Diving straight into the weird and wonderful, I started the year with Olga Ravn’s novella depicting a spaceship occupied by both humans and Bladerunner style replicants. It explores a lot of very heavy themes mainly centred around what it means to be human and I really enjoyed that it was written as a series of short interviews (sometimes one sentence) with the ship's anonymous inhabitants. Definitely one to check out if you enjoy science fiction with a heavy emphasis on exploring deeper themes.
Back to non-fiction, I got this book as a gift from my girlfriend for my birthday, and was pretty much hooked from page one. If you haven’t heard the story, Bad Blood covers the riches-to-rags story of Silicon Valley blood testing company Theranos and its batshit insane founder Elizabeth Holmes. A tale of fraud, deceit and the dangers of the Silicon Valley dream, this is my book of the year and a very apt tale for anyone like me who is fascinated with innovation, as it shows a darker side to the “innovate at all costs” attitude many start-ups today have.
It’s no secret by now that I’m fascinated by all things coding, so when I saw a bright yellow book called Coders in Waterstones, it was pretty much a sure thing. A broad overview examining the type of people who go into coding, what the future they are working towards is and whether any generalisations can be applied to them as a group. Along the way, Clive Thompson mulls over the morality and upcoming dangers of the future this “new tribe” are paving the way for.
A year for me is not complete without a Michael Lewis book, and this year was no different. Michael Lewis is absolutely my favourite author, and you’ll know his work as he wrote the books Moneyball, The Big Short and The Blindside. I picked up The Undoing Project as it was focused on two psychologists I really admire, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. A surprisingly heartwarming tale, this book covers Tversky and Kahneman’s lifelong friendship as they sought to redefine how the human brain works, and really hit home as someone who is a huge fan of discovering cognitive biases and fallacies in my own way of thinking, so I definitely recommend this for someone who wants to look at things from a fresh perspective.
Timely, as he passed away shortly after I finished this book of his, but during the early summer I read James Lovelock’s prediction of the next age of human evolution, which he called “The Novacene”. A rather optimistic view of AI and robots as the next inevitable stage of human evolution, this book is perfect for anyone who wants a different opinion on the future of humanity, or is a fan of Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis.
One whole chapter of Coders is dedicated to the way that autonomous systems and AI can negatively impact women and ethnic minorities. This led me down a path of researching the social impact of AI, and eventually to Goldstaub’s How To Talk To Robots : A Girls' Guide to a Future Dominated by AI. In it, Goldstaub outlines all the ways the careless use of AI has negatively impacted women, how to ensure data sets are representative and interviews a bunch of women making big waves in the AI community. This book is incredible for anyone (especially women) who want to pursue a career in AI but don’t know how to code or how to get started, and includes a wealth of practical tips on how to get to grips with the AI of the future.
I’m currently reading Star Maker as I heard it was a science fiction classic, and I’m really enjoying the cosmic vastness of it, although it’s taking a while to plough through, as does the cosmos supposedly. Starting off strange with the narrator being a formless being travelling to different worlds that are currently experiencing a sort of existential crisis, it brings up a lot of very real issues about our current world in a really exciting and playful way. There’s a saying that goes “good science fiction should not predict the car, but the traffic jam” and Star Maker really does that. Excited to be finished!