An AI reporter’s favorite books of 2020

The older I get, the extra I want I may cease time so I may learn extra books. Books that earn my time and a spotlight are people who promise to complement me as an individual and deepen my understanding of AI for the work I do as senior AI employees author at VentureBeat.

This 12 months, I learn greater than a dozen books, some revealed in latest months and others in years previous, like The Curse of Bigness by Tim Wu, a terrific learn for anybody occupied with understanding antitrust, and the novel Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler, one of my favorite books of all time.

Facts and insights from the books I learn usually discover their manner into my tales. For instance, final 12 months I wrote about how AI ethics is all about energy in a piece that drew closely on Race After Technology by Ruha Benjamin and The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff. Reading Amy Webb’s The Big Nine additionally helped deepen my understanding of what may go unsuitable if firms like Amazon, Facebook, and Google develop with out problem for the subsequent 50 years.

As the 12 months winds down, right here’s a rundown and a few ideas on 9 books I learn in 2020 that contact on synthetic intelligence. Some books on this record are extra about artwork or the research of Black tech cyberculture than AI, however every provides thought-provoking insights; a novel perspective; or a window into how AI impacts enterprise, balances of energy, or human rights. Best of all, many of the books included right here try and think about another tech future with out gross violations of human rights or accelerating inequalities.

Black Futures

This e-book got here collectively following some Twitter DMs a number of years in the past and is the very best mix of phrases and imagery on this record. Black Futures was edited by New York Times Magazine employees author Jenna Wortham and artwork curator Kimberly Drew and launched December 1.

With greater than 100 contributors and practically 500 pages of brief reads and wealthy visuals, Black Futures is a group of poems, memes, unique essays, images, and artwork. It’s designed to be learn in no explicit order, and Drew and Wortham encourage you to learn together with an internet-connected system so you’ll be able to seek for names, phrases, and web sites talked about within the textual content.

You can learn a soliloquy from a repertory theater play on one web page and be taught in regards to the online game Hair Nah on the subsequent. And you’ll be able to snicker at #ThanksgivingWithBlackHouseholds memes after which observe that up with a bit about Black queer tradition, Black political motion, or Black energy naps. There’s additionally a combination of sensible recommendation, like easy methods to survive a police riot and easy methods to construct an archive for a Black future, just like the Octavia E. Butler assortment maintained by the Huntington Library in Los Angeles.

When it involves AI, one of my favorite elements is the story of Alisha B. Wormsley, a self-described Black sci-fi nerd who purchased a billboard in Pittsburgh merely to promote the mantra “There are Black people in the future.” This will get at the whiteness of AI in science fiction and popular culture that in lots of instances seeks to erase Black individuals from existence, in response to analysis launched earlier this 12 months.

That piece additionally cites a favorite Martin Luther King, Jr. quote on automation that claims, “When machines and computers, profit motives, and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Another piece within the e-book calls dreaming of a Black disabled future a radical act. Former Google Ethical AI co-lead Timnit Gebru touched on the thought of envisioning a extra inclusive world when she informed VentureBeat in an interview earlier this month that she desires younger Black individuals and girls who witnessed her mistreatment to know that their views are a useful half of imagining different futures.

Contributors to this e-book embody writers like Hannah Giorgis; Ta-Nehisi Coates; Nikole Hannah-Jones; Wesley Morris, who co-hosts the podcast Still Processing with Jenna Wortham; and singer Solange Knowles.

One of my favorite issues about Black Futures is likely to be that one of the e-book’s 10 sections is devoted to Black pleasure. I’d by no means seen that earlier than. Once you’ll be able to really invite individuals inside your property once more, Black Futures will make a gorgeous espresso desk e-book that lets company flip by means of, dive in, and get misplaced in a great way.

Monopolies Suck: 7 Ways Big Corporations Rule Your Life and How to Take Back Control

This is a e-book for individuals who really feel helpless within the face of highly effective companies. In Monopolies Suck, Sally Hubbard makes the case that anticompetitive habits and market focus are benefiting not simply Big Tech giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, however firms all through nearly each main trade within the United States in the present day.

