Two of my favorite contemporary writers, operating however in very different genres, are Ted Chiang and Scott Alexander:
- Ted Chiang is a science fiction writer specializing in short stories. When I read his collection Stories of Your Life and Others I said to myself "wow, this guy is almost better than Greg Egan" (but let me withhold final judgement on that comparison). The book opens with Tower of Babylon, which explores a beautiful alternative cosmology more in line with what people believed in ancient times, and continues with Understand, which, albeit lacking somewhat in realism, gives what is probably the best account I've read on what it might be like to attain superintelligence - an impossible topic, yet important in view of possible future transhumanistic developments. Among the other stories in the book is the title one, Story of Your Life, which was later adapted to the Hollywood movie Arrival; I recommend both reading the story and seeing the movie (the plots diverge somewhat in interesting respects) and then listening to the podcast Very Bad Wizards discussing them.
- Scott Alexander blogs about science, philosophy, future technologies and related topics. He often penetrates quite deeply into his chosen topic, and his posts are often longish to very long. Several of his blog posts have influenced me significantly, such as...
- Meditations on Moloch which is an original, wide ranging and important discussion of the long-term future of humanity that comes out so pessimistically that although I am deeply impressed by it I still badly wish to see it debunked,
- Book Review: Age of Em which is the best critical comment I've seen on Robin Hanson's seminal 2016 futurology book,
- Book Review: Inadequate Equilibria which gives such an instructive account of Eliezer Yudkowsky's recent and perhaps equally important book that I am (at least for the time being) prepared to accept the review as a substitue for reading (anything beyond Chapters 1-3 in) the book,
- and Contra Grant on Exaggerated Differences which offers a (much-needed) level-headed discussion on the underlying reasons behind gender imbalances in various STEM fields.
And now, finally... get ready for my excuse for discussing Chiang and Alexander in the same blog post! Scott Alexander's blog post Maybe the Real Superintelligent AI is Extremely Smart Computers from earlier this week is a masterful exposition of the errors in Chiang's arguments. When I first saw Chiang's essay, I saw mostly the same errors that Alexander saw, but would never have been able to explain them quite as pedagogically as he does. Do read it (Alexander's blog post, that is), as I have nothing to add to it.