rather spend the few hours of life he’s given doing something more interesting than his original’s scutwork. I came to this story for the fun premise, but I stayed for the deeper exploration of the morality of creating an army of sentient beings whose only hope is to live long enough to be re-absorbed into the mind that created them.


Kill Decision

By Daniel Suarez,

Book cover of Kill Decision

Why this book?

When Kill Decision came out, I sent an email to all my Department of Defense colleagues saying: finally, a book that gets swarms, drones, computer vision, and lethal autonomous weapons right! The book shows behavioral robotics can duplicate insect intelligence to create simple, but relentlessly effective, drones. The inexpensive individual drones are limited in intelligence but a greater, more adaptive intelligence emerges from the swarm. It’s on par with a Michael Crichton technothriller with lots of action (plus romance), making it an easy read.  


How to Lie with Statistics

By Darrell Huff, Irving Geis (illustrator),

Book cover of How to Lie with Statistics

Why this book?

How to Lie with Statistics is a book that I highly recommend to anybody just starting out in data science. While we would like to believe that data science is a science many times it’s not, it’s storytelling. This storytelling with data can quickly get us into trouble. Whether it’s shortening y-axis or presenting data in a way that makes things look better than they are.

Personally I have found this book to be invaluable especially when working with business leaders as to why I won’t do certain things to my models and presentations.


Machine Learning

By Peter Flach,

Book cover of Machine Learning

Why this book?

Peter Flach’s book on machine learning had a profound impact on me. The book is simple to understand, and highly visual. But beyond that Peter himself is a lovely person who obviously cares about all his students. I believe for getting started in machine learning and wanting to understand the algorithms that power many models, this is a great place to start.

But most importantly it’s a great way to understand the power and gain more intention behind what we are doing.


The Bicentennial Man

By Isaac Asimov,

Book cover of The Bicentennial Man

Why this book?

OK, so I was biased by Robin Williams in the movie, but here we have a robot that shows creativity! Its “Masters” tolerate this, then encourage it, and soon Andrew is selling his brand – created by a robot! I like the way a hobby turned into a business. He becomes part of the family, and as those around him age and die he becomes alone, something that runs through my mind sometimes late at night. Andrew decides that he wants to be human, and the barrier is his immortality.

Battlestar Galactica

By Glen A. Larson, Robert W. Thurston,

Book cover of Battlestar Galactica

Why this book?

I came to the books late, inoculated by the 2004 – 2009 TV series with slightly off-key costumes and the idea of a tribe of people looking for their cousins on earth. I like the mind games between the Cylons and the humans at the pinnacle when some of the humans are actually robots but programmed not to know it. I felt a bit of a letdown when the best characters turned out to be the bad guys. The boundaries between the two “species” are both clearly defined and indistinguishable at the same time (Schrodinger’s robot?). I loved it as the “skin jobs” finally worked out what they really were and reveled in the opportunities for chaos and conflict.

Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition

By Merlin Donald,

Book cover of Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition

Why this book?

Cognitive neuroscientist Merlin Donald posited that, at the most fundamental level, humans have a hybrid mind, one that consists of a gene-based mammalian, analogue brain, onto which is grafted a culture-based, symbolic brain. The former, the primitive mammalian brain, is a space where “the lines between consciousness and the mind’s inaccessible unconscious modules are drawn very deep in the sand” (p. 286).

As to myth, Donald noted that virtually all hunter-gatherer societies observed in the modern era have or had elaborate mythological systems, all structured along the same lines, in which myth informs every aspect of life: “myth permeates and regulates daily life, channels perceptions, determines the significance of every object and event in life. Clothing, food, shelter, family – all receive their ‘meaning’ from myth” (p. 215).


Sailing Bright Eternity

By Gregory Benford,

Book cover of Sailing Bright Eternity

Why this book?

The first sci-fi I ever read, plucked from a dusty shelf on a mission compound in Niger. The physics explanations were beyond me, and honestly still are, but the astronomical imagery rewired my nine-year-old brain. This is a book (and series) that melds the rigor of hard SF with the scope and imagination of the best space opera, following the remnants of humanity as they flee inscrutable, implacable AI monstrosities. It makes the universe feel visceral and terrifyingly beautiful, and makes the reader feel like an ant.


God, Human, Animal, Machine: Technology, Metaphor, and the Search for Meaning

By Meghan O'Gieblyn,

Book cover of God, Human, Animal, Machine: Technology, Metaphor, and the Search for Meaning

Why this book?

Those who laid the foundations for the scientific revolution—Newton, Bacon, Descartes—were religious men. But, so the story goes, science has now left religion behind—except it hasn’t. In this extraordinary book, Meghan O’Gieblyn argues that, having turned its back on God, science and technology are now sleepwalking us into a new religion: transhumanism. Faced with the increasing and enormous complexity of artificial intelligence, like priests interpreting the oracle, the programmers and analysts of today must simply guess how an algorithm has arrived at a particular solution—and have faith that it is correct. They lust for the Rapture-like Singularity, where machines will take over the future, gifting us all digital immortality. Hmm, is this starting to sound a bit familiar…?


AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers

By Nnedi Okorafor, Sarah Lotz,

Book cover of AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers

Why this book?

AfroSF is the first ever anthology of Science Fiction by African writers only open to submissions of original fiction works from Africa and abroad. It was one of the pioneering anthologies of African science fiction and published a number of household names in African speculative fiction in both this and its subsequent volumes. 


Sea of Rust

By Robert C. Cargill,

Book cover of Sea of Rust

Why this book?

I love this novel. I read it well after my own came out, but the strong, badass, stoic female main character reminded me a lot of Delia from What Branches Grow (despite Brittle being a robot). The often dark and gritty scenes interspersed with moments of emotion and laugh-out-loud absurd humour turned a story that could have been depressing into one that was a helluva lot of fun. The raiders in this novel also fit the trope in the same homage to Mad Max/Fallout that mine do in What Branches Grow, albeit in a way I didn’t expect. The novel is also a quest through the wasteland with a ragtag group that culminates in a final battle, which is a similar trajectory to my novel (and a plotfline in this genre I very much enjoy).


Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives

By David Eagleman,

Book cover of Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives

Why this book?

Awesomely creative think-piece. 40 very short fictional stories about what happens when you die. The framework is inspiring for anyone: coming up with 40 different answers to any one question. But they’re also just brilliant ideas and powerful little fables.


The Resisters

By Gish Jen,

Book cover of The Resisters

Why this book?

I was looking forward to this one and read it as soon as it came out, early on in these pandemic times. It’s not really a baseball novel, except it kinda, sorta is. Mostly, it’s a subversive look at a dystopian future that turns on the redemptive power of baseball. It made a lot of noise on publication, but the focus of most of the reviews leaned away from the baseball bits and into the dystopian bits. Gish Jen writes gloriously about the game – but also about life and love, longing and belonging, hope and hopelessness. 


Birth of Intelligence: From RNA to Artificial Intelligence

By Daeyeol Lee,

Book cover of Birth of Intelligence: From RNA to Artificial Intelligence

Why this book?

If flavorful food has been a critical element in the evolution of our large brains, how did large brains give rise to our high intelligence?  This is to be found in the circuits of our cerebral cortex and the regions to which it is connected. Daeyeol Lee is one of the leaders in research on how the cerebral cortex generates behavior in monkeys, for its insights into how this occurs in humans.  This is providing new ways to define the neural basis of intelligence based on the application of new single-cell recording techniques in primates and brain scanning techniques in humans.  

With his approach based on a deep understanding of how primates gave rise to humans, Lee asks the critical questions: What is intelligence? How did it evolve from monkeys to humans? Can computers and artificial intelligence ever equal human biological intelligence in all its complexity?   Based on Lee’s research on the biological and computational underpinnings of decision making and intelligent behaviors, Birth of Intelligence proposes that true intelligence requires the living brain in its living organism, one of the basic issues at stake in the brain vs AI debate.


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

By Robert Elliott Smith,

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

Why 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.


Deeper

By James A. Moore, Alan M. Clark (illustrator),

Book cover of Deeper

Why this book?

A fun read, and while this book wasn’t the cause of a flooding of readers in bookstores when it was released, that does not diminish the quality of it. This story takes the Mythos from H.P Lovecraft and adds protagonists that put up a fight against the infamous Deep Ones that every horror aficionado should already know about from Lovecraft’s century-old short story “Dagon”. I recommended this book for the simple reason of writing a protagonist that doesn’t cower in fear doesn’t disqualify the terror if done correctly. As a matter of fact: I would argue it enhances the horror aspects, since showing violence toward a violent enemy early on, rather than a dramatic showdown, can get the hero in much hotter water than they initially planned on.


Neon Helix (Neon Helix Universe)

By Nik Whittaker,

Book cover of Neon Helix (Neon Helix Universe)

Why this book?

