Summer reading: Science
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Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, by Nick Bostrom, Oxford University Press, RRP£18.99/$29.95
Bostrom, founding director of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, casts a philosopher’s eye at the past, present and future of artificial intelligence. He believes that AI research could lead to runaway superintelligence that might threaten the very existence of human civilisation – and he outlines precautions we could take.
Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story, by Rob Dinnis and Chris Stringer, Natural History Museum, RRP£12.99/£19.95
A beautifully written and illustrated account of a million years of human habitation of the British Isles, published to coincide with a spectacular exhibition at London’s Natural History Museum. It describes an epic struggle between people, animals and climate change.
Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions, by Gerd Gigerenzer, Allen Lane, RRP£14.99/ Viking, RRP$26.95
An engaging analysis of the cost of misjudging risk, both in human suffering and financial losses. Gigerenzer, based at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, blames experts – particularly doctors and investment advisers – for a lamentable failure to understand and communicate risks in their fields. And he shows how to do it better.
We Are Our Brains: From the Womb to Alzheimer’s, by Dick Swaab, Allen Lane, RRP£20/ Spiegel & Grau, RRP$28
An extraordinarily broad sweep through the past and present of neuroscience. Swaab, neurobiology professor at the University of Amsterdam, offers insights about the two ends of life: how an individual’s psychology is determined before birth; and how to die with dignity – from the perspective of a medical campaigner who helped frame the liberal Dutch laws on assisted dying.
Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality, by Max Tegmark, Allen Lane, RRP£25/ Knopf, RRP$30
Tegmark, a physics professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, takes us on an amazing ride through the rich landscape of contemporary cosmology to infinity and beyond. He is the best guide available to the current vogue for multiple universes.