She acknowledges the deleterious penalties of market focus past tech, like rising costs within the airline trade, value gouging in pharmaceutical medicine, and unhealthy results on the meals we eat. In outlining these harms, Hubbard compares well being care enterprise conglomerates to organized crime mafias.

She additionally argues that monopolies cut back the American dream, ramp up inequality, cripple innovation, and threaten democracy.

The e-book acknowledges the viewpoints and affect of traditionally important figures within the historical past of antitrust, specifically former Ohio senator John Sherman, whose Sherman Antitrust Act (1890) gives the bottom for antitrust regulation in the present day, and Robert Bork, whose conservative viewpoints have formed the attitudes of judges and lawmakers. Hubbard additionally examines the function algorithms, knowledge, and surveillance play in consolidating energy for big firms and the way these companies foyer lawmakers.

Hubbard used to work within the antitrust division of the Department of Justice. Today she works on the Open Markets Institute. She additionally testified as an skilled within the antitrust investigation a congressional subcommittee accomplished this fall.

What I get pleasure from about this e-book is that the writer takes time to acknowledge how powerless market focus could make individuals really feel. At occasions, Hubbard appears to cease simply to inform readers they aren’t loopy, that they are surely making much less cash and having fun with fewer alternatives now than up to now.

Each chapter ends with a bit titled “Your Life, Better” that summarizes the best way monopolies decrease your pay or crush the American dream, typically supplying recommendation for how one can take again management.

Monopolies Suck got here out this fall, shortly after the DOJ lawsuit in opposition to Google and a congressional subcommittee’s Big Tech antitrust investigation. Both occasions mark antitrust exercise that hasn’t occurred in many years and will have implications for AI and tech firms that this 12 months ranked among the many 10 firms with the very best market caps on the planet. Part of me needs this e-book had come out after these historic occasions so it may have included Hubbard’s response.

If you’re on the lookout for a e-book that pulls punches and defers to Big Tech complaints that regulation may negatively influence innovation and the economic system, this isn’t it. But in the event you or somebody you realize would possibly respect a cautious examination of company affect and a information that may empower everybody to behave, Hubbard provides highly effective perception.

Competing within the Age of AI: Strategy and Leadership When Algorithms and Networks Run the World

This e-book is for enterprise executives and decision-makers anxious to know the methods synthetic intelligence will rework enterprise and society. Harvard Business School professors Marco Iansiti and Karim Lakhani discover how incumbent firms and digital challengers will conflict and the way companies should re-architect corporations and factories within the age of AI. While often drawing on insights from their very own analysis, the coauthors carefully study the forces that helped firms like Ant Financial and WeChat obtain unprecedented dominance.

Competing within the Age of AI is a superb e-book for anybody in want of a primer on how knowledge and AI rework enterprise in an more and more digital economic system, producing what Iansiti and Lakhani name a “new breed of companies.” It’s packed full of simple-to-understand enterprise technique and insights into what enterprise leaders from inside and out of doors the U.S. have to do to adapt and thrive.

As the authors clarify, the e-book was written to “give readers the insight to prepare for collisions that will inevitably affect their businesses.”

More particularly, it will get into the knowledge this alteration requires of firm leaders. The e-book notes that failure to adapt can go away companies susceptible to data-driven competitors. Part of that shift would require managers to be taught some machine studying necessities: “Just as every MBA student learns about accounting and its salience to business operations without wanting to become a professional accountant, managers need to do the same with AI and the related technology stack,” the e-book reads.

The e-book devotes time to inspecting the community impact, referring to it as a vital half of technique for digital working fashions, and it lists questions managers ought to ask themselves in the event that they need to type sound methods. Competing within the Age of AI focuses totally on alternatives, however it additionally briefly touches on the necessity to tackle dangers related to AI deployments.

Turning Point: Policymaking within the Era of Artificial Intelligence

Turning Point is a e-book by Brookings Institution VP Darrell West and Brookings president and retired U.S. Marine Corps four-star normal and former NATO commander John Allen. Both males have testified earlier than Congress and suggested lawmakers shaping AI coverage within the U.S. In a House Budget Committee listening to in regards to the function AI will play within the nation’s financial restoration this fall, West talked with Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) about how tech is accelerating inequality.

