Summary of “from practical primers to sci-fi short stories”

Experts are already building a future world brimming with artificial intelligence, but here in the present most of us are still trying to figure out what AI even is.
Questions like, “What is the nature of creativity?” and “How do we define consciousness?” Posing the question “How can I understand AI?” is nearly as daunting as asking “What is the meaning of life?”.
In order to help, The Verge has assembled a reading list: a brief but diverse compendium of books, short stories, and blogs, all chosen by leading figures in the AI world to help you better understand artificial intelligence.
It’s an eclectic selection that ranges from practical primers to Golden Age sci-fi, and while reading everything listed below won’t get you a job at Google, it will give you much-needed context for this confusing and exciting time.
Superintelligence is the book about the threat posed by artificial general intelligence, or AGI, written by Oxford philosophy professor Bostrom.
It’s inspired some questionable pronouncements from tech leaders on the threat from killer robots, but is the best introduction I’ve read to the problem of making smart machines safe; a problem which applies whether they’re super-smart or actually quite dumb.
Despite the gloomy topic, this non-fiction book is a surprisingly fun read, feeling closer to science fiction at times.
The Master Algorithm is a broader read that provides an excellent introduction to the technical aspects of AI. It walks you through all the basic components and concepts, from evolutionary algorithms to Bayesian probability, while showing how machine learning as a field cross-pollinates with disciplines like neuroscience and psychology.

The orginal article.

Summary of “How to Read the Good Books”

When we enter into sacred texts as readers, rather than as worshippers-treating them, the way we might the Odyssey or “Beowulf,” as ancient vessels of meaning crafted by people who, like all writers, had their good moments and their misses-we gain much, but we lose much, too.
By searching around for the good bits, we read past the point, and past their point of view: intending to honor the texts by humanizing them, we insult them by aestheticizing them.
Curiosity about what the sacred texts say, and about how we ought to read them even if we don’t think them sacred, is a persistent preoccupation of our era, and has produced not a few robust publishing projects.
The experience is of going back to school, where a superb professor is paraphrasing the text from the original as he comments on it: “You might say that it says … but that doesn’t quite capture it, so perhaps the best equivalent would be …” The K.J.V. rose to meet a moment when growing literacy and Protestant feeling made the individual connection with the text matter: it was for men reading on their own or preachers seeking a passage to elucidate.
This Bible is aware of how much awareness reading a sacred text demands.
Showing outsiders to Islamic traditions how to navigate this text, as a literary and historical document, is an intimidating challenge, and no more splendidly intimidating book has appeared in the past year than “The Qur’ān and the Bible”, by Gabriel Said Reynolds, a professor of Islamic studies and theology at Notre Dame.
It can seem mysterious that Quranic references to the Biblical texts are nonetheless so frequent and so deft, until you stop to think about just how much can be transmitted by shared storytelling, even in a hyperliterate culture like ours, let alone in a bardic oral culture like that of seventh-century Arabia.
The nonbelieving reader of sacred texts has the advantage of being undisturbed by the countless alienating passages that they contain: why be distressed, such a reader might ask, by the relentlessly patriarchal tone of either the Bible or the Quran-or by their tolerance of slavery, or, for that matter, by the tribal genocide regularly urged in Exodus? If one is taking the texts not as divine rule, or even as contemporary moral discourse rather, as inspired ancient poetry, episodes in the history of civilization, one can be serenely unsurprised that they share the values of their time and place.

The orginal article.

Summary of “On the Experience of Entering a Bookstore in Your Forties”

There aren’t just books to read but books I’ve already read. Lives I’ve lived.
No one reads everything, nor even all the books they’d like to.
John Muir’s famous quote about ecology might as well have been about choosing what books to buy: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” The bookstore is a liminal space.
Entering a bookstore now, at 44, with the benefit of hindsight, the choices I made as a young writer seem almost inevitable.
As luck would have it, the story of that half-year became my first published book, and the book helped me land a teaching job in Massachusetts.
There waiting in an inconspicuous bookstore in Concord, Massachusetts, in a glossy oversized coffee table book, was a glassy-green piece of my heart, a glimpse of a life I couldn’t get back.
As my father so eloquently reminded me last year when I mentioned I’d been shoveling snow: “Be careful, Bud: You’re in the heart-attack zone.” How many books do I have left to read?
How does reading evolve? Are books to us as leaves are to trees, feeding us while we hold them, then decomposing and feeding us again after we’ve let them go? I’m heartened by my elders.

The orginal article.

