Human Compatible: AI and the Problem of Control by Stuart Russell

Human Compatible is a book by an eminent AI researcher that looks at how AI works and the questions that need to be considered, philosophically and practically, to try and ensure AI follows the right objectives and control. Russell runs through ideas of intelligence, how AI might be used and misused, key debates in AI, and the complications of humans themselves, in a mostly approachable way, with more complex explanations put in appendices at the end. As someone who co-wrote a popular textbook on AI, Russell knows how to point towards examples and thought from a range of fields to consider the problems of AI, defining goals, and trying to create AI that has regulations and can handle the complexity of human thought and preferences.

There are a few sections and explanations that need either a bit more concentration or some prior knowledge, particularly around logic, but in general the book serves as an in-depth look at how artificial intelligence works and might work, and the issues around the choices AI does and might make. What makes the book particularly good as either an introduction to AI or as an introduction to the philosophy and ethics around AI is that Russell believes in the importance of AI research, but also on the need to look at the ethical issues and background from other disciplines to inform choices made about AI. The fusion of explaining the past, present, and future of AI, and also laying out of the complexity of issues including bias, ethics, and preferences, makes this book both harder to read at times and more useful than other popular science type books on AI.

As someone who reads about AI rather than understands or works on it from a technical point of view, I don’t know if what Russell raises here can be included in the AI of the future, but that doesn’t necessarily seem like the point. The book is here to present these key issues and to suggest how, broadly, different kinds of thinking may be needed to further artificial intelligence in ways that are actually useful to humanity.