As it’s a Brookings Institution publication, you get to listen to from specialists like Brookings scholar William Galston, who argues that authorities use of facial recognition ought to be handled with the identical authorized weight as search warrants. You may even hear a couple of cross part of main influences on coverage and the regulation of synthetic intelligence. This can also be one of the one books I’ve ever come throughout that makes use of free Unsplash inventory imagery for canopy artwork.

Allen and West help elevated authorities spending to deal with points related to synthetic intelligence within the years forward. Areas of concern vary from schooling to nationwide protection. Turning Point additionally addresses coverage concerns throughout a broad spectrum of points, from the datafication of companies and geopolitics to ranges of inequality and other people transferring into cities, a development now taking place at charges unseen in human historical past.

I like that the e-book doesn’t get past web page two with out recognizing AI’s potential to pay attention wealth and energy. I additionally respect that Allen and West acknowledge how startups like Kairos and Affectiva have refused to just accept authorities or surveillance contracts. But the reader in me additionally desires to listen to the authors study ties between different AI startups and white supremacy teams or look into the motives of firms which might be keen to offer surveillance software program to governments.

Turning Point was launched in July and, as its subtitle suggests, is concentrated on policymaking with synthetic intelligence in thoughts. I felt the authors achieved their purpose of defining how AI is impacting elementary facets of individuals’s lives and shaping the methods and investments of nation states.

But I disagree with their assertion that there’s no use making an attempt to ban autonomous weapons or rein of their use. In reality, some nations have already tried to rally the world’s governments round a ban on the use of deadly autonomous weapons. And to date about 30 nations, together with China, have referred to as for a ban on totally autonomous weapons at UN Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) conferences, in response to a Human Rights Watch evaluation.

I additionally want the ethics chapter appeared earlier within the e-book, as an alternative of being relegated to the ultimate chapters. While Allen and West commit time to ethics in early purposes, enterprise alternatives are thought-about earlier than the dangers. Turning Point isn’t alone on this. Other books on this record, like Competing within the Age of AI, undertake the identical construction.

Turning Point briefly touches on the function machine studying performs within the focused detainment of Uighur Muslims in China, a topic of significance to many of the authors on this record. In notable latest updates, information studies earlier this month discovered each Alibaba and Huawei are reportedly testing or promoting facial recognition for monitoring members of the Muslim minority group in China.

I additionally respect that the authors took time to acknowledge the key danger the United States is incurring by failing to graduate sufficient individuals proficient in science, know-how, engineering, and math (STEM). They additionally recommend coverage approaches to deal with this challenge, which they deem a menace to nationwide safety. Recent cyberattacks President-elect Joe Biden described as a “grave risk” to the United States illustrate this level.

This is a compelling e-book for anybody anxious to grasp how knowledge assortment and AI are altering enterprise, schooling, protection, and well being care. It additionally prescribes coverage options, just like the creation of a nationwide knowledge technique, cybersecurity safety for the nation’s infrastructure, and the institution of a nationwide analysis cloud. The latter method is supported by lawmakers in Congress and main companies, in addition to researchers involved about rising inequality amongst AI researchers within the age of deep studying.

My advice comes with the caveat that this e-book is cowritten by a retired normal and is much less vital of the navy’s historical past of affect on the sector of AI than different books on this record, like Artificial Whiteness.

Data Feminism   

Data Feminism encourages individuals to undertake a framework knowledgeable by direct expertise primarily based on intersectional feminism and co-liberation. Throughout the e-book, authors Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren Klein concentrate on the work of Black feminine students like Kimberlé Crenshaw. Notable endorsers of the e-book embody Algorithms of Oppression writer Safiya Noble, Race After Technology writer Ruha Benjamin, and DJ Patil, who coined the title “data scientist” and was the primary White House Chief Data Scientist.

The hype round massive knowledge and AI, the coauthors write, is “deafeningly male and white and techno-heroic.” They add that “the time is now to reframe that world with a feminist lens.”

Written by two white girls, Data Feminism acknowledges that individuals who expertise privilege could be unaware of oppression skilled by different individuals, one thing the authors time period “privilege hazard.”

