Audiobook of the Week: How to ‘Contain’ the Threat of A.I.?

THE COMING WAVE: Technology, Power, and the Twenty-First Century’s Greatest Dilemma, by Mustafa Suleyman with Michael Bhaskar. Read by Mustafa Suleyman.

Near the end of “The Coming Wave,” his sweeping look at the future of artificial intelligence and other transformative technologies, Mustafa Suleyman acknowledges the whiplash that listeners must feel as he guides them through this strange new territory — and makes no apologies for it. “If this book feels contradictory in its attitude toward technology, part positive and part foreboding,” he says, “that’s because such a contradictory view is the most honest assessment of where we are.”

As one of the founders of DeepMind, a seminal A.I. lab acquired by Google in 2014, Suleyman is intimately familiar with the technologies, companies and personalities at the heart of the A.I. revolution. With help from his coauthor Michael Bhaskar, he deftly describes how the latest online chatbots, image generators and similar A.I. systems could supercharge everything from computer programming to transportation to medical research. And with even greater verve, he explains the many ways these technologies could do harm: by spreading disinformation, replacing countless workers and maybe even destroying humanity.

Nowadays, talk of existential risk has become an oddly effective way of hyping new technologies. And Suleyman, who now runs a start-up called Inflection A.I., is among those who stand to benefit from the hype. But as a left-leaning social activist who dropped out of Oxford to start a mental-health help line for Muslim youths in Britain, he acknowledges the need to address more pressing problems in the near term — the egos of the industry’s biggest players among them.

Reading the audiobook himself with an Englishness that is both convincing and comforting to the ears of an American, Suleyman provides a window into the aims and attitudes of these big players. Though they see the risks, they see enormous upsides, too. If they don’t build the technology, they believe someone else will. Given A.I.’s inevitable rise, Suleyman argues, companies and nations must come together to develop ways of containing it.

Can that happen? His answer is another contradiction. Containing the technology looks impossible, he says. But he remains an optimist.

‘The Coming Wave’

Listen to a clip from ‘The Coming Wave’

THE COMING WAVE: Technology, Power, and the Twenty-First Century’s Greatest Dilemma | By Mustafa Suleyman with Michael Bhaskar | Read by Mustafa Suleyman | Random House Audio | 11 hours, 48 minutes

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