• John Ennis

Book Review - The Fourth Age: Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity


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Review Score: 5 stars out of 5



"The Fourth Age," by Byron Reese, occupies a unique place among the many nonfiction technology books as it is simultaneously philosophically probing, technically grounded, and laugh-out-loud funny. In this excellent book, Byron Reese proposes that artificial intelligence (AI) is currently placing humanity at a cultural crossroads so significant that the only comparable technologies in their effects have been language and fire (the first age), agriculture and cities (the second age), and the wheel and writing (the third age). Even more than steam power and electricity, Reese establishes, AI is about to change our society in fundamental ways.


Throughout this excellent book, Reese focuses on the foundational questions that will need to be asked anew in the age of artificial intelligence - questions such as "What does it mean to be human?", "Are humans nothing more than biological machines?", and "What is consciousness?". The investigation of these questions is grounded in both philosophical insight and technical knowledge, with the result that the book is an intellectual speed-boat ride. And, to make the trip more fun, it's a speed boat ride with a hilarious tour guide at the wheel. This surprising use of humor makes the book special - what would otherwise be a heavy read has become a book with wide readability.


I highly recommend this book, and I especially recommend the audiobook version with its folksy narration. At first, I wondered what such a folksy narrator was doing reading a technical book, but I soon realized the wisdom of the choice. "The Fourth Age" is meant to be a technology book, yes, but it's more than that. It's more like a conversation by the fire or at a bar with a brilliant friend, one that leaves you feeling both intellectually and socially improved by the experience.

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