Austin Computer Book Club

Vote: Our October ’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.

The Cuckoo’s Egg Cover of "The Cuckoo's Egg", by Cliff Stoll

– Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage, by Clifford Stoll
399 pages, 2005, $7-$18
On Goodreads; Amazon

Before the Internet became widely known as a global tool for terrorists, one perceptive U.S. citizen recognized its ominous potential. Armed with clear evidence of computer espionage, he began a highly personal quest to expose a hidden network of spies that threatened national security. But would the authorities back him up? Cliff Stoll’s dramatic firsthand account is “a computer-age detective story, instantly fascinating [and] astonishingly gripping” (Smithsonian).

Cliff Stoll was an astronomer turned systems manager at Lawrence Berkeley Lab when a 75-cent accounting error alerted him to the presence of an unauthorized user on his system. The hacker’s code name was “Hunter” — a mysterious invader who managed to break into U.S. computer systems and steal sensitive military and security information. Stoll began a one-man hunt of his own: spying on the spy. It was a dangerous game of deception, broken codes, satellites, and missile bases — a one-man sting operation that finally gained the attention of the CIA…and ultimately trapped an international spy ring fueled by cash, cocaine, and the KGB.

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.

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.


Voting ended Sept. 3. Join us in October to discuss Andy Hunt’s Pragmatic Thinking & Learning!

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