Must-read Business Books for AI Practitioners – with Bonus Titles

It’s commonsense that AI applications are changing our life. We are in the midst of an AI hype with high expectations towards technology. Governments using AI are transforming our societies. More and more money has been poured into AI startups. These phenomena made us interested in the business side of AI, so we collected the hottest titles on the topic.

It cannot be debated that AI is part of our life and businesses. But how technology changed and will change business? Let’s see how some of the greatest minds answer to this question.

The AI business

First, let’s start with an optimistic framework on technological development. According to More from Less by Andrew McAfee, the answers to global warming, environmental devastation and growing inequalities come from capitalism. No, McAfee doesn’t deny the fact that capitalism caused most of these problems, but he thinks it will adapt to these challenges driven by its own logic. Actually more from less is the motto of capitalism. You should drive down costs and produce more at the same time – this will not only lower your costs and save a lot for costumers, but this also means lowering the environmental impact of producing goods. Technological innovation is the driving force of this kind of capitalism. However, as the author notes, this doesn’t mean laissez-faire capitalism, but rather one with smart regulation.

The book is full of data. You can even get some supporting material from its website, which you can play with. Although it seems that the inner logic of capitalism is really not as bad as a classic Marxist depicts it, it’s still not clear if we can reform it. McAfee describes capitalism as it was in its heydays in the Anglo-Saxon world and he thinks capitalism and liberal democracy go hand in hand.

Kai-Fu Lee’s AI Superpowers suggests that a very competitive and capitalist system can thrive without democracy. Kai-Fu Lee describes the Chinese AI market as a very competitive one, in which Darwinian forces drive the race at every level. This competitiveness paired with the Great Firewall of China and a completely anti-GDPR approach to data collection nurture the unique Chinese tech word. Chinese tech firms can access and collect data on a scale which is unimaginable for their western counterparts. Lee thinks that the Chinese approach can coexist with the western one. China can deliver vertical solutions based on huge amount of data, while the westerners can focus on the nitty-gritty details and academic works.

So, we are witnessing an AI arms race on state and firm levels. But how AI is used and what it is used for? The Mathematical Corporation is one of the first books on this topic. Although it is not the newest title and it cites anecdotal evidence of use cases, its main takeaways are still valid. Let’s highlight two of its main ideas, namely “Acknowledge that the machine works better than the gut” and “Prioritize imperfection and experimentation“.

Today AI is used for prediction. Prediction Machines takes us one step further and provides us with guidelines on how to put AI into production. The book was written by authors who worked closely with the Vector Institute and with the vibrant deep learning community of Toronto. We just love the AI canvas which is a very helpful guide for everyone who wants to deploy AI solutions into a product! These days it is notoriously repeated that jobs, our ethical values and even humanity are under the threat of AI. Prediction Machines takes a very pragmatic approach and thinks that AI is just a tool which helps us make predictions. There is no magic in AI! The questions is simple, can we use it in a productive and meaningful way?

While Prediction Machines focuses on predictions, and how to build a business around them, The AI Advantage takes a more holistic approach and tries to help its readers to formulate their own AI strategy in a business environment. Don’t expect a recipe of success, but some guidelines to consider.

Business is transforming due to AI and this process has its effect on jobs too. Some anticipate a Schumpeterian creative destruction, but we still don’t know if we’ll have such effects. Superminds argues that most of the jobs won’t evaporate due to AI, but will change. Humans and machines will form highly effective teams in almost every sector.

Seeing technology from a different perspective

Working outside of academia, you have to accept that you are part of a capitalist system. Even if you work for a totally independent and 100% not-for profit organization, you have to be aware of the unintended societal and ethical consequences of your work – if you work on AI. These days every business book contains a chapter on this question, and more and more institutions cover them in their technical curricula too. You can easily find professional guidelines and recommendations if you don’t want to or if you don’t have time to devote yourself to such questions. However, we do think that it’s worth dealing with such questions for the greater good of our society.

If you are into ethics and how AI raises serious ethical questions, read Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence. It’s a philosophical work written for the general audience. If you are interested in the ethical questions of capitalism, read Michael Sandel’s What Money Can’t Buy. It is a very readable intro into the field. Don’t expect ready made answers from this book, since its main strength lies in the questions that it poses.

Some think democracy and capitalism couldn’t be separated. The right to property and the minimal state with a free market yields prosperity. Niall Ferguson criticizes this conception from a right wing/liberal perspective in his The Great Degeneration. Ferguson, as a historian, draws a short story of classic capitalism, which was born in the Anglo-Saxon world, built on common law and other institutions which evolved over centuries. The “West” is declining because its institutions are getting more and more convoluted, bigger and weaker. At the same time, China and other countries are adapting capitalism to their non-democratic systems. (You can read more on Freguson’s ideas about it in our previous post here.) As Kai-Fu Lee says in AI Superpowers, the Chinese AI market is very competitive and fierce. Yet, as we know, the Communist Party and the state strictly control the society and the market.

Robert Reich offers a similar critic of present day Western-style capitalism, but from the center left. Saving Capitalism‘s central thesis is that we have a democratic deficit, as economic power can be used to influence politics. Similar to Ferguson, Reich wants clear laws, strong institutions which serves the interests of the community, not that of the big corporations. Also, they point our the fall of social capital, but it is not clear what they want to do against it. Netflix made a documentary based on Saving Capitalism, which we strongly recommend to watch.

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