A year ago, I listed all the books that I read in the year 2016. I listed 35 books with summaries for each, and grouped them into categories by subject. I’m pleased to announce that I am continuing my tradition with this current blog post, which summarizes all the books I read in 2017.

As before, I am only listing non-fiction books, and am excluding (among other things) textbooks, magazines, and certainly all the academic papers1 that I read. Books with starred titles (like ** this **) are those that I especially enjoyed reading, for one reason or another.

In 2017, I read 43 books, which is eight more than the 35 I reported on last year. Yay! The book categories are:

1. Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (11 Books)
2. Technology, Excluding AI/Robotics (5 Books)
3. Business and Economics (5 Books)
4. Biographies and Memoirs (6 Books)
5. Conservative Politics (3 Books)
6. Self-Help and Personal Development (3 Books)
7. Psychology and Human Relationships (4 Books)
8. Miscellaneous (6 Books)

Within each section, books are listed according to publication date.

I hope you enjoy this blog post! For 2018, I hope to continue reading lots and lots of non-fiction books with a heavy focus on technology, businesses, and economics. For the full set of these “reading list” posts, see this page.

## Group 1: Artificial Intelligence and Robotics

Yowza! From the 11 books here, you can tell that I’m becoming a huge fan of this genre. ;-)

• ** Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain ** is a thrilling 2011 book by neuroscientist David Eagleman of the Baylor College School of Medicine. (I consider this book as “AI” in this blog post, though you could argue that “Psychology” might be better.) It is clearly designed for the lay reader with interest in neuroscience, like me, due to a number of engaging examples that thrill the reader without going overboard with the technical content. Eagleman describes how we don’t actually have that much control over our brain, that there are so many unexpected contradictions with how we think, and mentions a few interesting neuroscience factoids. Did you know, for instance, that half of a child’s brain can be removed and the child can still survive? On a technical note, I was impressed with how Eagleman referenced a few machine learning papers from Michael I. Jordan and Geoff Hinton in his footnotes about hierarchical learning. From the perspective of a computer scientist, the most interesting part was when he talked about the brain being a team of competing rivals. This is awfully similar to the idea behind Generative Adversarial Networks an enormously successful and well-cited paper that came out in NIPS 2014 … three years after this book was published! I have no idea how a non-computer scientist was able to almost predict this, but it shows that cross-collaboration between neuroscientists may be good for AI. He doesn’t get everything right, though. He mentions more than once that artificial neural networks have been a failure. Well… this book was published in 2011, and Alex-Net came out in 2012, so that kind of flopped quickly. Despite this, I hope to see Eaglemen write another book about the brain so that I can see a revised perspective. Incognito also contains interesting perspectives on neuroscience and the law. Eagleman doesn’t take sides but doesn’t go in too much depth either. He says the “bar” for blameworthiness will change depending on available neuroscience, which he says is a mistake (and I agree).

• ** The Most Human Human: What Artificial Intelligence Teaches Us About Being Alive ** is an engaging 2011 book written by Brian Christian, who also (co-)authored another book I read this year, Algorithms to Live By. This book’s main focus is on the Turing Test, and it plays a greater theme in this one more than any of the other AI books I’ve read. Simply put, while we’re so obsessed about getting a computer to fool human judges (the “most human computer”), Christian argues that an equally important criteria is the “most human human.” In other words, in the Turing Test, who is the human that can most convince the judges that he/she is human? The book’s chapters are explorations of the different factors that make us human, among other things our ability to barge and interrupt, our use of “um” and “uh”, our constant sidetracking, and so forth. Intuitively, these are hard for a computer to model. Christian has a computer science background, so some of the book covers technical concepts such as entropy, which he argues we need to be making as high as possible; low entropy means we’re not saying anything worth knowing more about. And yet, these seem to be the most negatively encouraged aspects of our society, which is quite odd in Christian’s opinion. I enjoyed reading most of the book because it stated observations that seem obvious to me in retrospect, but which I never gave much thought. That’s the best kind of observation. (It’s like Incognito to some extent, and indeed the Incognito author praises this book!) The biggest drawback is that it never goes through a blow by blow of the actual Turing test! I mean, c’mon, I was looking forward to that, and Christian essentially ruined it by fast forwarding to the end, when he mentions he won the title of the “most human human.” Well, congratulations dude, but why wasn’t there at least a complete transcript in the book???

• ** Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots **, is a 2015 book by NY Times journalist John Markoff. Though a journalist, Markoff has frequently written about AI-related topics and has good connections in the field. Machines of Loving Grace gives an impressively balanced view of the history of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Intelligence Augmentation (IA), which can be roughly thought of as HCI (I might view it as a subset of HCI). Obviously, I am more interested in the AI aspect. Markoff covers topics such as self-driving cars (unsurprisingly), and Rodney Brooks’ Baxter robot, which has been used in many research papers that I’ve read. But more surprising from a Berkeley perspective, Markoff also mentioned Pieter Abbeel’s work, though this was his clothes folding experiment, and not his later, more exciting DeepRL stuff from 2014 and onwards. I was also — unsurprisingly — interested in Markoff’s description of the history of how the neural network pioneers met each other (e.g., Terence Sejnowski, Geoffrey Hinton, and Yann LeCun). For the IA side, the most prominent example is Apple’s Siri, which interacts with humans, though I don’t have much to say about it because I have never used Siri. Yes, I’m embarrassed. On the AI vs IA dilemma, Markoff notes people such as John McCarthy and Doug Engelbart on opposite sides. And of course who could forget Marvin Minsky who decimated the field of neural networks with his legendary 1969 book? I decided to read this based on Professor Ken Goldberg’s brief Nature article, and was pleased that I did so, mostly (again) to learn about history (since I’m trying to become like one of those AI experts…) and the importance of ensuring that, at least for AI applied to the real world, we keep the human interaction aspect in mind.

• Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future is a 2015 book by technologist Martin Ford, who warns that our society is not prepared to handle all the future technological advances with robots automating out jobs. He begins by arguing that IT advances have not been as useful as electricity and other breakthroughs, and indeed that is a key theme from Robert Gordon’s The Rise and Fall of American Growth. To make the point clear, in response to Ray Kurzwiel saying that smartphones have provided incalculably large benefits to their owners, Ford counters with: “in practice, they may offer little more than the ability to play Angry Birds while standing in an unemployment line.” Ford continues by citing sources and reasons for the decline of the middle class in America. This part of the book is not controversial. Ford then raises the point that the IT revolution, along with not just robotics but also machine learning, means that even “high-skilled” jobs are at risk of being automated out. We now have machines that can write as well as most humans, that play Jeopardy! (as expected, IBM’s Watson was mentioned) and which perform better at image recognition and language translation using Deep Learning. Ford worries that, in the worst case, an elite few with all the wealth will hoard it and be guarded in a fortress by robots. Yes, he admits this is science fiction (and he discusses the Singularity, probably not the best idea…) but the point seems clear. Ford concludes the book with what he probably wanted to discuss all along: Universal Basic Income to the rescue! I heard about this book from Professor Ken Goldberg’s brief Nature article, who is critical of Ford “falling for the singularity hype” and his “extremely sketchy” evidence. I probably don’t find it as bad, and lately I’ve been thinking more seriously about supporting a Universal Basic Income. We might as well try on smaller scales, given that the best we can hope for in the future is more debt and safety net cuts with Republicans (now) or more debt inefficient bureaucracy with Democrats (in 2018/2020).

• Our Robots, Ourselves: Robotics and the Myths of Autonomy, a 2015 book written by MIT professor David A. Mindell, is the third robotics-related book that I read based off of Professor Ken Goldberg’s brief Nature article. Mindell has an unusual background, being a Professor of Aeronautics and Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing (I didn’t even know that was a department). He’s also a pilot. So this book brings together his expertise when he discusses what it means for robots to be automated. Our Robots, Ourselves discusses five realms: sea, land, air, war, and space, and shows that in all of those, it is not straightforward to claim that robots are being more and more autonomous at the expense of the human aspect. In addition, Mindell tells stories of the natural conflict between increasing automation and human employees. For instance, with sea, what does it mean for geologists and scuba-diving analysts if robots do it for them? Does it detract from their job? A similar thing rings true for pilots. We need some way of humans taking over in emergencies, and pilots are worried that increasing automation will lower the prerequisite skills for the job and/or reduce the job’s purpose. Next, consider war. People who once fought on the front lines or as air force pilots are feeling resentful that those who manage drones remotely are getting respect and various honors. Mindell argues that increasing automation must also go along with better human-robot interaction, a topic which is rightfully becoming increasingly important for academia and the world. After reading this book, I now believe I do not want systems to be fully autonomous (a huge issue with self-driving cars) but instead, I want the automation to work well with humans. That’s the key insight I got from this book.

• ** Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions ** is a 2016 book co-authored by writer Brian Christian and Berkeley psychology professor Tom Griffiths. It consists of 11 chapters, each of which correspond to one broad theme in computer science, such as Bayes’ Rule, Overfitting, and Caching. Most of these topics are related to algorithms and machine learning, which wasn’t particularly surprised to me given the authors’ backgrounds. I also know Professor Griffiths publishes machine learning papers on occasion, such as his groundbreaking 2004 paper Finding Scientific Topics. Algorithms to Live By lists how the major technical issues and questions related to these topics can have implications for actions in our own lives, such as dating, parking cars, and designing our rooms/desks (this example with caching always comes up). The authors point out how, in practice, the algorithms people engage in for these activities can be surprisingly correct or well off the mark of optimality, where here the metric is based on mathematical proofs. Of course, whenever we talk about mathematical proofs, we have to be clear on what assumptions we make, which will drastically affect our options, and which in fact can often validate some of the seemingly irrational activities that humans perform. I tremendously enjoyed reading this, though admittedly it was easier for me to digest the material given that I knew the main idea of the computer science concepts covered. It was nice to get a high-level overview, though, and I still learned a lot from the book since I have not studied every computer science subfield in detail. My final thought is that, just like when I read The Checklist Manifesto last year and tried to think about utilizing checklists myself, I will try and see if I can incorporate some of the authors’ suggestions in my own life.

## Group 2: Technology, Excluding AI/Robotics

These are books loosely related to technology, though excluding AI and robotics, as I discussed those in the previous section.

• ** The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies **, co-authored by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. Both authors are from MIT: Brynjolfsson is a professor of management and McAfee a research scientist. The authors appear to take the opposite perspective of economist Robert Gordon (author of The Rise and Fall of American Growth, which I discuss later), a point that they emphasize repeatedly: they argue that we are now at an inflection point and that we are on our way towards better times, and not stagnation. Their key rebuttal to Gordon is that innovation is due to recombination. Sure, we may not invent brand new things like electricity, but the IT revolution was all about combining stuff that had previously existed, and that will continue onwards as more people are able to try new things. As expected, they provide the usual disclaimers (at least from the technologically elite) that technological growth isn’t always great, that people fall behind, etc. To their credit, both men propose solutions, which I think are reasonable and — crucially in today’s politics — are widely agreed upon by economists across the entire political spectrum. For instance, they mention the universal basic income but seem to prefer the more mainstream “earned income tax credit” idea, and I think I can agree. One major quibble I have is that the book has one chapter to AI, but the actual AI portion of it is only two and a half pages long. And this for what might be the biggest technology advance of the 21st century! Fortunately, they seem to have given it greater attention since the book was first published. I bought The Second Machine Age in December 2016 as a Christmas gift, and they included a new introduction saying that they had underestimated progress in AI, particularly with deep neural networks, a topic which I frequently blog about here! (Incidentally, I saw Brynjofsson’s praise for a MOOC on Deep Learning … even MIT professors are going to MOOCs4 to learn about the subject!) The book is relatively straightforward to read and oozes more excitement compared to Gordon’s book. There is a book website for more details if you are interested. Brynjofsson and McAfee have since written more about Deep Learning, as you can see from their NY Times article after AlphaGo famously beat Go super-duper star Lee Sodol. I feel extremely fortunate to be in a position where, though I’m not the one creating this stuff, I can understand it.

• ** Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy ** is a 2016 book by mathematician-turned-data scientist and author (and MathBabe founder) Cathy O’Neil who argues that the use of large datasets in industry and government contexts has, well, increased inequality in our society. She describes stories about how the use of big data to predict whether someone will commit a crime or default on a loan has a harmful feedback loop on the poor and minorities. (Blacks are the minority group emphasized the most in the book.) Why is there a feedback loop? Minorities are more likely to be around people who are committing crimes, and the “birds of a feather” mentality among big data algorithms is that they tend to relate people to those who bear similar qualities. Whereas in the past, for instance, a banker might not have relied on big data but on his instincts to grant or deny loans, which would hurt women and minorities, nowadays we mostly have data algorithms to determine that, but even so, algorithms have their own biases and values (indeed, this is an academic research topic, see the BAIR Blog post on this which also uses Google’s “labeling blacks as gorillas” example of algorithms trained on wrong data). O’Neil calls for increased transparency in these algorithms, which she calls Weapons of Math Destruction (WMDs), and for the people working on these algorithms to better understand the values that are inherent in the models. I enjoyed most of the short, fast-paced book and highly recommend it. It’s also worth noting that O’Neil regularly writes columns about this subject area, which interested readers should check out.

• ** Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations ** is Thomas L. Friedman’s most recent book, published in late 2016 (though the manuscript was done before the outcome of the presidential election). For a long time, I’ve been following Friedman’s Sunday weekly columns at The New York Times, which has served as a preview for what’s to come in the book: Moore’s Law, the refugee/migration crisis, unstable governments, droughts and climate change, and the polarization at the highest level of American politics. Friedman goes through these and discusses topics much like he did in The World is Flat, though I think he tempers his idiosyncratic writing style. He mentions at one point a handful of policy changes he’d like to do, and claims he’s neither left nor right politically and that those labels are now outdated. For instance, he’s very free trade (right) but also for single-payer health care (left). I was duly impressed from the book because it taught me much about how the world works today. It also made me appreciate that I’m in a position where I can take advantage of what the world has to offer. Thank You for Being Late also mentioned several technical topics that I’m passionate about. It was really nice to see a mainstream, “non-technophobe” talk about Moore’s Law, GitHub7, and even TensorFlow/Deep Learning (!!); he explained these topics as well as he could given the non-technical nature of the targeted audience. I also appreciated the surgeon general’s comment in the end that America’s biggest killer “was not heart disease, but isolation” which is ironic given how we are more connected than ever before. Ultimately, I want to be part of that acceleration and, of course, to ensure that the vast majority of Americans aren’t left behind (including myself!). The book, however, made me concerned about the future. I finished this just a few days before Trump was inaugurated so … hopefully things will be OK.

• What to Do When Machines Do Everything: How to Get Ahead in a World of AI, Algorithms, Bots, and Big Data is a recent 2017 book by three leaders from Cognizant, a firm which I didn’t know about beforehand. This book takes the now-standard view (at least among many technology thinkers) that automation will be overall better for us, destroying some jobs but also creating new ones and clearing out old drudgery. One thing the authors note which I haven’t heard before is that they subscribe to the “S-Curve”: we’re in a “stall” zone, but for the next two decades, we will experience dramatic economic growth with more equalizing effects as it relates to income distribution. I find this hard to believe, unfortunately. Another perspective the authors bring is that once old entrenched companies make more of a digital transition, that’s when we’ll really see GDP take off. Regarding the book style, it’s short and written in a mini-textbook style. The abbreviations in it were a bit corny but I enjoyed the examples, at least the ones they had. I surprisingly didn’t seem to enjoy it as much as some other similar books, probably because some of their advice is really high level and generic, over-simplifying things. All in all, I think the book is mostly correct on a technical level but may not be my style.

## Group 4: Biographies and Memoirs

I am reading biographies of famous people because I want to be famous someday. My aim is to be famous for a good reason, e.g., developing technology that benefits large swaths of humanity. (It is obviously easier to become famous for a bad reason than a good reason.)

• ** Alan Turing: The Enigma ** is the definitive biography of Alan Turing, quite possibly the best computer scientist of all time. The book was written in 1983 by Andrew Hodges, a British mathematics tutor at the University of Oxford (now retired). I discussed this in a separate blog post so I will not repeat the details here.

• ** My Beloved World ** is Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir, published in 2013. It’s written from the first person perspective and outlines her life from starting in South Bronx and moving up to her appointment as a judge to US District Court, Southern District of New York. It — unfortunately — doesn’t talk much about her experiences after that, getting appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1998, and of course, her time on the nation’s highest court starting in August 2009. She had a father who struggled with alcoholism and died when she was nine years old, and didn’t appear to be a good student until she was in fifth grade, when she started to obsess over getting “gold stars.” (I can attest to a similar experience over obsessing to get “gold star-like” objects when I was younger.) She then, as we all know, did well in high school and entered Princeton as one of the first incoming batch of women students and Hispanic students, graduating with stellar academic credentials in 1976 and then going on to Yale Law School where she graduated in 1979. The book describes her experiences in vivid terms, and I liked following through her footsteps. I feel and share her pain at not knowing “secrets” that the rich and privileged students had when I was an undergrad (I was clueless about how finance and investment banking jobs worked, and I’m still clueless today.) Overall, I enjoyed the book. It’s brilliantly written, with an engrossing, powerful story. I will be reminded of her key attribute of persistence and determination and focus which she says were key. I’m trying to pursue the same skills myself. While I understand the low likelihood of landing such tiny jobs (e.g., the tech equivalent of a Supreme Court Justice) I do try and think big and that’s what motivates me a lot. I read this book on a day trip where I was sitting in a car passenger seat, and I sometimes dozed off and imagined myself naming various hypothetical Supreme Court Justices.

## Group 5: Conservative Politics and Thoughts

Well, this will be interesting. I’m not a registered Republican, though I possess a surprisingly large amount conservative beliefs, some of which I’m not brave enough to blog about (for obvious reasons). In addition, I believe it is important to understand people’s beliefs across the political spectrum, though for this purpose I exclude the extreme far left (e.g., hardcore Communists) and right (e.g., the fascists and the Ku Klux Klan).

• ** Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make it Harder for Blacks to Succeed ** a 2014 book written by Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Riley. It’s no secret that (a) most blacks tend to be liberal, I would guess due to the liberals getting the civil rights movement correct in the 1960s, and (b) blacks tend to have more credibility when criticizing blacks compared to whites. Riley, as a black conservative, can get away with roundly criticizing blacks in a way that I wouldn’t do since I do not want to be perceived as a racist. In Please Stop Helping Us, Riley “eviscerates nonsense” as described by his hero, Thomas Sowell, criticizing concepts such as the minimum wage, unions, young black culture, and affirmative action policies, among other things, for the decline in black prosperity. His chief claim is that liberals, while having good intentions, have not managed to achieve their desired results with respect to the black population. He also laments that young blacks tend to watch too much TV, engage in hip-hop culture, and the like. One of his stories that stuck with me was when a young (black) relative asked him: “why are you so white”, when all Riley did was speak proper English and tuck in his shirt. Indeed, variants of this story are common complaints that I’ve seen and heard about from black students and professionals across the political spectrum. I don’t agree with Riley on everything. For instance, Riley tends to ignore or explain away issues regarding racism as it relates to the lack of opportunities for job promotions or advancement, or when blacks are penalized more relative to others for a given crime. On the other hand, we agree on affirmative action, which he roundly criticizes, pointing out that no one wants to be the token “diversity hire”. To his credit, he additionally mentions that Asians are hurt the most from affirmative action, as I pointed out in an earlier blog post, making it a dubious policy when it come to advancing racial equality. In the end, this book is a thought-provoking piece about race. My impression is that Riley genuinely wants to see more blacks succeed in America (as I do), but he is disappointed that the major civil rights battles were all won decades ago, and nowadays current policies do not have the same positive impact factor.

• ** The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America **, is a 2015 book by Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, officially a nonpartisan think tank but widely regarded (both inside and outside the organization) as a place for conservative public policy development and analysis. Brooks argues that today’s conservatives, while they have most of the technical arguments right (e.g., on the benefits of free enterprise), lack the “moral high ground” that liberals have. Brooks cites statistics showing that conservatives are seen as less compassionate and less caring than liberals. He argues that conservatives can’t be about being anti-everything: government, minimum wage increases, food stamps, etc. Instead, they have to show that they care about people. They need to emphasize an equal starting line for which people can flourish, which contrasts with the common liberal perspective of making the end product equal (by income redistribution or proportional racial representation). One key point Brooks emphasizes is the need for work fulfillment and purpose instead of lying around while collecting checks from the American welfare state. I liked this book and found it engaging and accessible. It is, Brooks says, a book for a wide range of people, including “open-minded liberals” who wish to understand the conservative perspective. I have two major issues with his book, though. The first is that while he correctly points out the uneven recovery and the lack of progress on fixing poverty, he fails to mention the technological forces that have created these uneven conditions (see my technology, economics, and business related books above), much of which is outside the control of any presidential administration or Congress. The second is that I think he’s been proved wrong on a lot of things. President Donald Trump is virtually none of the stuff that a conservative “heart” would suggest and, well, he was elected President (after this book was published, to boot). I wish President Trump would start following Brooks’ suggestions.

• Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle is a brief 2017 book/manifesto by U.S. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona. Flake is well known for being one of those “Never Trump” style of Republicans since he remains true to certain Republican principles that have arguably fallen out of favor with the recent populist surge of Trump-ian Republicanism in 2016, such as free trade and limited government spending. And yes, I don’t think Republicans can claim to be the party of fiscal prudence nowadays, since Trump is decidedly not a limited spending conservative. In this book, Senator Flake argues that Republicans have to get back to true, Conservative principles and can’t allow populism and immaturity to define their party. He laments at the lack of bipartisanship in Congress, and while he makes it clear that both parties are to blame, in this book he mostly aims at Republicans. This explains why so many Republicans, including Barry Goldwater’s relatives, dislike this book. (Barry Goldwater wrote a book of the same title, “Conscience of a Conservative”, from which Jeff Flake borrowed the title.) I sort of liked this book but didn’t really like it. It still fails to address the notion of how the parties have fallen apart, and he (like everyone else) preaches bipartisanship without proposing clear solutions. Honestly, I think the main reason I read it was not that I think Flake has all the solutions, but that I sometimes think of myself in Congress in my fantasies. Thus, I jumped at the chance to read a book directly from a Congressman, and particularly a book like this where Flake bravely didn’t have his staff revise it to make it more “politically palatable.” It’s a bit raw and lacks the polish of super-skilled writers, but we shouldn’t hold Senators to such a high writing standard so it’s fine with me. It’s unfortunate that Flake isn’t going to seek re-election next year.

## Group 6: Self-Help and Personal Development

I’m reading these “personal development” books because, well, I want to be a far more effective person than I am right now. “Effectiveness” can mean a lot of things. I define it as being vastly more productive in (a) Artificial Intelligence research and (b) my social life.

