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  • Player Piano

  • By: Kurt Vonnegut
  • Narrated by: Christian Rummel
  • Length: 11 hrs and 26 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 90
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 58
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 57

Kurt Vonnegut's first novel spins the chilling tale of engineer Paul Proteus, who must find a way to live in a world dominated by a supercomputer and run completely by machines. Paul's rebellion is vintage Vonnegut – wildly funny, deadly serious, and terrifyingly close to reality.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Uncanny prediction of today's world of automation.

  • By Matthew on 18-09-16

Uncanny prediction of today's world of automation.

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 18-09-16

I love Vonnegut's world view and style; his irreverence towards authority and satirical perspective. What makes him a superior satirist is how he doesn't need to resort to the hysterical. He's measured. His worlds, however inventive, are believable extrapolations of the real one.

I also think his irreverence is particularly mature. In this story which critiques thoughtless, directionless automation of industry in the name of unqualified "progress", he's very aware of the negative consequences of a luddite approach to technology. He's not so irresponsible to say "smash the system" and then walk away without any solutions. He also asks "and then what?" I'm not even sure he's on the side of his heroes who hope to smash the machines and return control to the people. My take home from this is we're damned if we do, damned if we don't when it comes to the use of tech. The best we can do is exploit tech in service of the sort of society we want, and not just for efficiency's sake, choosing carefully what we implement and what we don't for everyone's benefit.

As someone working in AI and concerned about the social and political ramifications of it, I can't believe Vonnegut was so "on it" over 50 years ago. We live in a prepubescent version of the tech utopia/nightmare he predicts. He's one of those writers who can look around him at our madness and synthesize it into a coherent criticism, show us common sense and suggest the humane thing to do.

One of my top ten novels.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Superintelligence

  • Paths, Dangers, Strategies
  • By: Nick Bostrom
  • Narrated by: Napoleon Ryan
  • Length: 14 hrs and 17 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 355
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 322
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 318

Superintelligence asks the questions: What happens when machines surpass humans in general intelligence? Will artificial agents save or destroy us? Nick Bostrom lays the foundation for understanding the future of humanity and intelligent life. The human brain has some capabilities that the brains of other animals lack. It is to these distinctive capabilities that our species owes its dominant position. If machine brains surpassed human brains in general intelligence, then this new superintelligence could become extremely powerful - possibly beyond our control.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Timely topic, ponderous style and robot narrator

  • By Neil Stoker on 16-08-17

The most/last important book you'll ever read

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-11-15

This is an intelligent, passionate and thoughtful book for a general, educated audience. Its hard at times, but saving humanity usually is hard.

I've followed Bostrom's academic writing for sometime on matters relating to existential risk. He's a cogent antidote to conspiracy theories, taking seriously our own and nature's capacity for human extinction.

This book outlines the likelihoods and timescales of different technologies creating an intelligence orders of magnitude beyond our own; the possible outcomes, good and bad, for humanity; and ways we can manage and mitigate the effects. In essence, it's, message is that sooner or later we will likely create an intelligence vastly beyond our own and without careful planning (say, not encoding this intelligence to optimize what we humans care about - freedom of choice, minimizing pain, beauty etc) we could very likely be superseded, if not destroyed.

It's all speculative, of course, as is any book about the future. But it's foolish not to plan for rainy days. This is one of those books that humbles you; makes your daily battle against confectionary or anxiety over relationships or vanity about your position in society seem petty.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful