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The Fourth Age

Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity

By Byron Reese
13-minute read
Audio available
The Fourth Age: Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity by Byron Reese

In The Fourth Age (2018), author Byron Reese provides essential context for the subject of artificial intelligence and the kinds of changes we can expect from its proliferation. By taking into consideration the major innovations of the past, Reese provides a valuable framework that will help anyone better understand the potential impact AI will have on the modern workforce.

  • Readers looking for a fresh perspective on future technologies
  • Workers concerned about the future job market
  • Economists and philosophers

Byron Reese is the publisher and CEO of technology research company Gigaom. He also founded several high-tech companies, and is interested in the interplay between technology and human history. He’s the author of the book Infinite Progress: How the Internet and Technology Will End Ignorance, Disease, Poverty, Hunger, and War.

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The Fourth Age

Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity

By Byron Reese
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
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The Fourth Age: Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity by Byron Reese
Synopsis

In The Fourth Age (2018), author Byron Reese provides essential context for the subject of artificial intelligence and the kinds of changes we can expect from its proliferation. By taking into consideration the major innovations of the past, Reese provides a valuable framework that will help anyone better understand the potential impact AI will have on the modern workforce.

Key idea 1 of 8

Human history can be divided into three key periods, and the first features the invention of fire and language.

You could reflect on human history, divide it up and categorize certain eras in any number of ways. One way would be with an eye toward innovation and technology. In this light, we can divide history into three key periods, or ages, with the first two going back to prehistoric times.

The First Age is defined by the inventions of fire and language. This age is believed to have started around one hundred thousand years ago, when we were living as hunter-gatherers.

The mastery of fire was a game-changer for humans. It not only provided us with light and warmth, it also increased our safety. But perhaps even more important, fire allowed us to cook food.

Why was cooking so important? Well, since we remarkably use 20 percent of our caloric intake on brain functioning alone, cooking gave the evolution of our brain a huge boost. Cooking made it possible to eat a wider array of foods, and therefore consume many more calories.

Thanks to cooking with fire, we could break down the starches and cellulose that had made many vegetables previously indigestible. Fire also broke down tough proteins, making them easier to chew, not to mention a lot tastier!

Before fire, we had around the same amount of neurons as a gorilla or chimpanzee. Afterward, that number multiplied threefold.

The second key technological advance of the First Age was language, since it allowed us to communicate more complex ideas and abstract concepts. Once we began to exchange information like this, we could cooperate more and expand our imaginations. With this, our ability to tell stories was born.

In telling stories, we could finally express our inner world through the use of both words and symbols, as well as mix multiple ideas in order to suggest new and exciting futures. We can’t know for certain what the earliest languages sounded like, but we can use the languages that followed to guess what may have come before. Some theorize that today’s 445 languages, including English, Russian, German, Hindi and Punjabi, suggest that the earliest humans spoke a Proto-Indo-European language.

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