Today I want to do a bit of a book review for you. We are not checking into books all the time, but when we did in the past, we got a lot of positive feedback from the community. So here I am, hoping that you’ll enjoy this review as well and that it will be useful or at least interesting to some of you.
In 2018, all interview requests that I personally received, were almost all with a focus on artificial intelligence (AI). Some publications wanted to drive me towards a forward-looking statement, and others were leaning more towards a comment against the use of AI. The result was the same in both cases. I tell them that AI could be both a great achievement for humanity as well as its peril. That largely depends on how AI is developed and deployed.
Byron Reese wrote The Fourth Age and he, as well, is neither for or against AI and other related advanced technologies. His actual stance on the subject was an example to me of how authors should engage in topics that are widely argued. He apparently has a strong independent opinion about AI, robots, and artificial entities with a conscious, but he acts more like a mediator in this book. He introduced the opposing views of thought leaders in the field and gave clear and concise background about how that opinion is developed and what belief was required to shape it like that.
The Fourth Age
Byron Reese’s work The Fourth Age is not an academic theoretical piece that puts you to sleep. I perceived it as a kind of method sandbox that allows multiple opinions and believes to coexist which each other. Even though the book is obviously completed, printed, and published, it somehow still feels more alive than other books I’ve read on the subject before.
In a way, reading it gives you the sensation that the end is still open and that it will not be you and me to have the final call on how AI will work like and look like. It’s more of an outlook to what our children and grandchildren might have to deal with. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got a preview copy of the book, but I got goosebumps by the time I was done with the introduction, and at that moment I knew it wouldn’t be “just another book about XYZ.” It’s fresh, interesting, satisfying. I like it.
What are the four ages now?
The book starts with the beginning of humanity. There are historical facts, mixed with mythological tales and exciting, often funny, anecdotes. So the reader is not just thrown into some wild tech bogus but really nicely introduced into the subject matter. In a way that makes sense and supports the reader to understand the following chapters in the book better. Long before there is an AI, The Fourth Age tells the story of us humans and how we came to live the lives that we are living today.
The four ages that are the core concept of the book are technological sets of innovation that changed humanity so significantly that they introduced a new age to mankind as a whole. Here’s what the four ages consist of:
- The First Age: Language and Fire
- The Second Age: Agriculture and Cities
- The Third Age: Writing and Wheels
- The Fourth Age: Robots and AI
I don’t want to give away too much of the book’s contents, because it’s way too entertaining to read it all yourself in the book. But as you could imagine, we are positioned somewhere before the fourth age will begin or perhaps right in the middle of it.
And beyond that?
Explaining the concept of the four ages and how they came to be was only the first part of the book. The remaining parts deal with the fourth age as such in further detail.
The other parts of the book evaluate possible AI concepts and deal with questions you might have been wondering about yourself, such as “will robots take all our jobs?”.
There are also excursions to Moore’s Law and the story of the invention of chess and what we can expect on the other side of the chessboard.
The remaining parts of the book also tackle computer consciousness and a potential event of singularity. In a nutshell: It’s the journey of mankind from where we started to how we might end or advance to a better… something.
Style of writing
Byron Reese is not only the founder of various technology startups but also the CEO of GigaOm, a publication much like TechAcute too, but much more prominent. And as CEO of such a magazine, you’re right to expect excellent talent in modern writing with esprit and methodology. Much like a journalist would structure their news article, The Fourth Age seems to be written following The Pyramid Principle and concepts that you’d learn from people like Barbara Minto.
The essence, the facts, and the core of the book are clearly explained in the first part of the book. Part two, three, four, and five are supporting chapters to both back the first part up but also to include the thoughts and opinions of others to a degree. I’m quite happy with the way Reese has managed to get all this together without a single boring page.
I found this book to be highly informative as well as exciting to read. I don’t think it will be used as a reference or source material for any master’s thesis, but it doesn’t yearn to be that kind of book.
The Fourth Age is for all those readers who are open to all sorts of opinions and potential future scenarios with AI and robots or without them. If this sounds like you, this is the book that you need to read.
I’ll try to close this in a way that you might also find mind-boggling. What defines a human? And what defines a machine? Have fun with The Fourth Age! 🙂
Photo credit: The feature image “Alternate Digi-Blue Girl” was done by Surian Soosay. The other material was prepared by the Author.
Editorial notice: We have been provided with a press copy of the book to prepare this book review.