Book Bits: 18 September 2021

Rule of the Robots: How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Everything
Martin Ford
Review/excerpt via IEEE Spectrum
A few years ago, Martin Ford published a book called Architects of Intelligence, in which he interviewed 23 of the most experienced AI and robotics researchers in the world. Those interviews are just as fascinating to read now as they were in 2018, but Ford’s since had some extra time to chew on them, in the context of a several years of somewhat disconcertingly rapid AI progress (and hype), coupled with the economic upheaval caused by the pandemic. In his new book, Rule of the Robots: How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Everything, Ford takes a markedly well-informed but still generally optimistic look at where AI is taking us as a society. It’s not all good, and there are still a lot of unknowns, but Ford has a perspective that’s both balanced and nuanced, and I can promise you that the book is well worth a read.

Uncontrolled Spread: Why COVID-19 Crushed Us and How We Can Defeat the Next Pandemic
Scott Gottlieb
Review via The Wall Street Journal
Scott Gottlieb is uniquely qualified to write a book on America’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Physician, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, board member for both pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and genetic sequencing firm Illumina and presidential adviser: Dr. Gottlieb saw the crisis from multiple angles. His book “Uncontrolled Spread” is everything you’d hope: a smart and insightful account of what happened and, currently, the best guide to what needs to be done to avoid a future pandemic.

Nudge: The Final Edition
Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
Excerpt via
The original version of Nudge was published in the spring of 2008. While we were writing it, Thaler got his first iPhone and Sunstein his first BlackBerry. In his first term as a United States senator, our former University of Chicago colleague Barack Obama had decided to challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president. Senator Joe Biden was also doing that, without a whole lot of success. Real estate developer and reality television star Donald Trump was proclaiming that Clinton was “fantastic” and would “make a great president.” A financial crisis was emerging. Taylor Swift was nineteen years old (and had not yet won a Grammy), and Greta Thunberg was just five.
To say the least, a few things have happened in the intervening years. But Nudge continues to attract interest, and we have not been much inclined to tinker with it. Why a revision now? As we discuss in the book, status quo bias is a strong force.

AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Future
Kai-Fu Lee
Excerpt via Time
The power of AI lies in its ability to continuously improve with more data, dramatically exceeding human performance, for single-domain tasks. This is why AI’s greatest applications today are Internet and financial applications, where everything is digital and quantitative. In the future this will be expanded to more and more industries and domains, until eventually AI will know us better than we know ourselves. Websites, apps, and other digital devices will know our psyche and motivations through not only every click, purchase, and pause (which are captured today) but every action, movement, and speech (which will be captured in the future, in a secure way that protects our privacy).

To Rule the Waves: How Control of the World’s Oceans Shapes the Fate of the Superpowers
Bruce Jones
Review via The Brookings Institute
For centuries, oceans were the chessboard on which empires battled for dominance. But in the nuclear age, air power and missile systems dominated our worries about security, and for the United States, the economy was largely driven by domestic production, with trucking and railways that crisscrossed the continent the primary modes of commercial transit.
All that has changed, as nine-tenths of global commerce and the bulk of energy trade is today linked to sea-based flows. A brightly-painted 40-foot steel shipping container loaded in Asia with twenty tons of goods may arrive literally anywhere else in the world; how that really happens and who actually profits by it show that the struggle for power on the seas is a critical issue today.

One Currency, Two Markets: China’s Attempt to Internationalize the Renminbi
Edwin L.-C. Lai
Summary via publisher (Cambridge U. Press)
This book is for anyone who is interested in the economic analysis of the future of the international monetary system and the USD, and the rising importance of the RMB. It points out the unsustainability of the dollar standard in the long run, that China has unique incentives to internationalize its currency, and how Hong Kong plays an important role. It explains the real reasons for China to internationalize its currency, including using external commitments to force financial sector reforms (‘daobi’ in Chinese). It applies economic theories accessible to laymen to establish that financial development and openness are crucial for RMB internationalization to succeed, and that greater exchange rate volatility is inevitable due to the ‘open-economy trilemma’. Employing the ‘gravity model’, the book predicts quantitatively that the RMB is likely to be a distant third payment currency after the USD and the euro, but surpassing the Japanese yen in the next decade.

The Raging 2020s: Companies, Countries, People – and the Fight for Our Future
Alec Ross
Summary via publisher (Macmillan)
In the face of unprecedented global change, New York Times bestselling author Alec Ross proposes a new social contract to restore the balance of power between government, citizens, and business. For 150 years, there has been a contract. Companies hold the power to shape our daily lives. The state holds the power to make them fall in line. And the people hold the power to choose their leaders. But now, this balance has shaken loose. As the market consolidates, the lines between big business and the halls of Congress have become razor-thin. Private companies have become as powerful as countries. As Walter Isaacson said about Alec Ross’s first book, The Industries of the Future, “The future is already hitting us, and Ross shows how it can be exciting rather than frightening.”

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