Summary of “A Pop-Up Book Imagines Animals’ Future”

Read: Are we living through climate change’s worst-case scenario?
Sheehy’s project was initially inspired by paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey’s 1995 book The Sixth Extinction.
“That was the first time I’d ever thought about the Earth’s five big extinction events, and that the sixth one, which might have the same sort of drama, is our fault,” Sheehy says.
Read: How I talk to my daughter about climate change.
Sheehy, a former elementary-school teacher, is careful not to burden his young readers with real horrors.
As in his previous pop-up book Welcome to the Neighborwood, a much cuddlier tale about real-life animal builders, his primary goal is to provoke curiosity about “What else is out there that we don’t know about yet”-whether “Out there” is the backyard or the distant future.
The creatures of Beyond the Sixth Extinction, like the scientifically informed inventions of novelists Paolo Bacigalupi and Jeff VanderMeer, are just familiar enough, and plausible enough, to root in the imagination, and its passing place references-the “Cagoan District” includes the “Ohare Site,” infamous among 21st-century travelers-add to its eerie believability.
As a contemplation of adaptability, resilience, and the many possible consequences of the present for the future, Beyond the Sixth Extinction can be an adventure for former teenagers, too.

The orginal article.

Summary of “What It Felt Like When “Cat Person” Went Viral”

I tried to explain to her what was happening, and then she went online herself and, at some point, she said, “Oh, my God, Kristen, someone Barack Obama follows just retweeted your story.” Then she burst into tears.
The story is told in the close third person, and much of it is spent describing Margot’s thought process as she realizes that she does not want to have sex with Robert but then decides, for a variety of reasons, to go through with it anyway.
I received many in-depth descriptions, from men, of sexual encounters they’d had, because they thought I’d “Just like to know.” I got e-mails from people I hadn’t talked to in years who wondered if I’d noticed that my story had gone viral.
I’d wanted people to be able to see themselves in the story, to identify with it in such a way that its narrative scaffolding would disappear.
Perhaps inevitably, as the story was shared again and again, moving it further and further from its original context, people began conflating me, the author, with the main character.
This isn’t true, even if you haven’t had a story go viral.
Here’s the catch: when you read a story I’ve written, you’re not thinking about me-you’re thinking as me.
After “Cat Person” went viral, I sold my first book, a story collection.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Susan Sontag on Storytelling, What It Means to Be a Moral Human Being, and Her Advice to Writers”

Susan Sontag spent a lifetime contemplating the role of writing in both the inner world of the writer and outer universe of readers, which we call culture – from her prolific essays and talks on the task of literature to her devastatingly beautiful letter to Borges to her decades of reflections on writing recorded in her diaries.
Nowhere did she address the singular purpose of storytelling and the social responsibility of the writer with more piercing precision than in one of her last public appearances – a tremendous lecture on South African Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer titled “At the Same Time: The Novelist and Moral Reasoning,” which Sontag delivered shortly before her death in 2004.
Obviously, I think of the writer of novels and stories and plays as a moral agent This doesn’t entail moralizing in any direct or crude sense.
Serious fiction writers think about moral problems practically.
Every writer of fiction wants to tell many stories, but we know that we can’t tell all the stories – certainly not simultaneously.
We know we must pick one story, well, one central story; we have to be selective.
Returning to the writer’s crucial task of selecting what story to tell from among all the stories that could be told, Sontag points to literature’s essential allure – the comfort of appeasing our anxiety about life’s infinite possibility, about all the roads not taken and all the immensities not imagined that could have led to a better destination than our present one.
Complement it with Sontag on love, art, how polarities imprison us, why lists appeal to us, and the joy of rereading beloved books, then revisit this evolving archive of celebrated writers’ advice on writing.

The orginal article.

Summary of “How to Read 100 Books in a Year”

Based on the math, which I’ll explain below, I’ll likely have read 100 books this year.
Put a book on your desk or breakfast table the night before and you’ll be more likely to read it in the morning.
If you want to read before you go to bed, put a book on your nightstand.
Reduce the activation energy it takes to read a book, and you’ll be more likely to read.3.
If you read 50 pages a day, that’s 350 pages a week.
Multiply that times 52 weeks in a year, and you’ve read 100 books.
Combine all of these ideas together, and the idea of reading 100 books in a year won’t seem like such a daunting task.
You might not reach 100 books, but you’ll end up doing quite a bit of reading.

The orginal article.

Summary of “What Makes a Sentence a Masterpiece?”