“The work of data feminism is first to tune into how standard practices in data science serve to reinforce these existing inequities and second to use data science to challenge and change the distribution of power,” the authors write. “Our overarching goal is to take a stand against the status quo — against a world that benefits us, two white women college professors, at the expense of others. To work toward that goal, we have chosen to feature the voices of those who speak from the margins.”

The e-book describes cases when knowledge is used to show inequality, starting from Christine Darden’s expertise at NASA to Joy Buolamwini’s vital work analyzing business facial recognition techniques. The authors element ongoing efforts to redress inequities, together with the Library of Missing Datasets and different work to assemble knowledge that governments don’t accumulate. The e-book additional asserts that governmental knowledge assortment is usually a mirrored image of who has energy and who doesn’t. Examples embody a femicide data-gathering venture in Mexico that follows within the footsteps of Ida B. Wells’ work to assemble knowledge about lynchings of Black individuals within the U.S.

Data Feminism was launched in February and was written for knowledge scientists within the methods intersectional feminism can transfer the occupation towards justice and assist feminists embrace knowledge science. The authors attempt for inclusion and be aware that the e-book isn’t just for girls.

The e-book joins a quantity of works launched this 12 months that urge individuals to assume otherwise about approaches to creating synthetic intelligence. During the Resistance AI workshop on the NeurIPS AI analysis convention earlier this week, the authors shared seven ideas of knowledge feminism. A quantity of AI ethics researchers have additionally referred to as on knowledge scientists to heart the experiences of marginalized communities when designing AI techniques and to think about the hurt AI techniques can inflict on such teams.

Researchers from Google’s DeepMind have additionally referred to as for decolonizing AI as a way to keep away from producing AI techniques that generate exploitation or oppression, a message echoed by analysis on knowledge colonization in Africa. There’s additionally work calling for AI knowledgeable by the philosophy of ubuntu, which acknowledges the methods persons are interconnected. Queer and indigenous AI frameworks had been additionally launched this 12 months.

Distributed Blackness: African American Cybercultures

Distributed Blackness was written by Georgia Tech digital tech affiliate professor André Brock, Jr., who beforehand contributed to Black Futures with a quick essay about why BlackPlanet was a social media community pioneer.

Distributed Blackness contains an exploration of digital areas like Black Twitter and covers some of the early entrepreneurs who constructed the primary Black on-line areas within the Nineteen Nineties. Brock wrote that his e-book is supposed to hark again to The Negro Motorist Green Book, which helped Black individuals journey and collect in secure areas when transferring throughout the United States.

“I am arguing that Black folks’ ‘natural internet affinity’ is as much about how they understand and employ digital artifacts and practices as it is about how Blackness is constituted within the material (and virtual) world of the internet itself. I am naming these Black digital practices as Black cyberculture,” Brock writes.

He says Black digital practices embody “libidinal online expressions and practices of joy and catharsis about being Black.” He additionally examines types of on-line exercise he refers to as “ratchet digital practice.” He defines ratchery because the enactment and efficiency of ratchet habits and aesthetics.

Examples embody inventive Twitter show names like Optimus Fine, Zora Neale Hustlin’, and Auntie Hot Flash Summer. Brock additionally explains why the e-book omits examples of ratchery like “WorldStar!” and why he defines that with class points in Black America and the work of W.E.B. DuBois in thoughts. The e-book additionally makes an attempt to look at elements influential to the Black digital expertise, like the truth that roughly 55% of Black individuals have dwelling broadband however 80% have smartphones.

One of the best facets of this e-book is that it ruptures the thought of the web and other people in know-how working on a white default and provides a pointed critique of a tech tradition that treats white because the norm and everybody else as “other.” It additionally takes an in depth — and at occasions vital — take a look at Afrofuturism, which Brock calls “an alternative path to analyzing Black technoculture.”

Algorithms do come up briefly within the e-book, however Distributed Blackness isn’t actually about AI. It’s an exploration of Black expression and creativity on-line, an examination of technoculture because the “interweaving of technology, culture, self, and identity.”