Neon Helix is probably the most cyberpunk book of my recommendations, at least in a classical sense. It’s set in a mega-city of the future and features mega corporations, rogue AI, clones, and some really crazy scientists. It’s a fast-paced story told from multiple perspectives and the first book in a series. 


The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life

By Philip Zimbardo, John Boyd,

Book cover of The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life

Why this book?

Profound idea that everyone has a primary time focus: either Future-focused, Present-focused, or Past-focused. Fascinating implications of each. Because I'm so future-focused, reading this book helped me understand people who are very present-focused. Also great advice on shifting your focus when needed. I read it 7 years ago, but still think about it almost every day.


Plato and the Nerd: The Creative Partnership of Humans and Technology

By Edward Ashford Lee,

Book cover of Plato and the Nerd: The Creative Partnership of Humans and Technology

Why this book?

Lee covers and connects two of my favorite topics, creativity, and technology. From the facts and truths of technology to the role models play in creativity (looking at how early philosophers suggested modeling thought), he argues that computers are not universal machines and that their power comes from their partnership with humans.


Moving Mars: A Novel

By Greg Bear,

Book cover of Moving Mars: A Novel

Why this book?

What if you have an established culture on Mars in 2171 that wants to be independently governed? What if Mars develops a powerful new technology linking human brains to the most advanced AI ever built, giving them almost magical powers of teleportation? I like this book because it’s another great example of how to make advanced technologies and social developments believable through a small number of character perspectives. Arthur C. Clarke said that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” and I appreciate how this novel was able to accomplish that. As a social scientist, I also appreciate the political aspects of this world as shown through the female lead, who starts as a young student protestor for Martian independence and evolves into a seasoned politician.


The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf

By Ambelin Kwaymullina,

Book cover of The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf

Why this book?

Ashala Wolf is an unforgettable character. Strong-willed, she’s always ready to fight for her people and will stop at nothing to uncover the truth. Even when her Sleepwalker super-power fails her, even when confronted by the worst in others, even when brought to her knees by physical and emotional pain, Ashala battles on to expose evil and protect those she loves. 

Ambelin Kwaymullina creates such a wonderfully realised world in this novel, from the beauty of the magical Firstwood forest to the sterile horror of the detention centre. I love Ashala Wolf’s intelligence, fierceness and loyalty to her friends. And like many of my favourite female characters, she’s someone who’s not afraid to run towards a fight.


Machine Man

By Max Barry,

Book cover of Machine Man

Why this book?

Max Barry’s satirical science-fiction novel, Machine Man, is a dark and funny mediation on contemporary society’s compulsive over-reliance on technology. The narrator, Charles Neumann, is a mechanical engineer who, while obsessively searching for his phone, loses his leg in an industrial accident. After building himself a new machine leg, Charles purposely loses his other leg, so he can replace it with another machine leg. After seeing how great his new legs work, Charles wonders if maybe he should replace more of his body parts with machine parts, begging the question: Where does humanity end and technology begin?


Ancillary Mercy

By Ann Leckie,

Book cover of Ancillary Mercy

Why this book?

Bresq, the main character, is a very unusual creature. She is powerful, intelligent, and driven by compassion. It is interesting to read about a galaxy-spanning empire built on the bodies of human troops, sentience warships, and AI/human hybrids. The story explores themes of oppression, gender, identity, colonization, survival, and revolution. The way this book handles gender is to make it impossible to think about gender, in the ways we are used to. Good book and series.


The Complete Strange Tales From the City of Dust: Omnibus

By Vaz Anzai,

Book cover of The Complete Strange Tales From the City of Dust: Omnibus

Why this book?

Vaz Anzai collects all five episodes from his Strange Tales from The City Of Dust series in this absolutely breathtaking omnibus that also includes bonus short stories, author notes, and exclusive artwork. With great, and varied, characters, fascinating technology, and gritty Cyberpunk settings, Dust: Omnibus is essential reading for all fans of the genre.


Columbus Day: Expeditionary Force

By Craig Alanson,

Book cover of Columbus Day: Expeditionary Force

Why this book?

Columbus Day is the first entry in the Expeditionary Force Series, and it's one to take serious note of...despite the constant onslaught of humor! It reads like your typical Mil SF novel until chapter 10, where it takes all of your expectations and blows them up right in your face. I loved the intense military combat scenes, coupled with Avenger's style humor, and the introduction of a certain, hyper-intelligent beer can...yes, it's that kind of story, and it's way better than I'm making it sound. There's a reason each new release of this series breaks the Audible download page on release day. Some of the funniest science fiction I've ever read, with interesting alien races and tons of problem-solving fun, references to other SF series...what's not to love?


Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?

By Bill McKibben,

Book cover of Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?

Why this book?

Arguably, Bill McKibben has been this nation’s preeminent environmentalist since 1989 when he published The End of Nature. Falter is his latest book and it is a numbing take on our species and how we have damaged the environment, perhaps, to the point of no return. On the other hand, McKibben is as much an activist as an environmentalist and as such he cannot and, so far at least, has not lost hope no matter how dire the straits.  


Radical Uncertainty: Decision-Making Beyond the Numbers

By Mervyn King, John Kay,

Book cover of Radical Uncertainty: Decision-Making Beyond the Numbers

Why this book?

It’s time for some economics. I am embarrassed to say that following the Global Financial Crisis my profession has fallen into acute disarray, its models have proved to be utterly inadequate. Radical Uncertainty in the landmark book explains why this was the case. Economists had reduced all unknowns to quantifiable probabilities, which could then be inserted into models and managed by diversification and insurance. Unfortunately, the world is not like that: with disturbing frequency, people, businesses, and societies are hit by ‘unknown unknowns’ like COVID. Managing uncertainty requires an approach quite alien to economics, its priorities being the resilience of strategies such as built-in redundancy, and rapid recovery that comes from decentralised experiments around a common purpose. Kay was once Britain’s boy-wonder of mathematical economics; King was once a top professor of finance who became the Governor of the Bank of England. Heroically, they have recanted the ideas they once taught. Fortunately for the lay reader, they know how to write.


The Human Nature of Birds: A Scientific Discovery with Startling Implications

By Theodore Xenophon Barber,

Book cover of The Human Nature of Birds: A Scientific Discovery with Startling Implications

Why this book?

Yes, it’s a bit dated, but it was a bold, pioneering book for its day. Barber doesn’t shrink from describing birds as they are: intelligent, flexible, emotional animals with lives and personalities.


Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

By Philip K. Dick,

Book cover of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Why this book?

Most will recognize this book from the title of the film adaptation: BladeRunner. Still, there’s something to be said for the originality of Dick’s title; specifically, it telegraphs to the reader that they should expect questions to ponder and their thoughts provoked. 

In my view, writers are teachers, and I love that Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is never pedantic, but, rather, it’s didactic instead. It poses questions that will make the readers question the notion of a robot or android as sentient or not, without insisting that the book knows the definitive answer. Dick is wise enough to know that he doesn’t know the answers to the extraordinarily profound questions his wonderful novel poses regarding humanity and our future A.I. creations; a humility I’ll always admire.   


A Fire Upon the Deep

By Vernor Vinge,

Book cover of A Fire Upon the Deep

Why this book?

This fascinating book asks “what if” someday we were to meet aliens who form group minds of three to eight individuals whose minds are connected into a collective intelligence by ultrasonic data transfer? With too few individuals such group minds wouldn’t be very smart. Minds with too many individuals would tend to be troubled by internal conflicts. 

When two group minds get too close to one another, the ultrasonic messaging from one confuses the other’s group mind. 

There are many other “what ifs” explored, including the idea that technology and brains work better in some areas of the galaxy, a possible explanation for why aliens don’t visit us—because Earth’s in a “slow” zone.

In all, it’s a story filled with interesting things to think and wonder about.


Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain

By David Eagleman,

Book cover of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain

Why this book?

Is the brain a separate, independent entity from who we are? Do our brains control us, or do we control our brains? Or is it something in between? In an often lyrical, easy-to-understand narrative, neuroscientist David Eagleman argues that it’s the unconscious that influences most of what we do, even before we’re aware that we’ve decided to do something.


The True Creator of Everything: How the Human Brain Shaped the Universe as We Know It

By Miguel Nicolellis,

Book cover of The True Creator of Everything: How the Human Brain Shaped the Universe as We Know It

Why this book?

Many years ago a young neuroscientist asked to visit me; he had just come to the U.S. from Brazil and was seeking advice on a lab he could join to train in the function of nerve cells in the cerebral cortex. He soon became spectacularly successful, showing that the brain forms different perceptions and controls different movements by overlapping distributions of cortical neurons that constitute an internal reality of the external world.

Building on this knowledge, Nicolellis has led the way in constructing brain-machine interfaces to enable a patient, for example, to learn to walk after suffering a stroke. In doing so, he has come to realize that everything humans experience in our lives is due to the reality constructed by the brain to represent the reality of the external world. As he expresses it, brain reality is the true creator of everything. Some may find this new view disturbing, but all will find it important to grapple with. It is even more important as our reality becomes increasingly dependent on the enhancements as well as the distortions of artificial intelligence.


