Genius Makers by Cade Metz

This book is about the renaissance of artificial intelligence (via neural networks) in the early 2000s. The bones of the technology were developed at Cornell University in the 1950s but due to a combination of skepticism in the field and lack of computing power, the idea of the neural network lay mostly dormant for the next 30 years.

The man at the centre of the book is British-Canadian professor Geoffrey Hinton, who has spent most of his academic career at the University of Toronto and had conceded that he enjoys the epithet “The Godfather of AI”. The book opens with the story of how Hinton and his students auctioned themselves and their ideas off for about $40 MM (Google was the highest bidder); it was a highly entertaining story but did make one wonder how it was possible to arrange such a transaction without the apparent participation of the public institutions (Canadian Institution for Advanced Research; the University of Toronto and so forth) who had bankrolled Hinton’s research for years. The field is dominated by Hinton’s ex-students and postdocs and the book focusses heavily on their crisscrossing trajectories.

Paraphrasing something I read online, the book may as well be titled “Six degrees of Geoffrey Hinton”.

Hinton’s wry sense of humour is felt all over the book.

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