As our tech-driven world accelerates year after year, so does the number of books that attempt to explain its history, its present state, and how it can be used more effectively in the future.
The quality and tone of tech books range wildly. For instance, some are dense and often dry, and seem to be only written for a handful of specialists in a given field. Others come off with an overly-sprightly style, as if each paragraph has been culled from PowerPoint slides used at a TED Talk conference. And then there are the ones—like the titles listed below—that are painstakingly researched, written in a clear but intelligent tone, embrace nuisance, soberly attempt to provide solutions to their topic at hand and can offer something to a tech-enthusiast to an IT professional to a Silicon Valley CEO. Below are four books from 2021 that TechRepublic thought stood out as first-rank reads.
Image: Random House
The title starts with a portrait of Geoffrey Hinton, a University of Toronto-based computer scientist who is often called one of the “Godfathers of Deep Learning”—given the nickname due to his crucial role in the development of artificial neural networks. From there, Metz, a New York Times technology correspondent, takes a highly readable, deep dive (one drawing from hundreds of interviews) into the development of modern AI and the key players in what has made it what it is today.
Metz also wrestles with the notion of artificial general intelligence, or AGI—which is the idea AI could become more intelligent than us—and as such, make humans inferior. Metz ultimately doesn’t think this is a possibility, at least not in the foreseeable future. For him, our focus should be on grappling with where AI is currently. In the end, this is a remarkable book—one that can be enjoyed by those with a PhD in computer engineering or a lay person who’s interested in the evolution of AI and where it is potentially heading.
According to Eric Redmond, who has been called the “Forrest Gump of technology,” the decade from 2020 to 2030 will be the most transformative in human history. The reason? Deep Tech, also known as Industry 4.0. Specifically, the transformation will come from deep tech’s continued implantation into AI, augmented and virtual reality, blockchain and cryptocurrencies, IoT, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing and quantum computing.
The book covers a lot of ground, but crucially, Redmond maintains that the continued implantation of deep-tech work will result in a $100 trillion spike across the global economy in the next decade (if done correctly).
Striving for a work-life balance has always been a hard endeavor for many, but the pandemic threw that notion into a whirlwind—where an untold number of professionals were forced to work remotely or hybrid. On the one hand, remote work has provided more freedom and flexibility, but according to “Out of Office,” working from home can come with a “dark truth.” It says: “Remote work may look like an opportunity to fully redistribute power back to employees,” but “in practice it capitalizes on the total collapse of the work-life balance.” The book was written by Charlie Warzel, who writes a column for The Atlantic, and Anne Helen Petersen, a former senior culture writer at BuzzFeed who now writes the newsletter Culture Study. (Warzel and Petersen are also married.) It offers a worthy balancing act that shows the promises and pitfalls of working at home as opposed to at the office. In the end, the book is about how to structure a work environment—one that makes workers more productive, feel like they are doing meaningful work and ultimately renders them happier employees.
In tech writer Azeem Azhar’s new book, he argues humans and technology have hit an “exponential gap” — that is, technology is being developed at such a swift speed, humans and our institutions can’t keep up with it. Azhar maintains technology has reached a tipping point, and as such, traditional businesses, for instance, can efficiently use new digital platforms, resulting in a gulf where tech moves away from human’s ability to fully benefit from these new creations. Azhar zeros in on four areas that are moving at light-speed rates: AI, renewable energy, biology and manufacturing. Moreover, with all these technologies moving at such exponential rates, Azhar makes a convincing case that this has caused massive companies to upend smaller ones, alienated professionals from the companies they work for, disrupted economies across the world and corroded traditional political institutions.