The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect

By Judea Pearl, Dana MacKenzie,

Book cover of The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect

Why this book?

This book describes the culmination of Judea Pearl’s research on causation. For his work, Pearl won the Turing Award, which is widely considered the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for computer science. The book presents a simple, yet powerful language to talk and reason precisely about causation, a topic scientists and philosophers have studied for centuries. In addition to the well-developed theory and the many well-chosen examples, what I love about this book is that it illustrates that computer science is not just about producing software, but that it can create powerful general theories about the world.


The Joy of X: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity

By Steven Strogatz,

Book cover of The Joy of X: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity

Why this book?

There are books that simply tell us (or perhaps remind us) how mathematics can be interesting and fun. This delightful book is one of the best, describing how mathematics can be amazing, surprising, and beautiful, all at the same time. While mathematics has helped people accomplish so many things that we may have never dreamed of, this book shows us that mathematics can be popular as well. 


The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

By Becky Chambers,

Book cover of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

Why this book?

Chamber’s A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is a quiet slice-of-life kind of story following the journey of Rosemary—the main human character—as she tries to fit in and find her place within her alien crew. I really fell in love with Rosemary’s curiosity about her crewmates, and how that translated beautifully into the quiet character-building moments Chambers weaves into the story overall. It’s a lovely queer story where no one is treated any differently for being queer and that resonated with me. The story is also truly compelling—I literally gasped out loud when I got to the midpoint.


Opening Moves (The Gam3 Book 1)

By Cosimo Yap,

Book cover of Opening Moves (The Gam3 Book 1)

Why this book?

An excellent Litrpg sci-fi series. The protagonist goes out beyond earth to discover new races and worlds, slowly gain power, and unearth the secret of the ancient race that started it all. He’s just a human, but he’ll change the galaxy in his quest for knowledge.

The best scfi-fi litrpg in my opinion, the character growth is very visible and keeps you glued to the pages as the protagonist struggle to raise himself. Through his eyes, I got to experience unearthing ancient, hidden cultures, find ancient relics, and uncover galactic-wide schemes that blew my mind away.


I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

By Harlan Ellison,

Book cover of I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Why this book?

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is the first title on my list that is merely a short story. That said, what Harlan Ellison’s Hugo Award-winning sci-fi tale lacks in length, it makes up in complexity. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, the story follows the horrific ordeal of five humans artificially kept alive by AM (Allied Master computer), a programme responsible for the near-extinction of humanity. AM derives its pleasure and purpose from endlessly torturing the last living humans, rendering them immortal and unable to commit suicide. This unique supervillain became my inspiration for the Neon God – a corrupt, mind games-obsessed A.I. announced in my Neon Science-Fiction novel. Ellison’s story, however, conjures up images of desolation and despair I’ve yet to encounter in a work of science fiction.


R Is for Robot: A Noisy Alphabet

By Adam F. Watkins,

Book cover of R Is for Robot: A Noisy Alphabet

Why this book?

The artwork in this colorful book is detailed and amazing. It’s a big job to move letters of the alphabet and the expressions on these robots’ faces are priceless, especially the gleeful ones. This action-packed book is filled with fun sounds and a variety of skinny-limbed robots hauling letters in every color of the rainbow. At times it’s a challenge to find the small item that begins with the letter. There is a lot packed into each page.


The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive

By Brian Christian,

Book cover of The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive

Why this book?

This is an entertaining and lighter read than my other recommendations about AI. It is specifically about chatbots trying to pass the Turing Test, and ultimately is a witty story of what it means to be human. For anyone who has ever mistaken an answerphone for a person, or a person for an answerphone!

Consider Phlebas

By Iain M. Banks,

Book cover of Consider Phlebas

Why this book?

This is the first of the late Scottish author’s “Culture” novels, set in a future where people and intelligent machines—including moon-sized spacecraft—interact while going about their usual lives of survival, desire, and revenge. Our “hero” may or may not be the secret “Special Circumstances” renegade some say he is. Or he may be its latest quarry. His adventures span several worlds and, on each, surprising and often horrific variations of power and dysfunction are revealed. The minute I finished reading Consider Phlebas, I began the next volume, The Player of Games, and the next and the next.   


The Cybernetic Tea Shop

By Meredith Katz,

Book cover of The Cybernetic Tea Shop

Why this book?

