Book Review: The Fourth Age by Byron Reese


Because disclaimers always come first, I have to tell you that a representative of GigaOM reached out to me on Twitter in 2018 asking if I wanted to read the book and sent me an EPUB. I started reading and I liked it so much that I decided to buy the paperback as soon as it became available on Amazon.

That said, this is an unbiased review – with the only “bias”, if you allow me, being my unconditional love of machines.

But this book is more on the human than on the machine. In fact, the author Byron Reese focuses on the ages of technological progress, from language and fire in the First, to the development of sophisticated AI and robots in the Fourth.

And how will human life change in the Fourth Age thanks to these catalysts? Reese investigates on the possibilities, especially what will happen to the concept of “human” if (when?) humankind will ever be able to build a sophisticated artificial general intelligence (AGI), a conscious machine. Will the machines be human, too?

Reese also attempts to answer (with the collaboration of the reader) some current hot questions: will robots eventually take our jobs? What about the use of robots in warfare?

Personally, I follow Haikonen’s robot consciousness research (and I dream to be able to “program” it in a robot one day) but it’s far from building a Terminator and I hope for humanity’s sake that we’ll always put restrictions on robots even if we manage to make them slightly conscious. The best way to not run the risk of technology taking over is to not build that something at all.

The good news, to say it with Reese, is that “We use our technology, generally speaking, for good.”

But the author also investigates on some directions progress may take, like ending poverty and hunger, fighting disease, develop more clean energy and extend life. As always, he leaves it up to the reader to decide on various matters, from technology to immortality.

All in all, I found Reese’s book thought provoking and a good analysis of the human way to handle progress and civilization.

“The fact that progress exists at all speaks quite well of us as a species, for it relies on cooperation, honesty, and benevolence. It involves selflessness as well as empathy.” — Byron Reese

I also enjoyed the author’s writing style: personable yet neutral, and it runs smoothly when you read it. The only reason it took me two years to finish this book is because it’s information-packed and dense in citations and questions, so sometimes reading one page got me thinking for the whole days and I just couldn’t progress with the reading.

But you know what? I’m glad it took me this long. Living with this book for a while helped me mature as a human being, I believe, and start looking at things a bit differently and with more critical sensibility.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to all people who have a passion for technology and who have questions about life, society and the world.

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