A great sentence makes you want to chew it over slowly in your mouth the first time you read it.
A great sentence compels you to rehearse it again in your mind’s ear, and then again later on.
‘ The precision of the place and time setting, the startling contrast effected by the juxtaposition of barefooted friars and the pagan temple, the fact that there is an exterior soundscape as well as an internal thoughtscape, the way the sentence builds to the magnitude of the project to come – all work to make the sentence great.
The first sentence of any novel works as an invitation into a new world.
‘ The sentence is initially unassuming, simply descriptive, but in the startling final detail Orwell achieves estrangement, establishing the alternate nature of the novel’s historical reality with economy and force.
Hasn’t the sentence become dated? Gibson himself commented on Twitter recently, about his 2003 novel Pattern Recognition, that it ‘was written with the assumption that the reader could and *would* Google unfamiliar terms and references’.
Some literary stylists bestow greatness on every sentence without tiring their readers.
Many readers feel this way about Joyce, but I have always preferred the subtler beauty of the sentences in Dubliners to the obtrusive, slightly show-offy ingenuity that afflicts every sentence in Ulysses: individually each of those sentences may be small masterpieces, but an unrelenting sequence of such sentences is wearisome.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Where Have All the Music Magazines Gone?”

Not its quality – the music section of any good indie bookstore offers proof of its vigor – but what seems like the reduced number of publications running longer music stories.
These narratives aren’t pegged to a local show, or built around an upcoming album release or Super Bowl performance, which then highlights an increasingly relevant question: Without these news pegs, where do writers send them? For those of us who will likely never write for big slicks like The New Yorker or GQ, and who can’t just write books about the music we want, it’s very difficult to find nationally distributed magazines willing to publish unpegged longform music pieces.
American music journalism started in the 1960s at the Village Voice and Crawdaddy but quickly became so popular that, in 1968, The New Yorker hired Ellen Willis as its first pop music critic.
Alt-weeklies like Chicago Reader, Washington City Paper, and Minnesota City Pages didn’t limit themselves to short criticism or Q&As, and they continued to publish solid music stories, while The Believer loved music so much it eventually launched an annual music issue, following the Oxford American’s lead, which had been publishing music issues with CDs since its 16th issue in 1997.
The OA itself followed the lead of CMJ New Music Monthly, which was the first print pub to include a free CD. Stories from many of these publications got reprinted or noted in Best Music Writing.
“Now, music is everywhere. It’s mobile, it’s accessible, it’s ever-present, it’s playing at Walgreens. It’s possible we’re so full of music, and surrounded by it so continuously, that we take it for granted. Music is air. Reading a music magazine, at this point, might be like reading about air, and no one would do that.”
The internet had become, as Nick Hornby put it, “One giant independent record shop.” Most blogs were for music not for longform music writing.
Upon moving to Chicago, Pitchfork expanded into a hub of daily music news and album reviews, focusing on indie and underground music; while the writing was occasionally snarky, it’s decisive tone and cutting edge taste helped establish Pitchfork as the internet’s most influential source of music criticism.

The orginal article.

Summary of “A 100-Year-Old Holocaust Survivor on How Books Save Lives – Brain Pickings”

Only on the rarest of occasions, in the most extreme of circumstances, do books become lifelines in the realest sense.
One such occasion is immortalized in A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader – the collection I spent eight years putting together in the hope of showing young people how essential reading is to an inspired and inspiring life.
There are original illustrated letters about the transformative and transcendent power of reading from some immensely inspiring humans – scientists like Jane Goodall and Janna Levin, artists like Marina Abramović and Debbie Millman, musicians like Yo-Yo Ma, Amanda Palmer, and David Byrne, entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Tim Ferriss, poets like Mary Oliver, Elizabeth Alexander, and Sarah Kay, media pioneers like Kevin Kelly, Jad Abumrad, and Shonda Rhimes, beloved writers of literature for young people like Jacqueline Woodson, Judy Blume, and Neil Gaiman, and a great many celebrated authors of books for so-called grownups.
One day over dinner, having just visited her in Florida, a very animated Neil told me the incredible story of how a book – a particular book – became a lifeline for the teenage girls at the secret school Helen had set up in the Warsaw Ghetto as an antidote to the innumerable assaults against dignity to which the Nazis subjected these Jewish youths: the denial of basic education.
To celebrate the publication of the book, which Helen sees as an invaluable part of her legacy, I asked her to read her letter for the New York Public Library launch event.
Could you imagine a world without access to reading, to learning, to books?
I had spent the previous night reading Gone with the Wind – one of a few smuggled books circulated among trustworthy people via an underground channel, on their word of honor to read only at night, in secret.
To read a book and surrender to a story is to keep our very humanity alive.

The orginal article.