• ** How to Win Friends and Influence People: The Only Book You Need to Lead You to Success ** is Dale Carnegie’s famous book based on his human interaction courses. It was originally published in 1936, during the depths of the Great Depression, making this book by far the oldest one I’ve read this year. I will not go into too much depth about it since I wrote a summary in an earlier blog post. The good news is that 2017 has been a much better year for me socially, and the book might have helped. I look forward to continuing the upward trend in 2018, and to read other Dale Carnegie books.

• ** The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change **, written by Stephen R. Covey in 1989, is widely considered to be the “successor” to Dale Carnegie’s classic book (see above summary). In The 7 Habits, Covey argues that the habits are based on well-timed principles and thus do not noticeably vary across different religious groups, ethnic groups, and so forth. They are: “Be Proactive”, “Begin With the End in Mind”, “Put First Things First”, “Think Win-Win”, “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood”, “Synergize”, and “Sharpen the Saw”. You can find their details on the Wikipedia page so I won’t repeat the points here, but I will say that the one which really touches upon me is “Think Win-Win”. In general, I am always trying to make more friends, and I’d like these to be win-win. My strategy, which aligns with Covey’s (great minds think alike!), is to start a relationship by doing more work than the other person or letting the other person benefit more. Specifically, this means that I will be happy to (a) take the initiative in setting meeting times and any necessary reservations, (b) drive or travel farther distances, (c) let the other person choose the activity, and so forth. At some point, however, the relationship needs to be reciprocal. Indeed, I often tell people, subtly or not so subtly, that the true test of friendship is if friends are willing to do things for you just as much as you do to them. With respect to the six other principles, there isn’t much to disagree. There is striking similarity to Cal Newport’s Deep Work when Covey discusses high-impact, Quadrant II activities. Possibly my main disagreement with the book is that Covey argues how these principles come (to some extent) from religion and God. As an atheist, I do not buy this rationale, but I still agree with the principles themselves and I am trying to follow them as much as I can. This book has earned a place on my desk along with Dale Carnegie’s classic, and I will always remember it because I want to be a highly effective person.

## Group 7: Psychology and Human Relationships

These books are about psychology, broadly speaking, which I suppose can include “human relationships”. I thoroughly enjoyed reading all four of these books.

• ** To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others ** is a 2012 book by best-selling author Daniel Pink. He argues that we should stop focusing on outdated views of salespeople. That is, that they are slimy, conniving, attempting to rip of us off, etc. Today, one in nine work in “sales” but Pink’s chief message to the reader is that the other eight of nine are also in sales. We try to influence people all the time. So in some sense this is obvious. I mean, if I am aiming to get a girlfriend, then I’m trying to influence her based on my positive qualities. For academics, we sell our work (i.e., research) all the time. That’s what Pink means when he says “everyone is working in sales.” He argues that nowadays, the barriers have fallen (he almost says “The World is Flat” a la Thomas L. Friedman) and that salespeople are no longer people who walk door by door to ask people to buy things. That’s outdated. One possible negative aspect of the book is that I don’t think we need this much “proof” that we’re all salespeople. Yes, some people think only in terms of that job, but all you have to do is say: “hey everyone is a salesperson, if you try to become friends with someone, that counts…” and if you tell that to people, all of a sudden they’ll get it and I don’t think belaboring the point is necessary. On the positive side, the book contains several case studies and lists of things to do, so that I can think of these and reread the book in case I want to apply them in my life. Indeed, as I was reading this book, I was also thinking of ways I could convince someone to become friends with me.

• ** Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World ** is a recent 2016 book by famous Wharton professor Adam Grant, also known as the author of Give and Take. I’ve been aware of Grant for some time, in part because he’s been featured in Cal Newport’s writing as someone who engages in the virtues of Deep Work (see an excerpt here). Yeah, he’s really productive, finishing a PhD in less than three years11 and then becoming the youngest tenured professor at his university. But what is this book about, anyway? In Originals, Grant argues that people who “buck the trend” are often ones who can make a difference for the better. As I anticipated ahead of time, Martin Luther King Jr is in the book, but not for all the reasons I thought. One of them — why procrastination might actually have been helpful (i.e., first mover disadvantage) for him when he was crafting his “I Have a Dream” speech, though one was more realistic: focusing on the victims of crimes (blacks facing discrimination) rather than criticizing the perpetrators. Another nice tidbit from Grant was making sure to emphasize the downsides of your work rather than the positives to venture capitalists, as that will help you look more sincere. Other stuff in this book include how to foster a correct sense of dissent in a company (e.g., Bridgewater Associates is unique in this regard because people freely criticize the billionaire founder Ray Dalio). I certainly felt like some of this was cherry-picking, which admittedly is unavoidable, but this book seems to pursue that more than others. Nonetheless, a lot of the advice seems reasonable and I hope to apply it in my life.