Autonomous robot Sal has run a tea shop for hundreds of years, trying to stick to the mission of her master and romantic partner who passed away years ago. But the shop is failing, and Sal is slowly breaking down when she meets AI technician Clara. Clara is able to switch Sal’s programming, and give her a new lease on life. I love how Katz’s quiet prose gives us a careful exploration of Sal’s struggle with being true to her aims and with the concept of moving on.


Future Superhuman: Our Transhuman Lives in a Make-Or-Break Century

By Elise Bohan,

Book cover of Future Superhuman: Our Transhuman Lives in a Make-Or-Break Century

Why this book?

This one is brand new! My publisher also published Elise Bohan’s debut, so I got to read it ahead of publication. I was blown away. Future Superhuman is an intelligent, funny, and engaging take on technology, and the likely transhuman future in which humans are enhanced by tech. This is an area full of speculation, and no small amount of made-up nonsense, but Future Superhuman is anchored in exceptional research from a dozen or more fields, setting it apart.

Elise is an author to watch. Not only does she have an endless supply of smart things to say, but her writing is funny, her expression original, and her style appealing to a very wide audience. Reading this book reminded me how much fun good non-fiction can be.


Agency

By William Gibson,

Book cover of Agency

Why this book?

William Gibson’s latest novel Agency is as prophetic as his establishment of cyberspace and cyberpunk culture in the 80s and 90s. His latest novel chronicles reality-busting skirmishes among gangsterish multi-generational families based in a glitzy post-apocalyptic 22nd century London. In this future, nano-machines conjure luxuries from nothing while sky-high scrubbers struggle to restore a ravaged atmosphere after the jackpot, a global environmental catastrophe. Agency tells a heist-type story about the emergence of Eunice, a sentient AI born in our stub out of American special operations research. Leading a cross-dimensional band of techies, publicists, hipsters, and hackers, ace software designer Verity fights to introduce Eunice to her world in order to save it. Yet Gibson is telling us about today's ecological and technological forces. He writes of pre-jackpot life in our era: “‘Did we ever come to terms with the sheer cluelessness of it?’


The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America

By Paul Edwards,

Book cover of The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America

Why this book?

Edwards revealed how the very architecture of early computers owed a debt to the political structures of the Cold War. The innovation of a command/control/information infrastructure set the template for military regimentation, and subsequently for the surveillance society we currently inhabit. The story of how cybernetics—a field that never quite made the grade as pure science—nevertheless conquered the culture, is fascinating.

The Half-Made World

By Felix Gilman,

Book cover of The Half-Made World

Why this book?

Felix Gilman’s The Half-Made World is a brilliant steampunk allegory about what philosopher Jürgen Habermas calls the colonization of the life-world for a faithless utilitarian reason. Gilman imagines a war that pits defenders of wonder, magic, and voodoo against soulless drones seeking gain through environmental degradation. This is a common enough trope in science fiction but what brings it to another level is Gilman’s personification of wonder and magic in a sleazy, violent anti-hero who is frequently possessed by demons. Gilman embodies the colonizers of the world as monstrous, dragon-like railway engines who order men around using telegrams. The innocent reader who will decide the fate of the world is a brilliant, female doctor who is trying to cure herself of her opium addiction. Gilman’s understanding of the rhythm of nineteenth-century language is amazing. His characters each have unique voices and his beautiful prose suggests that Gilman has spent years reading and absorbing the language of long-dead nineteenth-century authors who you have never heard of. This book leads to a sequel but the novel works well on its own.


Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness

By Roger Penrose,

Book cover of Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness

Why this book?

My second choice relates more subtly to Turing’s sudden end in 1954. In 1955, Turing’s colleague Max Newman gave a talk on logic in his honour. This greatly impressed a student, Roger Penrose, who was also studying the quantum mechanics and relativity that had first fascinated the young Turing. Years later, Penrose announced an astonishing thesis relating logic and physics. This book explains the theory he developed. It claims that the brain must exploit quantum-mechanical physics that no computer can emulate. Turing famously promoted the prospects for computer-based Artificial Intelligence, but he would have taken this anti-AI thesis more seriously than any other argument: it takes up his own interests and develops his own kind of thinking. 

Penrose’s books are not about science, they are actually doing scientific thinking. His humour and wonderful pictures enhance the direct personal engagement. The theory is highly controversial but has set a remarkable twenty-first-century agenda, inspiring new experiments to push at the boundaries in many fields.


Oblivion's Forge

By Simon Williams,

Book cover of Oblivion's Forge

Why this book?

