Austin Computer Book Club

Vote: Our August ’20 Book

Time again to pick our next title. As usual we’ll take June and July off; we’ll be back on Tuesday, August 25. Whether or we try to get together in person at that point, we will definitely have online video-call access. Take a look at the selections below and rank your picks using the form at the bottom of the post! Voting will close at midnight on Thursday, June 11.

Human Compatible Human Compatible, by Stuart Russell

– Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control, by Stuart Russell
352 pages, 2019, $28
On Goodreads; Amazon

In the popular imagination, superhuman artificial intelligence is an approaching tidal wave that threatens not just jobs and human relationships, but civilization itself. Conflict between humans and machines is seen as inevitable and its outcome all too predictable.

In this groundbreaking book, distinguished AI researcher Stuart Russell argues that this scenario can be avoided, but only if we rethink AI from the ground up. Russell begins by exploring the idea of intelligence in humans and in machines. He describes the near-term benefits we can expect, from intelligent personal assistants to vastly accelerated scientific research, and outlines the AI breakthroughs that still have to happen before we reach superhuman AI. He also spells out the ways humans are already finding to misuse AI, from lethal autonomous weapons to viral sabotage.

In a 2014 editorial co-authored with Stephen Hawking, Russell wrote, “Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last.” Solving the problem of control over AI is not just possible; it is the key that unlocks a future of unlimited promise.

Pragmatic Thinking and Learning Pragmatic Thinking & Learning, by Andy Hunt

– Refactor Your Wetware, by Andy Hunt
252 pages, 2008, $35
On Goodreads; Amazon;

Software development happens in your head. Not in an editor, IDE, or design
tool. You’re well educated on how to work with software and hardware, but what about wetware—our own brains? Learning new skills and new technology is critical to your career, and it’s all in your head.

Programmers have to learn constantly; not just the stereotypical new technologies, but also the problem domain of the application, the whims of the user community, the quirks of your teammates, the shifting sands of the industry, and the evolving characteristics of the project itself as it is built.

We’ll journey together through bits of cognitive and neuroscience, learning and behavioral theory. You’ll see some surprising aspects of how our brains work, and how you can take advantage of the system to improve your own learning and thinking skills.

The Design of Everyday Things Design of Everyday Things, by Don Norman

Revised & Expanded Edition, by Don Norman
347 pages, 2013, $19
On Goodreads; Amazon; Author’s site;

Design doesn’t have to complicated, which is why this guide to human-centered design shows that usability is just as important as aesthetics.

Even the smartest among us can feel inept as we fail to figure out which light switch or oven burner to turn on, or whether to push, pull, or slide a door.

The fault, argues this ingenious — even liberating — book, lies not in ourselves, but in product design that ignores the needs of users and the principles of cognitive psychology. The problems range from ambiguous and hidden controls to arbitrary relationships between controls and functions, coupled with a lack of feedback or other assistance and unreasonable demands on memorization.

The Design of Everyday Things is a powerful primer on how — and why — some products satisfy customers while others only frustrate them.


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