He ( the author) thinks that you and I and anyone else reading this book have the potential to find this master algorithm and ensure the future of the world.

By Roger Strukhoff

My book today is The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World, written by Pedro Domingos and originally published in 2015. I read the paperback edition, published in 2018. I bought it at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, CA.

Pedro Domingos is a professor of computer science at the University of Washington (one of the loveliest campuses one will ever see, by the way). He’s won awards and speaks at popular technology conferences. He has authored and co-authored dozens of academic papers on topics related to artificial intelligence, as one can see from his faculty profile. He tweets, too!

Optimism Personified

In a sea of dystopian visions of what too much Artificial Intelligence might do to us as a society and species, Professor Domingos enters the stage with unstinting optimism.

His book outlines a quest for the universal solvent or unified field theory of AI – the Master Algorithm.

He outlines the five fundamental approaches AI researchers are taking – Evolutionists, Connectionist, Symbolists, Bayesians, and Analogists – and writes about how we can learn from each of these singular approaches.

He thinks that you and I and anyone else reading this book have the potential to find this master algorithm and ensure the future of the world. He gets a glowing endorsement on the cover from Walter Isaacson and alleges that Bill Gates recommends this book.

If I ever meet him, I think I’ll ask for his opinion on the weather in Seattle or how the owners of the Seattle Mariners broke up a team that had Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, and Ken Griffey, Jr. on it. I would expect very enthusiastic, positive answers to both questions. Lots of sun, really, and that Mariners team brought a lot of joy to young fans for a few years.

I Know What You Did Last Summer

My own churlish cynicism aside, I have to say that anyone in the tech business should read this book. He’s a good writer, with a clear way of describing difficult “tings”, and an amusing way of describing many other things. It was humorous to hear about him “wasting a summer playing Tetris” only to realize later that his mastery of this universe gave him lifelong lessons on how to attack and solve complex problems.

Professor Domingos wants for humans to cure all forms of cancer, and to do so with powerful machines that can do what we want them to do much better than we can do these things ourselves.

His book focuses on specific, difficult problems, and doesn’t address the matter (about which I’m obsessed) of machine consciousness, ego/superego/Id and the risk involved in knowing not what we do with our creations.

I think this book is a nice starting point for serious readers to launch into his more deep academic work and all the other deep academic work to which this leads.

We need more writers like Professor Domingos in the world, even if I wish the back cover of the paperback edition had not said this will be a “bible” for the industry. Hoary cliches serve neither this book nor its author well.

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