Superintelligence – Paths, Dangers, Strategies – by Nick Bostrom

Superintelligence - Paths, Dangers, Strategies - by Nick Bostrom

To be frank, I got this book because I liked the owl on the cover, and I have a thing for owls! If you are into machine learning and artificial intelligence thought experiments, you would want to read Superintelligence.

According to the Swedish author, Nick Bostrom, Superintelligence is any intellect that greatly exceeds the cognitive performance of humans in virtually all domains of interest. He believes if machine brains surpass human brains in general intelligence, this new superintelligence could replace humans as the dominant lifeform on Earth. The book explores multiple scenarios that superintelligence can happen and how we can detect or possibly contain it.

I think, by the time a superintelligent agent is born, it will be too late, and it will either kill us all or adopt us as their pets!

Nick Bostrom is a Professor in the Faculty of Philosophy at Oxford University and founding Director of the Future of Humanity Institute. This book has small text, long sentences, and sizable paragraphs, so it takes a committed reader to make it to the other side of the book.

The Case for Mars by Dr. Robert Zubrin

The Case for Mars by Robert Zubrin

The Case for Mars by Dr. Robert Zubrin is a good primer about everything you need to know about humanity’s attempt to colonize Mars. The author, Dr. Zubrin, is an American aerospace engineer, author, and advocate for the human exploration of Mars.

As an engineer, his book has formulas and timelines, estimates, and analyses, so you’d need at least a Freshman college or university level of math, physics, and chemistry to make sense of them all. Don’t let that stop you; because the author offers you suitable history lessons and some good arguments favour tax-funded and commercial scientific endeavours to reach Mars. According to Dr. Zubrin, a human mission to Mars is entirely within reach even using late 1950s rockets, not computing, technologies.

Dr. Zubrin advises against building a Battlestar Galactical ship for this trip. Instead, he advocates living off the land and using local resources to make a two-way mission possible

It took about 250 days for the British navy to make it to Australia for the first time. Now with proper planning, we can go to Mars within only six months! Dr. Zubrin advises against building a Battlestar Galactical ship for this trip. Instead, he advocates living off the land and using local resources to make a two-way mission possible. We can send uncrewed spaceships and equipment to Mars in advance to use local Marsian resources to make rocket fuel and oxygen a round-trip to Mars possible.

If you follow NASA and SpaceX missions to Mars, this book will give you some good foundational knowledge to enrich your experience.

Defying Limits by Dr. Dave Williams

Defying Limits by Dr. Dave Williams

After reading a dystopian novel such as 1984, I needed something more uplifting. Space travel is always uplifting, especially when it isn’t about billionaires flying to space. The book Defying Limits is by Dr. Dave Williams, an ER physician turned astronaut who was part of the first Canadian crew of astronauts.

This book is a super easy read and suitable for people of all ages, especially if they have big dreams. One of my favourite parts of the story is when they realized that their lab rats stopped feeding their babies in space, so the astronaut crew stayed up drip-feeding the baby mice. It turned out that mice enjoy playing in zero gravity.

Team Human by Douglas Rushkoff

Team Human by Douglas Rushkoff

The first book that I read by Douglas Rushkoff was called Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, and I really enjoyed it. The name refers to the 2013 protests in San Francisco during which shuttle buses from Google and Apple were attacked and vandalized by the protestors.

Team Human is Rushkof’s most recent book that he published last February. He is a sociologist, university professor and, best selling author of several books. Terms such as “Program or be programmed” or “Viral Media” were first coined by him. You can read his bios on his website and Wikipedia page.

At first, I thought Team Human would be an updated CyberPunk manifesto by him. Still, after reading a few chapters, I realized that this isn’t about being a technology Luddite and attacking technological innovations. He is, in fact, very much in favour of technology that augments humanity.

Rushkoff is critical of technologies that are optimizing human behaviour for profit. For example, data mining and algorithms on social media, search engines, eCommerce websites, dating apps, and electronic music. He describes an era of post-colonialism after the invention of the Internet, where corporations are colonizing their own users, employees, and customers. 

Team human has one hundred chapters, and the last chapter tells you to go and “Find the others.” Douglas Rushkoff is publishing Team Human on Medium platform under the same name. You can listen to his interviews with prominent thought leaders on Team Human Podcast, which I recommend. While at it, also check out his lecture on CBC Ideas.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot

My good friend Jill got this book for me, and I finished reading it during the holiday season. Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman who died of cancer. During her treatments, doctors and researchers harvested her cancer cells without her consent. These cells were the first human cells that successfully survived and continued to multiply in a laboratory setting. The HeLa cells, named after her initials, became one of the essential human cells in medical research such as the development of polio vaccines, a variety of cancer treatments, and research on the effects of radiation on human cells. Researchers in the space program sent HeLa cells to zero gravity and eventually to the moon.

All sounds wonderful, but not exactly! While Henrietta Lacks’ cells were being cultured, distributed, and even sold in large volumes to medical research facilities around the world, her family has been kept uninformed about the fate of their deceased mother, wife, daughter, and cousin. They were under the impression that Henrietta’s body was somehow still alive and subjected to various medical experiments.

This book is a first-hand investigation about the story of Henrietta Lacks, her family, and the medical ethics of the time. The author, Rebecca Skloot, goes to great length to document her interviews and observations with the Lacks’ family and the researchers who worked on the HeLa cells.

After finishing this book, now I can’t imagine having gone through life and not knowing about Henrietta’s story.