Categories
Book Reviews

Book Review: Understanding Artificial Intelligence

Understanding Artificial Intelligence by Scientific American.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

Understanding Artificial Intelligence is a collection of ten essays first published in Scientific American. The essays are written by different authors, including Marvin Minsky, “the mastermind of artificial intelligence” to whom the final chapter in the book is dedicated.

The collection was published in 2002, and is dated in terms of the technology and ideas, but it makes for a fascinating read, allowing us to look back at how experts thought artificial intelligence would develop over the coming decades.

Some of the predictions turned out to be accurate, but many are wildly out in terms of the expected timeframe, and I found it especially interesting to recognise exactly how far we haven’t come in the last twenty years.

An area in which we have progressed is facial recognition. One of the earlier chapters claimed it was all but impossible to automate recognition of a friend’s face, as the rules for recognising a face could not be written down. Nowadays, of course, many of us take this capability for granted as part of the every day authentication mechanism we use to access our mobile phones.

I would recommend reading Understanding Artificial Intelligence. Some of the chapters are technical and difficult to follow, but the collection provides an enlightening glimpse back in time into the field of AI and what we thought it would become.

View all my reviews.

Categories
Book Reviews

Book Review: Short Circuit: A Guide to the Art of the Short Story

Short Circuit: A Guide to the Art of the Short Story.
Edited by Vanessa Gebbie.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

The title of this book suggests it’s a guide to the art of the short story. Let me start by pointing out straight away that it’s not the kind of guide that will teach you how to write short stories, step-by-step. The book is actually a collection of essays by different contributors (edited by Vanessa Gebbie) that explores how other writers approach the various aspects of the form.

I made the mistake of starting to read it like a How To guide, working through every chapter in linear fashion, hoping everything would come together at the end in one spectacular conclusion that would enable me to write perfect, flawless short stories with ease, every time.

That didn’t happen, and no book can ever teach that, but what I did come away with was the deeper recognition of two things I already knew: that there is no correct way to write a short story, and that short stories are neither right nor wrong, but entirely subjective.

Reading this book revealed a few more interesting things for me. One is the fact that the process of writing stories isn’t necessarily fixed for a given writer. Everyone seems to change their approach and try different things. What works for one story might not work for the next. Many stories appear to write themselves, while others require hard graft.

I would recommend this book to writers who are curious to find out how other writers approach the craft, so they can compare it to their own methods, and explore new ways of working. The exercises at the end of each chapter are interesting and useful, and may help those suffering with writers’ block to begin generating stories of their own again.

View all my reviews.

Categories
Book Reviews

Book Review: A Brief History of Time

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

A Brief History of Time is one of those books I’ve been intending to read since it came out in the late eighties. I finally got around to it, and I’m happy to say it was worth the wait.

The book is about physics, and the nature of the universe. It takes a high-level look at everything from classical interpretations of physics to what we knew about the physical world towards the end of the twentieth century, when the work was published.

Topics covered include space and time, the expanding universe, the uncertainty principle, elementary particles and the forces of nature, black holes, the origin and fate of the universe, the arrow of time, wormholes and time travel, and how the different theories in modern physics might one day be unified.

Some of the narrative is mind-boggling, because many of the subjects discussed are impossible to visualise or imagine. There are also some difficult concepts to digest, like quantum mechanics. These aren’t covered in depth, but non-physicists will probably have to reread these sections a few times in order to comprehend what is being said.

Would I recommend the book? A resounding yes! If you have ever opened your eyes and wondered about the world and your place in the universe, this book will give you some incredible insights and food for thought. Stephen Hawking’s dry sense of wit makes it even more readable and enjoyable.

View all my reviews.