Ask any expert about artificial intelligence and they'll tell you it's going to radically change the world. Ask them for specifics on how and they'll probably start fighting.

Leading researchers in the field can't agree if smart machines are an apocalyptic threat to humanity or the key to a blissful, leisure-filled future. Will robots steal most of our jobs driving vicious inequality, or will the dirty and boring jobs of today just be replaced by new, better ones?

With some of the country's biggest brains battling over the issue, do the rest of us non-experts have any hope of wrapping our heads around the capabilities of one of the most important technologies transforming our lives? Yup, suggests an intriguing list of books on the topic from Big Think.

"One can get lost in the rich history, rabid speculations, and intriguing fictionalized world of A.I.," acknowledges the article, but it also promises these books will "provide a multifaceted view of this incredible technology."

1. Machines of Loving Grace by John Markoff

In this title "author and journalist John Markoff offers a detailed and rich history of the field of robotics and artificial intelligence," according to Big Think. It's not all happy news. "The same technologies that extend the intellectual power of humans can displace them as well," warns Markoff in his deep dive into the promise and paradoxes of the technology.

2. Isaac Asimov's Robot Series

You might think of sci-fi as a way for nerds to pass the time, but some of the biggest brains around (including Elon Musk) insist it's actually an incredibly valuable way to spur your thinking about real-world technology, as well as its social implications. As Big Think notes recommending this classic series, "science fiction often has a way of not only predicting the future, but preparing us for it as well."

3. How to Create a Mind by Ray Kurzweil

Renowned (and controversial) futurist Kurzweil doesn't shy away from bold predictions and mind-bending problems, but this book unpacks the project of building smarter-than-human machines in an understandable way. "Ray has a way of tackling seemingly overwhelming challenges with an army of reason, in the end convincing the reader that it is within our reach to create nonbiological intelligence that will soar past our own. This is a visionary work that is also accessible and entertaining," MIT president Rafael Reif said of the book.

4. Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom

"Nick Bostrom's highly ambitious book has already become a classic," claims Big Think. In it, Bostrom, an Oxford philosopher, ponders the implications of realizing Kurzweil's dream of building machines that surpass us in intelligence. While the book offers more thought-provoking questions than definitive answers, it's bound to get you thinking deeply about the subject.

5. Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark

"This is a compelling guide to the challenges and choices in our quest for a great future of life, intelligence and consciousness--on Earth and beyond." super entrepreneur Elon Musk has said of this book from MIT professor Tegmark.

Robots aren't just an engineering challenge, they're an ethical one too. How should we interact with our robots once we develop them? What limits should or could we place on robot warfare? Should we program our machines to have morals and, if so, whose morals should we use? If a robot goes bonkers and causes harm, who gets sued? This collection of articles from prominent experts delves into these sorts of thorny questions.

7. Our Final Invention by James Barrett

Looking for a counterweight to techno optimists like Kurzweil? Then try this dark book that focuses more on the perils of A.I. "A hard-hitting book about the most important topic of this century and possibly beyond -- the issue of whether our species can survive. I wish it was science fiction but I know it's not." Skype founder Jaan Tallinn has said of this one. 

If you're more technical and looking for suggestions on books covering the nitty gritty of building artificial intelligence, check out the complete post for several additional suggestions. ​

Published on: May 17, 2018