13 smart books about AI to catch you up to speed

13 Smart Books About AI to Catch You up to Speed

In Reading Lists by Emma Contreras Grant

13 smart books about AI to catch you up to speed

When ChatGPT first went viral on social media, the freelance writer community exploded. I heard the same questions over and over: Is this the end of writing as a profession, happening in real time? Is ChatGPT good enough to replace human writers? (For the record, I promise a human wrote this.) 

These are all valid questions. But rather than fall into a spiral of anxiety over what the future may hold, I recommend turning to the top books about artificial intelligence to help you better understand AI. 

While books about AI have been around for quite some time (for example, E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops, in which humanity worships man-made, omnipotent technology, was published over 100 years ago), interest has skyrocketed recently thanks to the rise of chatbots like the aforementioned ChatGPT. 

The following nonfiction and fiction books about AI are a good place to start for readers who want to learn more about this potentially transformative technology. From discussing the moral implications of artificial intelligence (The Alignment Problem) to the potential good it can do (AI for Social Good), these books offer a wide spectrum of opinions and research about AI and its broader implications. 

1. The Fourth Age by Byron Reese

Combining his background in technology, a passion for history, and insights as a successful entrepreneur, Reese outlines how technology has majorly transformed humanity three times thus far and posits that we’re now sitting on the brink of a fourth thanks to an AI and robotics revolution. This thoughtful and philosophical nonfiction book about AI maintains a cautiously optimistic outlook on the future of a world empowered by technology. 

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2. The Sentient Machine by Amir Husain

Whatever you believe about artificial intelligence’s ability to help or hurt us, one thing is certain: It’s here to stay and will only become more entrenched in our everyday lives. 

Husain, a computer scientist, argues that as much as some people would like to prevent AI from becoming more advanced than it already is, that’s a futile approach. He urges readers to challenge their negative assumptions and instead find ways to embrace a technology that could potentially benefit all of us.

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3. Artificial Intelligence by Melanie Mitchell

For readers seeking a more thorough understanding of how AI came to be and how AI algorithms work, turn to Mitchell’s comprehensive overview, Artificial Intelligence. Mitchell, a computer scientist and acclaimed AI researcher, takes complicated concepts and breaks them down in a digestible format for folks who don’t have a background in math or science. 

Mitchell clears up many misconceptions about AI (she disputes the belief held by many scientists that AI is close to passing human-level intelligence) and advocates for better public discourse and transparency around AI.

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4. The Alignment Problem by Brian Christian

No conversation about artificial intelligence and machine learning is complete without mentioning the ethics involved. In what he refers to as the “alignment problem,” Christian deftly explores this complex and crucial intersection of technology and human values.

While Christian acknowledges AI will inevitably get smarter and stronger as time goes on, he implores that it’s imperative for scientists to be constantly questioning and testing these programs to ensure they continue to serve all of humanity’s best interests — a feat easier said than done. 

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5. A World Without Work by Daniel Susskind

There’s no shortage of science fiction books about machines becoming smarter than us and stealing our jobs. While predictions of automatons taking over the world have been overblown in the past, Susskind shows how the technological advancements of more recent years have a high potential of making work as we know it obsolete. Rather than spreading doom and gloom, Susskind lays out how this future could lead to desirable outcomes.

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6. I, Human by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

From dating apps to staffing companies to fake news-peddling bots on Twitter (sorry, I meant X), AI is influencing our lives in ways we don’t even realize. What’s particularly worrisome about this, according to Charmorro-Premuzic, is that this is just the beginning of our journey with AI. 

In a riveting guide that focuses more on the human experience rather than the tech behind automations, I, Human challenges readers to celebrate and uphold what it truly means to be human in the face of an impending AI revolution. 

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7. AI for Social Good by Rahul Dodhia

Advocates for marginalized communities have, understandably, voiced concerns for how AI can exacerbate discrimination. Worries include gender bias in hiring algorithms, a further erosion of privacy rights, and confirmation bias in social media news feeds.All that is to say, AI has the potential to cause great harm.

But there’s also the potential for good. Dodhia, an executive at Microsoft’s AI for Good Research Lab who has a mathematical psychology Ph.D., writes a compelling case for the ability of AI to transform society in positive ways. Dodhia addresses how everyone from policymakers to AI scientists can work together to ethically integrate AI into society. 

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8. Four Futures by Peter Frase

Four Futures takes its cues from both science fiction and scholarly research to present four distinct scenarios of the future that are combinations of scarcity, abundance, hierarchy, and equality. 

While the best outcome we can hope for is a combination of abundance and equality, it’s well worth noting that the most terrifying of the four, what Frase calls “exterminism,” is a combination of hierarchy and scarcity that effectively renders the working class unneeded. There are certain factors in society that point towards a future of exterminism unless drastic measures are taken to safeguard against it.

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9. Code Dependent by Madhumita Murgia

Murgia, an editor for the Financial Times, has been researching and reporting on AI for decades, beginning long before ChatGPT made headlines. Code Dependent — shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Nonfiction — reveals her sobering findings, with global examples of how AI compromises everything from our livelihoods and privacy to our very humanity. 

The message is clear: AI, despite the promises of its creators, has the power to perpetuate the very worst in us.

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10. The Worlds I See by Fei-Fei Li

There are few individuals as influential in the field of artificial intelligence as Dr. Fei-Fei Li, who holds multiple degrees in computer science, engineering, and physics. Her fascinating memoir is not only a testament to her work ethic and determination, but also an inspiring coming-of-age tale of a scientist on the forefront of the AI revolution. 

Ultimately, The Worlds I See will leave readers feeling more hopeful about the future as long as AI is in the hands of people like Li, who has dedicated much of her career to ensuring technology continues to evolve in a way that respects human dignity. 

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11. Plum Rains by Andromeda Romano-Lax

A list of books about AI wouldn’t be complete without at least a few science fiction novels. Plum Rains differs from the action-packed dystopian fanfare that usually surrounds fictive portrayals of AI and instead offers a quietly beautiful family saga of hidden identities, forbidden romance, and a dark legacy of Japanese colonization.

As Japan struggles with an alarmingly low birth rate, an aging population, and a dwindling healthcare industry, the country searches for a long-term solution that doesn’t rely on humans. This puts a Filipina nurse’s job at stake when her 100-year-old patient develops an unexpected bond with her new robot assistant, Hiro. 

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12. The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster

What would happen if all of our smart technology stopped working? 

A. Society handles this peacefully and maturely, and everyone works together to find a common solution.
Or
B. Chaos erupts on the streets.

While I love to think A would happen, B may not be too far off the mark.

Forster published this remarkably prescient, award-winning short story in 1909. In it,humans’ every need is met by an almighty “Machine.” Rather than meet with people face-to-face, all communication is funneled through the Machine. While most people revere this system and are totally reliant upon it, some realize the potential consequences. 

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13. The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Set in a post-oil future ravaged by climate change, humanity is forced to grapple with the consequences of its mistakes. Corporations own the rights to the foods available to eat and calories are a precious commodity. 

Anderson, a calorie hunter, is in Bangkok searching for foods long thought to be extinct. He crosses paths with Emiko, one of the genetically engineered, humanoid New People. Emiko lives an enslaved life but yearns for freedom. 

Bacigalupi’s debut novel, which netted the Hugo and Nebula Awards, is an emotionally fraught tale of corporate greed, human resilience, and the dangers of unchecked technology. 

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About the Author: Emma Contreras Grant

Emma is an Everand booklist curator and a freelance content marketing writer covering finance, business leadership, and B2B SaaS communications.