This author is a ‘master’ at creating fantasy worlds; his writing is intelligent and gripping. This particular series focuses on a battle between two immense powers with amazing descriptions, yet it is character-driven, making it relatable and believable. It’s thought-provoking and immerses you into a world that feels very real, its descriptions potent, its characters intriguing – I loved it. 


Brave, Not Perfect: How Celebrating Imperfection Helps You Live Your Best, Most Joyful Life

By Reshma Saujani,

Book cover of Brave, Not Perfect: How Celebrating Imperfection Helps You Live Your Best, Most Joyful Life

Why this book?

Brave, Not Perfect offers an abundance of stories and examples of what bravery can mean (and why it matters so much in today’s world) and how we can teach girls how to be braver - every day. Filled with many different ideas for how to put bravery into practice.

How We Learn: Why Brains Learn Better Than Any Machine . . . for Now

By Stanislas Dehaene,

Book cover of How We Learn: Why Brains Learn Better Than Any Machine . . . for Now

Why this book?

Stanislas Dehaene is one of the leading European cognitive scientists and this book provides a deep discussion of the neuroscience of learning, a key component of intelligence. He makes a strong case that current machine learning techniques are inferior to the processes that operate in human brains even in the womb. He draws out important implications for education concerning how people learn best.


Genesis

By Bernard Beckett,

Book cover of Genesis

Why this book?

If you’re into philosophy, this is the book for you! It explores the big questions about the origins of life and human consciousness, and what is it to be human and what makes a soul. Set in a distant future, on an island republic brutally policed to keep out survivors from the ruined world beyond its shores, Anaximander is put through a grueling examination to get into The Academy. I loved how it pushed my brain and went in places I wasn’t expecting. 


The New Breed: What Our History with Animals Reveals about Our Future with Robots

By Kate Darling,

Book cover of The New Breed: What Our History with Animals Reveals about Our Future with Robots

Why this book?

Our relationships with living beings like plants and animals may influence the way we treat other sorts of life—or “life”—we encounter in the future, including the artificial life we create. It’s probably prudent to consider what those relationships should look like, now, before we begin engaging with AI or aliens lacking a clear sense of how to behave toward them.


I, Zombie

By Hugh Howey,

Book cover of I, Zombie

Why this book?

If you're familiar with Hugh Howey's work, it's probably thanks to his Wool series of post-apocalyptic sci-fi. I, Zombie is a very different sort of book. It's still post-apocalyptic in subject, but the tone is even darker and filled with both horror and melancholy for the dying world. The zombies here are prisoners of their own bodies, forced to drift and commit horrific violence that they can feel but cannot prevent. You'll get to meet several such zombies in this book and really feel for them as you see each one's backstory and how they came to be part of the horde – and it's that pathos that makes this book something special.


Surfing Uncertainty: Prediction, Action, and the Embodied Mind

By Andy Clark,

Book cover of Surfing Uncertainty: Prediction, Action, and the Embodied Mind

Why this book?

Andy Clark is a Professor of Cognitive Philosophy at the University of Sussex. He asks as I and many others have, how does mere matter give rise to non-material mental states, including consciousness? He explores with brilliant wit and wisdom the intersecting domains of neuroscience, psychology, artificial intelligence, and robotics. We are both synergizers, gathering ideas from leading scientists and thinkers arriving at new theories and explanations of natural phenomena based on those studies.

We explore the wiring and plumbing of the brain; we are spelunkers of cognition, brain, and mind. While much of Clark’s discussion veers towards artificial intelligence and robotics, my interest lies in understanding the functioning of cells, both neuronal and corporeal.


Social Sustainability, Past and Future: Undoing Unintended Consequences for the Earth's Survival

By Sander Van Der Leeuw,

Book cover of Social Sustainability, Past and Future: Undoing Unintended Consequences for the Earth's Survival

Why this book?

As a researcher exploring informational aspects of social-ecological systems, I find this comprehensive open access scholarly book on social sustainability endlessly fascinating and thought-provoking. The book’s central theme is the role played by the organization of information processing and its social evolution in complex adaptive systems throughout human history. The main strength of this work is its future perspective in the detailed context of the past, with this line capturing the shift: “for the first time in the history of our species we are faced with a major transition in that domain, from human to electronic information processing.” The author astutely observes and examines the unintended human consequences of information and communication technology advances, including the potential long-term impacts of artificial intelligence and machine learning. 


Raising Stony Mayhall

By Daryl Gregory,

Book cover of Raising Stony Mayhall

Why this book?

