Book Review: “Architects of Intelligence: The truth about AI from the people building it” by Martin Ford

3 minute read

TLDR of book

  • Interviews with big names in the world of artificial intelligence

  • Most of them are very sceptical about ‘artificial general intelligence’ emerging any time soon

  • No one’s too bothered about Nick Bostrom’s worries written about in ‘Superintelligence’
  • Random change

Mildly interesting, very long

Sometimes I read a really highly-rated book, do not get on with it at all, and wonder if I completely missed the point. A recent example is “The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov, supposedly one of the best Russian novels of the twentieth century. I struggled. Afterwards, I looked up summaries of it and discovered that yes, I had completely missed the point. It’s full of symbols from Freemasonry. It is apparently a ‘response to aggressive atheistic propaganda’. I missed all this.

‘Architects of Intelligence’ is very highly rated on Goodreads, about the same as ‘The Master and Margarita’, and much like that, I struggled.

As a software developer, and someone with an interest in machine learning (not a huge interest, but an interest), I thought this would be really good. I enjoyed Nick Bostrom’s ‘Superintelligence’, although bits of it were a bit heavy going. He is, in fact, one of those interviewed in this book.

My key issues with this book are basically that the author asks the same questions to all the interviewees. Alright, that is what he set out to do - he explicitly says that’s what he’s doing in the intro. And I do get it - it means you hear what all these different experts think on the same topics, and you can see the differences in their opinions.

I am not so interested in AI that I actually had any idea who most of these people were. A friend who works in this area was quite impressed by the list of interviewees - he said the book started strong (in terms of the interviewees) and got weaker as it went on when I showed him the table of contents. For me though, I had only heard of a very small number of these - Nick Bostrom, Ray Kurzweil. That’s about it.

So for me, it was a lot of people I’d never heard of, giving largely similar answers to the same questions. Ford emphasises how different the opinions are on the question of when Artificial General Intelligence will emerge. I got the sense though, that there are such unsolved problems that need to be figured out before AGI can emerge, that no one really had any idea. Plus, most of them didn’t even want to make a prediction.

Good bits

Despite my being very negative, there were some interesting ideas:

  • every interviewer asked about self-driving cars was much more pessimistic about them than I would have thought. My knowledge is solely based on news/tech articles about self-driving cars, and from that I got the impression that they were a few years away. The interviewees as a group were much more likely to predict at least 10 years. That doesn’t bode well for Uber.

  • no one was impressed by the Turing test, which in itself is not a surprise. But one interviewee spoke about the ‘coffee test’. A robot is placed in front of a normal house, one that it has never seen before, and has to go in and make a cup of coffee. The robot would have to find the kitchen, find all the coffee-making apparatus etc.

  • Nick Bostrom spoke about the risk of amateurs flying drone across airports - something we’ve seen recently


I feel a bit guilty saying I didn’t enjoy this book, and I wonder whether it’s just not aimed at me. But I think I could have learned the same information from survey results. Most interviews were too similar to be interesting and the whole book dragged for me. Though based on the Goodreads reviews, this is not a popular opinion. Unless you are particularly fascinated by AI and have heard of some of these people - I could not recommend this book.