Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Max Tegmark. Knopf, 2017, $28. 364 pp.
Reviewed by Jonathan Groner
If you wish to read one book about the origins, the challenges and the potentials of artificial intelligence, I can’t imagine a better choice than this exhilarating work by Max Tegmark, a professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a leading AI researcher. In this brilliant and wide-ranging new book, Tegmark draws on the insights of computer science, biology, cosmology, physics, human psychology and philosophy in reaching his conclusions -- which begin, but do not end, in his statement that the continuing development of AI “will offer amazing opportunities to help and empower people in the decades and centuries ahead.”
Tegmark spends a good amount of time in this book debunking the facile journalistic critiques of AI – that it will yield a race of robots intent on destroying humankind, that there is nothing that we can do about it – and he describes in detail both the vast possibilities and the serious dangers of AI. He contends that AI can be a force for good in the world but that its risks are real and require concerted action right now by the best minds on the planet. In fact, Tegmark has founded a nonprofit group and obtained $10 million in funding from Elon Musk to engage in precisely that type of study.
This book is not in any way a technical work. There are a few digressions into mathematics that can be followed by the reader with some mathematical background and easily omitted by the reader who has none. There are several fascinating invocations of computer science on both a highly theoretical level and in a very pragmatic way. Anyone who knows the work of the leading computer theorist Alan Turing will come away even more impressed by Turing’s brilliance. Tegmark’s book is intended for the popular reader, not the specialist, but it is not intended to be an easy read. At the root of the book, Tegmark is dealing with the basic questions that have challenged thinkers for millennia: What is the definition of life? What is intelligence? Does life have a purpose? What is the nature of consciousness?
On the question of the meaning and purpose of life, which remains a key subject of human inquiry despite the endless parodies that relegate it to college dorm-room discussions, Tegmark has something interesting to say, as he invariably does. He says that rather than look outside our consciousness to provide the meaning of life, we should tackle the problem from the opposite direction – by noting that consciousness itself is the only thing that can provide meaning in a world that is otherwise devoid of it. (To Tegmark, by the way, it is not at all clear that human beings are the only entities that can be conscious. He spends a good deal of time in the book devising thought experiments to determine whether beings created by artificial intelligence can be said to have consciousness.)
This is the book to read to understand what artificial intelligence is – how, in Tegmark’s words, matter can turn intelligent. It’s not the book to read to understand all the vast implications of AI for the law. But Tegmark does provide some challenging insights on legal matters. For example:
If AI systems eventually get better than humans at investing (which they already are in some domains, this could lead to a situation where most of our economy is owned and controlled by machines. Is this what we want? If it sounds far-off, consider that most of our economy is already owned by another form of non-human entity: corporations, which are often more powerful than any one person in them and can to some extent take on life of their own.
Whether or not your firm is tackling AI issues today, you should read this book simply because it provides a thorough, fascinating and, dare I say enjoyable introduction to what could become the major philosophical and political issue of this century.
By Jonathan Groner, Freelance Writer and Public Relations Consultant for the September/October 2017 LMA Mid-Atlantic Region Newsletter