Stony Mayhall is not like other boys. Discovered as a baby with a still heart but a moving body he is, as you may have guessed, among the undead. Nevertheless, the introspective witty youth will win your heart in the end. 

I personally love this zombie story’s deep dive into zombie politics and Stony’s anti-hero arc as he tries to discover the meaning of his own existence. And despite the heavy weight that puts on a zombie, Daryl Gergory still manages to have a lot of fun with the characters, the premise, and the plot.


Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age

By Brad Smith, Carol Ann Browne,

Book cover of Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age

Why this book?

Brad Smith is the president of Microsoft, a lawyer who designed and drove Microsoft’s legal strategy during the anti-trust suit in the 1990s. (I should also mention he was my undergraduate classmate at Princeton University—though I’ve not seen him in decades.) Smith co-authored the book with Carol Ann Browne, Microsoft’s Senior Director of Communications. Most big tech companies see themselves as historically unique, allergic to discussing risk, regulation, responsibility, or self-restraint. I assumed this book would follow suit; but I was wrong. It’s honest, balanced, and full of historical references to earlier technologies, such as railroads, electricity, the telegraph, and nuclear weapons. It’s also loaded with insider stories about cyber threats, social media-facilitated violence, and international law initiatives (e.g., the “Digital Geneva Convention”). This book taught me a lot about how major tech companies are already affecting war and peace.


Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

By Douglas Adams,

Book cover of Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

Why this book?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, so naturally, I won’t. If you’re checking out a list like this, you don’t need me to tell you about it. Instead, let’s talk about Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. If you saw any of the 2016 BBC series based on the book–it’s nothing like that. It’s probably not much like the 2010 BBC series, either, but I never saw it, so who knows? In any event, if you enjoyed the classic humor of H2G2, Adams’s bizarre detective novel will help satisfy the craving for more that’s lurked within you since you finished the Guide and its four sequels.


Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets

By Nassim Nicholas Taleb,

Book cover of Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets

Why this book?

Fooled by Randomness is one of the best books I have ever read on the trouble of working with real-world data. Many times we think that real-world data is easy to work with but it’s full of noise instead. But what kind of noise can quickly get us into trouble. In this book, Taleb goes into detail about common traps and pitfalls to avoid so that we don’t re-create the 2008 financial crash again.


Haroun and the Sea of Stories

By Salman Rushdie,

Book cover of Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Why this book?

There is the genre of magical realism and then there is Salman Rushdie’s magical realism. Salman takes the ordinariness of reality and transforms it into magic, beautifully using his language. Haroun and the sea of stories is my favourite work of the author in which he uses language, to create a wonderful world of magic. I particularly enjoyed this work because it opened up a whole world of possibilities for me, showing me how to use language in a creative way, in which multiple meanings can be created. Reality and magic beautifully come together in this amazing book!


The City and the Stars

By Arthur C. Clarke,

Book cover of The City and the Stars

Why this book?

Those who know me, understand that Arthur C. Clarke has been my favorite author for as long as I can remember, and they would probably be surprised at my pick of this novel over his most well-known book 2001: A Space Odyssey or even Childhood’s End. Let me put it this way, I’ll recommend anything written by Clarke, but this book stands out for me because of its profound look at the far future of humanity, which has fallen nearly to the point of extinction. It is a work that serves as a warning to us all, but also shows how one person can change the trajectory of an entire society, bringing it back from the brink in order to move once again among the stars.


Grokking Deep Learning

By Andrew W. Trask,

Book cover of Grokking Deep Learning

Why this book?

This book is a fantastic intro to someone who really wants to intuitively understand deep learning. It can help you clear up things where you are stuck or simply if you’re having trouble explaining parts of your algorithm to your business stakeholders. It is also a really good preparation if you want a really solid, practical basis to come up with new tweaks or types of models.


Warpath

By Tony Daniel,

Book cover of Warpath

Why this book?

I liked the unusual idea of having a Native American tribe to be the first humans to conquer space and create an interstellar nation. Overall it combines great science fiction concepts and world-building with powerful human drama. I found this book "spoke to me" in ways others don't, playing upon my lifelong interest in Native American culture.


Use of Weapons

By Iain M. Banks,

Book cover of Use of Weapons

Why this book?

This is a book that asks all the hard moral questions, and isn't shy about not having all the answers, but leaving the reader to try and come up with their own. The worldbuilding is—pardon the pun—out of this world. And if, like me, you can't get enough of it, there are more books set in the same universe.