Atlas of AI
A German horse called Clever Hans could seemingly add and subtract numbers and tell time, stamping out the correct answer with his hoof. It was later discovered that the horse was clever – but not at maths. He had learned to provide the right answer by observing changes in his questioners’ posture, breathing and facial expressions. His mathematical ability was an illusion. AI researcher Kate Crawford draws on this and many other examples to explore the development and measurement of intelligent systems, which are flawed with human biases.
This is a cautionary tale, where the author is less concerned about robots replacing humans than she is about “how humans are increasingly treated like robots.”
Extinct: A Compendium of Obsolete Objects
Edited by Barbara Penner, Adrian Forty, Olivia Horsfalll Turner and Miranda Critchley
Remember audio cassettes, paper airline tickets, Polaroid cameras and fountain pens? Extinct is a wonderful compendium of objects that are past their prime, but evoke nostalgia not derision. The four editors discuss 85 objects and the visions that drove them. The book leaves you wondering which of the objects we use today will be part of a book like this in the near future.
At Rs. 3,500+, Extinct is a bit pricey, but the cloth-covered hardcover edition is so worth it.
Crafting a Future
Did you know that the jawbone of a fish is used to clean raw cotton in Andhra Pradesh? Or that indigo initially emerges a pale shade of yellow from the dyeing vat? Written by textile designer Archana Shah, who also founded fashion label Bandhej, the book showcases India’s heritage of sound and energy-efficient crafts. It’s a timely reminder that many of the buzz words around sustainability today were an intrinsic part of our indigenous crafts.
The revised and expanded edition of Michael Beirut’s bestselling monograph includes new projects for Mastercard, The Poetry Foundation and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Whether you are a designer or not, this beauty by the Pentagram partner is a must-have. It left us asking why no Indian creative practitioner had published anything in a similar vein.
Klara and the Sun
A new Ishiguro novel has to figure on our reading list. This is the Nobel prize-winning author’s eighth novel, and it is narrated by Klara, a humanoid who has come to act as companion for 14-year-old Josie. The book draws the picture of an uncomfortably-near future where elite workers have been replaced by AI. In classic Ishiguro style, it evokes a sense of foreboding, while exploring what love and loyalty could mean to a non-human species.
Land of Big Numbers
Te Pen Chin
A debut novel by former investigative reporter, Te Pen Ching, this collection of ten short stories provides an incisive view into the lives of people living in the ‘largest and most complex country in the world.’ There are few books that provide an insight into modern-day China and the stories in this collection are both illuminating and eminently readable.
Nudge: The Final Edition
Richard Thaler, Cass R Sunstien
Nudge needs no introduction to entrepreneurs or creative practitioners. Originally published in 2008, it has been called one of the most influential books of the 21st century. In this final edition, authors Thaler and Sunstien have updated examples and references. They have also included new chapters like Smart Disclosure on the way information should be disclosed, given the enabling technology that exists today. This in turn, they argue, will create effective choice engines which could make many routine tasks easier. We were also nodding in agreement at the chapter that urges the destruction of sludge – practices, features and formats that obstruct decision-making like unnecessarily long forms.
Several People are Typing
Imagine The Office, but set in 2021. This WFH comedy is told entirely through Slack messages. Gerald, a mid-level employee at a New York PR firm, enlists his friend Pradeeep’s help, to upload his consciousness into the office Slack channel. What ensues is a brilliant satire on today’s working conditions and the bungled message exchanges will have you laughing and introspecting.
The Cold Start Problem
This is probably the most awaited ‘startup’ book of the year. Written by Andrew Chen, partner at storied Silicon Valley firm, a16z, the book explores how to identify and harness network effects. Chen has interviewed over 100 founders to distill the secret of how to scale, when your product becomes more valuable as more people use it.
The Dharma Forest
Bhanu Pratap Mehta called this retelling of the Mahabharata ‘incandescent.’ There are familiar characters in this complex tale and many that we had not encountered before. As the great war of Kurukshetra rages, Sasidharan weaves a narrative of human frailties and divine wisdom that is both gripping and moving.
Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World
At this time, any guide for post-pandemic life seems welcome, particularly when it is written by someone as well-informed as Fareed Zakaria. Zakaria starts by saying that there are three times the world has been shaken to its core after the end of the Cold War: 11 September 2001, the financial collapse of 2008 and now the Covid pandemic. He goes on to provide 10 surprisingly hopeful lessons, because ‘nothing is written yet, the future is still in our hands.’
This Life at Play
Written by Girish Karnad. Translated by Girish Karnad and Srinath Perur
This Life At Play is the English translation of Girish Karnad’s memoirs in Kannada, Aadaadta Aayushya. The book spans his childhood in Sirsi, his early exposure to traditional theatre forms like Yakshagana, his love for mathematics, his film career, his involvement with the FTII, Pune and his creation of seminal plays like Yayati and Tughlaq. The narrative not only provides an insight into Karnad’s life, it is the story of an epoch and an unfolding of the cultural flux in India.
Have a book you would like to recommend to the THC community? Tell us in the comments please.