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Three Books Consider What Happens When the Robots Take Over

Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity
By Byron Reese
320 pp. Atria. $27


“The Fourth Age” not only discusses what the rise of A.I. will mean for us, it also forces readers to challenge their preconceptions. And it manages to do all this in a way that is both entertaining and engaging.

Reese, whose day job is chief executive of the technology research company Gigaom, begins by grounding the reader in what he sees as the three major changes in human civilization. The first, characterized by the discovery of fire and language, led humans to greatly increase their brain size, paving the way for future advancement. The second was the development of agriculture, which led to the birth of cities. And, finally, writing and the wheel have shaped much of everything until the present.

Robots and A.I., meanwhile, promise a fourth age characterized by new challenges, including what the place of humans will be in a world filled with devices that are stronger and potentially smarter than us.

Reese makes the possibility of impending doom quite palpable, with an array of anecdotes. It’s not a light read, in large part because the issues Reese is grappling with are complicated and filled with ethical problems the likes of which humans have never confronted.

Will robots and A.I. take all the jobs or will just as many new ones be created? Will all of society benefit, or only those who own the robots? Assuming we could, should we build computers that are as broadly intelligent as humans? And if we do, to what ends? Can computers become conscious? And

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