This e-book’s vernacular bounces comfortably between educational terminology and social media references and terminology crafted by Brock himself. That could make elements of the e-book powerful to learn, however it’s rewarding. Distributed Blackness made me cackle at occasions and assume at different occasions.

Too Smart: How Digital Capitalism is Extracting Data, Controlling Our Lives, and Taking Over the World

We’ve all heard the advertising pitch: The good system, good automobile, good dwelling, and good metropolis will enhance your life. But Too Smart writer Jathan Sadowski argues that good tech’s modest conveniences are what you get in change for not asking too many questions on a world full of data-collecting machines linked to the web.

“This book will be called dystopian. It might even be accused of alarmism. Such reactions are to be expected in a culture that teaches us to trust in technology’s benevolent power,” he writes.

Sadowski notes that over time, individuals get used to “offending events” or privateness violations that include good tech, which he says offers companies the power to manage, handle, and manipulate individuals. Smart tech, Sadowski writes, prioritizes the pursuits of company technocratic energy over democratic rights and the social good. He argues that tech isn’t impartial and that the query isn’t whether or not it’s political however what the politics behind it are.

“The key concern is not with control itself but rather with who has control over whom,” he writes. These firms “are technocrats creating systems that shape society and govern people. By neglecting the politics of smart tech, we allow powerful interests to reside in the shadows and exercise undue influence over our lives.”

The good world, typically known as the web of issues (IoT), has grown from 8 billion gadgets in 2017 to twenty billion in 2020. The surveillance and talent to energy techniques of management and manipulation can basically reshape society, Sadowski writes, and type the muse of capitalism in a digitized world.

He notes that knowledge collected by means of good gadgets can be utilized to foretell shopper pursuits and upsell services or products, as is the case with Amazon’s advice techniques or energy purposes for the rising good metropolis sector.

Sadowski is vital of deterministic views of technopolitics as a result of he believes such an method cedes energy to executives, engineers, and entrepreneurs.

Too Smart calls datafication a type of violence and says firms like Amazon and Google need to turn out to be, to borrow a phrase Tom Wolfe used to explain Wall Street titans within the Eighties, “masters of the universe.”

One of my favorite elements of this e-book is a chapter wherein Sadowski particulars good tech deployments in main U.S. cities and argues that when individuals assume of good cities, they want to consider New Orleans, not depictions of futuristic metropolises. New Orleans has a historical past of working with surveillance firms like Palantir and utilizing predictive policing. In 2018, the Verge teamed up with the Investigative Fund to report that the New Orleans Police Department’s work with Palantir was such a carefully saved secret that members of town council didn’t even learn about it. Earlier this month, the New Orleans City Council voted to place in place a ban on facial recognition and predictive policing instruments.

If you don’t belief the “smart” agenda for houses and cities or are involved about rising charges of AI-powered surveillance know-how utilized by democratic and authoritarian governments, you would possibly need to learn Too Smart.

Girl Decoded: A Scientist’s Quest to Reclaim Our Humanity by Bringing Emotional Intelligence to Technology   

Girl Decoded is a e-book Affectiva CEO Rana el Kaliouby wrote about her journey from rising up in Cairo, Egypt to constructing a U.S.-based firm that makes use of AI to categorise human emotion. (Full disclosure: I moderated an onstage dialog at an Affectiva convention in Boston in 2018).

It might be the quantity of AI-related studying and writing I do, however what stood out to me wasn’t the technical facets per se, although I did respect el Kaliouby divulging that as a consequence of her work she has a deep data of the muscle mass answerable for facial expressions.

The e-book is about emotional intelligence, so I suppose it’s predictable that I loved studying about el Kaliouby’s household, her religion, and her journey to beginning an organization. Girl Decoded additionally particulars how el Kaliouby ended up in Boston working with individuals like MIT Media Lab professor and Affective Computing Group chief Rosalind Picard.

While Girl Decoded focuses on the alternatives of emotional intelligence tech, AI practitioners and researchers have raised questions in regards to the validity of utilizing AI to foretell human emotion. And a paper just lately accepted to the Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency convention (FAccT) questions the sector of affective computing.

