Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Nick Bostrom

Nick Bostrom is the Director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University and a full professor in the Faculty of Philosophy. He has more than 140 publications to his name, including the books Anthropic Bias (Routledge, 2002), Global Catastrophic Risks (OUP, 2008), and Enhancing Humans (OUP, 2008).

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I happen at the moment to be reading A Primer on Decision Making: How Decisions Happen, by James G. March. Judging by the title and the cover, it looks like yet another one of those decision-theory-for-managers books that clog the business section in most bookstores (you know the ones typically produced by business consultants who feel that they must publish one book to establish their credibility, whether or not they have anything new to say). And the undistinguished prose also bears the hallmarks of something composed in great haste. So much greater, then, my delight in discovering that this is actually a very good book - substantial, original, erudite, and wise (judging from what I've read thus far). A special virtue of the book is that the author has a grasp on two very different outlooks on decision-making: an economic expected utility framework, and a sociological perspective, and he is able to bring these together in interesting ways. The book certainly towers over all the competitors in the same category that I have come across. Instead of flicking through it quickly, as was my original intention, I'm now planning to give it a careful read.

I'm also reading The Shape of the Past: A Philosophical Approach to History by Gordon Graham, and a short technical paper, "Convergence of Expected Utilities with Algorithmic Probability Distributions," by Peter de Blanc). I've not read enough of these yet to comment.

I'm also reading as an audiobook (I love audiobooks!) The Diary of Samuel Pepys.
Visit Nick Bostrom's website.

--Marshal Zeringue