## Group 8: Miscellaneous

These books, in my opinion, don’t neatly align in one of the earlier groups.

• ** The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t ** is Nate Silver’s 2012 book where he urges us to consider various issues that might be adversely affecting the quality of predictions. They range from the obvious, such as political biases which affect our assessment of political pundits (known as “hedgehogs” in his book), and perhaps less obvious things such as a bug in the Deep Blue chess program which nonetheless grandmaster Gary Kasparov took to meaning that Deep Blue could “predict twenty moves into advance.” I really enjoyed this book. The examples are far ranging: how to detect terrorist attacks (a major difficulty but one with enormous political importance) to playing poker (Silver’s previous main source of income), to uncertainties involving global warming models (always important to consider), and to the stock market (this one is hardest for me to understand given my lack of background knowledge on the stock market, but I am learning and working to rectify this!). The one issue I have is that Silver seems to just assume: hey let’s apply Bayes’ rule to fix everything, so that we have a prior of $X$, and we assume the probability of $Y$ … and therein lies the problem. In real settings we rarely get those $X$ and $Y$ values to a high degree of accuracy. But I have no issue with the general idea of revising predictions and using Bayes’ rule. I encourage you to see a related critique in The New Yorker. The reality, by the way, is that most current professional statisticians likely employ a mix of Frequentist and Bayesian statistics. For a more technical overview, check out Professor Michael I. Jordan’s talk on Are You A Bayesian or a Frequentist?.

• ** The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness ** is a splendid 2015 book by author Sy Montgomery, who has written numerous biology-related books about animals. I would call this entirely a popular science book; it’s more like a combination of the author discovering octopuses and describing her own experience visiting the New England aquarium, learning how to scuba dive, watching octopuses having sex in Seattle, and of course, connecting with octopuses. To be frank, I had no idea octopuses could do any of the things she mentions in the book (such as walking on dry land and squeezing through a tiny hole to get out of a tank). Clearly, aquariums have their hands full trying to deal with octopuses. Much of the book is about trying to connect with the three octopuses the New England aquarium has; the author regularly touches and feeds the octopuses, observing and attempting to understand them. I was impressed by the way Montgomery manages to make the book educational, riveting, and emotional all at once, which was surprising to me when I found out about the book’s title. It’s surely a nice story, and that’s what I care about.

• Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War is a book by USC English Professor Viet Thanh Nguyen, published in 2016 and a finalist for the National Book Award in Non-Fiction that same year. It’s not a recap or history of the Vietnam War (since that subject has been beaten to death) but instead it focuses specifically on how people from different sides (obviously, American and Vietnamese, but also the rest of the world) view the war, because that will shape questions such as who is at fault and should make reparations and also how we can avoid similar wars in the future. It’s an academic-style book, so the writing is a bit dry and it’s important not to read this when tired. I think it provides a useful perspective on the Vietnam War and memories in general. Nguyen travels to many areas in Vietnam and Asia and explores how they view America — for instance, he argues that South Korea attempts to both ally with the US and look down on Vietnam with contempt. I found the most thought-provoking discussion to be about identity politics and how minorities often have to be the ones describing their own experiences. I’ve observed this in the books I read, in which if they’re written by a minority author (and here I’ll include Asians despite how critics of the tech industry bizarrely decide otherwise) are often about said minority. Other interesting (though obvious) insights include how the entire war machine and capitalism of the US means it can spread its memories of the war more effectively than Vietnam can. Thus, the favorable American perspective of the US as attempting to “save” minorities is more widespread, which puts America in a better light than (in my opinion, channeling my inner Noam Chomsky) it deserves.

• The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics is a short book (describing it as an essay is probably more accurate) written by humanities professor Mark Lilla of Columbia University. This book grew out of his fantastic (perhaps my all-time favorite) Op-Ed in the NYTimes about the need to end identity politics, or specifically identity liberalism. I agree wholeheartedly; we need to stop treating different groups of people as monolithic. Now, it is certainly the case that racism or mistreating of any group must be called out, and white identity politics is often played on the right, versus the variety of identities on the left. Anyway, this short book is split into three parts: anti-politics, pseudo-politics, and politics, but this doesn’t seem to have registered much to me, and the book is arranged in a different style as I might have hoped. I was mostly intrigued by how he said Roosevelt-esque liberalism dominated from roughly 1930 to 1970. Then the Reagan-esque conservatism (i.e., the era of the individual) has dominated from 1980 to 2016 or so, and now we’re supposed to be starting a new era as Trump has demolished the old conservatism. But Lilla is frustrated that modern liberalism is so obsessed about identity, and quite frankly, so am I. He is correct, and many liberals would agree, that change must be aimed locally now, as Republicans have dominated state and local governments, particularly throughout the Obama years. I do wish, however, that he had focused more directly on (a) how groups are not monolithic, (b) why identity politics is bad politics. I know there was some focus, but there didn’t seem to be enough for me. But I suppose, this being a short essay, he wanted to prioritize the Roosevelt-Reagan parallels, which in all fairness is indeed interesting to ponder.

• ** Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, and Citizens can Save the Planet **, a 2017 book jointly written by Michael Bloomberg and Carl Pope. Surprisingly, considering that I was born and raised in New York state all my life (albeit, upstate and not in the city) the first time I really learned about Bloomberg was when he gave the commencement speech at my college graduation. You can view the video here, and in fact, to the right you can barely see the hands of a sign language interpreter who I really should re-connect with sometime soon. Climate of Hope consists of a series of chapters, which are split into half from Bloomberg’s perspective, half from Pope’s perspective. The dynamics between the two men are interesting. Pope is a “typical” Sierra Nevada member, while Bloomberg is known for being a ridiculously-rich billionaire and a three-term (!!) mayor of New York City.12 The book is about cities, businesses, and citizens, and the omission of national governments is no accident: both men have been critical of Washington’s failure to get things done. Bloomberg and Pope aim their ire at the “climate change deniers” in Washington, though they do levy slight criticism on Democrats for failing to support nuclear power. They offer a brief scientific background on climate change, and then argue that new market forces and the rise of cities (thus greener due to more public transportation and more cramped living quarters) means we should be able to emphasize more renewable energy. One key thing I especially agree with is that to market policies that promote renewable energy — particularly to skeptical conservatives — people cannot talk about how “worldwide temperatures in 2100 will be two degrees higher.” Rather, we need to talk about things we can do now, such as saving money, protecting our cities, creating construction jobs, protecting our health from smog, all these thing we can do right now and which will have the effect of fighting long-term climate change anyway. I enjoyed this easy-to-read and optimistic book, though it’s also fair to say that I tend to view Bloomberg quite favorably and honor his commitment to getting things done rather than having dysfunction in Washington. Or maybe I just want to obtain a fraction of his professional success in my life.

That’s all for 2017!

1. Most of the academic papers that I read can be found in this GitHub repository

2. You’ll also notice in that link that Stuart Russell says he thinks superintelligence will happen in “more than 25 years” but he thinks it will happen. Russell’s been one of the leading academics voicing concern about AI. I’m not sure what has been created out of it, except raising a discussion of AI’s risks, kind of like how Barrat’s book doesn’t really propose solutions. (Disclaimer: I have not read all of Russell’s work on this, and I might need to see this page for information.)

3. In this interview, Oren Etzioni said that AI leaders were not concerned about superintelligence, and even quoted an anonymous AAAI Fellow who said that Nick Bostrom was “the Donald Trump of AI”. Stuart Russell, who has praised Superintelligence, wrote a rebuttal to Etzioni, who then apologized to Bostrom.

4. Of course, this raises the other problem with MOOCs. Only people who have sufficient motivation to learn are actually taking advantage of MOOCs, and these tend to be skewed towards those who are already well-educated. Under no circumstances is Brynjolfsson someone who needs a MOOC for his career. But there are many people who cannot afford college and the like, but who don’t have the motivation (or time!) to learn on their own. Is it fair for them to suffer under this new economy?

5. Eric Schmidt got his computer science PhD from Berkeley in 1982. So at least I know someone famous essentially started off on a similar career trajectory as I am.

6. I didn’t realize this until the authors put it in a footnote, but Jonathan Rosenberg’s father is Nathan Rosenberg, who wrote the 1986 book How the West Grew Rich which I also read this year. Heh, the more I read the more I realize that it’s a small world among the academic and technically elite among our society.

7. This blog is hosted on GitHub and built using software called Jekyll. Click here to see the source code

8. To compare, How the West Grew Rich is less than half the length of The Rise and Fall of American Growth. In addition, I skipped most footnotes for the former, but read all the footnotes for the later.

9. A quick thanks to Ben and Marc for helping to fund Berkeley’s Computer Science Graduate Student Association!

10. Dawkins mentions that, if anything was “the making” of him, Oxford was. For me, I consider Berkeley to be “the making of me” as I’ve learned much more, both academically and otherwise, here than at Williams College.

11. Usually, someone completing a PhD in 2-3 years raises red flags since they likely didn’t get much research done and may have wanted to graduate ASAP. Grant is an exception, and it’s worth noting that there are also exceptions in computer science

12. Given the fact that Bloomberg was able to buy his way into being a politician, I really think the easiest way for me to enter national politics is to have enormous success in the business and technology sector. Then I can just buy my way in, or use my connections. It’s unfortunate that American politics is like this, but at least it’s better than having a king and royal family.