But el Kaliouby argues that moral emotional intelligence can profit society. Examples vary from serving to individuals on the autism spectrum establish human emotion and work together with others to recognizing when a driver is experiencing highway rage or drowsiness or is in any other case distracted, a menace that has turn out to be extra widespread because the creation of the smartphone.

She additionally writes about how customers can punish firms that have interaction in unethical habits, like firms promoting know-how to spy on ethnic minorities.

You may even hear about how robots can change human habits in constructive methods. For instance, Mabu is a house robotic that makes use of Affectiva’s emotional intelligence to consider the responses of sufferers coping with congestive coronary heart failure. Its AI is educated utilizing knowledge from an American Heart Association data graph to reply a affected person’s questions. Affectiva has additionally been used for SoftBank Robotics’ Pepper and to scan the faces of customers watching ads in a grocery store setting.

This is likely to be an excellent e-book for entrepreneurs within the arc of a founder’s story or anybody curious to listen to arguments in favor of emotion recognition techniques and human-centric know-how.

Artificial Whiteness: Politics and Ideology in Artificial Intelligence

Since I learn the beforehand talked about paper “The Whiteness of AI” earlier this 12 months, I anticipated to listen to extra in regards to the influence on science fiction and popular culture, however this isn’t that e-book. Artificial Whiteness was written by Yarden Katz, a fellow within the Harvard Medical School’s Department of Systems Biology and an MIT graduate.

The e-book delivers a view of AI historical past not by means of important technical advances, however moments of collaboration between academia, trade, and authorities. It additionally examines the affect of an AI skilled trade made up of the media, assume tanks, and universities.

Artificial Whiteness references students like Angela Davis, Frantz Fanon, Toni Morrison, and W.E.B. DuBois, however that is available in later chapters. It begins with a historical past of synthetic intelligence in academia and its early ties to navy funding. In exploring AI’s roots, Katz talks about how “artificial intelligence” is as a lot a advertising time period as it’s a area of pc science and trade.

“The all too real consequences of whiteness come from its connection to concrete systems of power. From colonial America to the present, whiteness has been intertwined with capitalist conceptions of property inscribed into law,” the e-book reads. “AI’s new progressive rebranding is not a real departure from the field’s imperial roots but rather an adaptation to changing political sensibilities.”

Katz writes about how whiteness is used to maintain oppressive relationships, however you’ll hear extra about Henry Kissinger, geopolitics, and efforts to take care of American dominance within the first 100 pages than in regards to the social hierarchy of white supremacy.

Among options Katz provides are acts of refusal, which he argues could be generative. Examples of this embody early AI researchers Terry Winograd and Joseph Weizenbaum, who made some extent of refusing navy funding. Today, AI researchers have additionally refused to take cash from Google.

“When the neoliberal logic surrounding the university pushes for more partnerships, more interdisciplinary collaboration, and the creation of more institutes that naturalize the military-industrial-academic machine, it seems to me that a different disposition — one of refusal — becomes even more essential,” Katz writes.

This is a e-book about how white supremacy could be discovered on the roots of synthetic intelligence, an ongoing affect confirmed by hyperlinks between AI startups and white supremacists. It’s additionally about naming highly effective forces within the trade, like AI specialists and universities. And the e-book offers readers perception into the integral function advertising performed and continues to play within the historical past of AI, a relationship that involves thoughts when a survey finds 40% of AI startups don’t really use AI in methods materials to their enterprise.

Final ideas

It ought to come as no shock to anybody who often follows my work, however the 9 books I learn this 12 months contact on coverage, discrimination, human rights violations, and harms related to synthetic intelligence deployment. I attempt to maintain these insights in thoughts once I hear Microsoft is engaged on tech to allow e-carceration or when firms make claims in regards to the efficacy of an AI system.

I’m already wanting ahead to Your Computer Is on Fire, by Thomas S. Mullaney and Benjamin Peters, a group of tales about easy methods to repair a damaged computing trade. Know a e-book that I ought to learn to tell my reporting about synthetic intelligence in 2021 or that I ought to have learn this 12 months? You can ship me a DM on Twitter @kharijohnson or ship me an e mail.


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