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12 Bytes: How We Got Here. Where We Might Go Next.

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'Briskly and breezily, 12 Bytes joins the dots in a neglected narrative of female scientists, visionaries and code-breakers' Observer Twelve eye-opening, mind-expanding and provocative essays from Sunday Times-bestselling author Jeanette Winterson Drawing on her years of thinking and reading about Artificial Intelligence in its bewildering manifestations, Jeanette Winterso 'Briskly and breezily, 12 Bytes joins the dots in a neglected narrative of female scientists, visionaries and code-breakers' Observer Twelve eye-opening, mind-expanding and provocative essays from Sunday Times-bestselling author Jeanette Winterson Drawing on her years of thinking and reading about Artificial Intelligence in its bewildering manifestations, Jeanette Winterson looks to history, religion, myth, literature, politics and, of course, computer science, to help us understand the radical changes to the way we live and love that are happening now. With wit, compassion and curiosity, Winterson tackles AI's most interesting talking points, from the algorithms that data-dossier your whole life, to the weirdness of backing up your brain. 'Her writing engulfs you in lucid, fairytale-like realities that take you on gender-bending and time-warped explorations of religion, love, sex, and sexual identity.' Independent *A 'BOOKS OF 2021' PICK IN THE GUARDIAN, FINANCIAL TIMES AND EVENING STANDARD*


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'Briskly and breezily, 12 Bytes joins the dots in a neglected narrative of female scientists, visionaries and code-breakers' Observer Twelve eye-opening, mind-expanding and provocative essays from Sunday Times-bestselling author Jeanette Winterson Drawing on her years of thinking and reading about Artificial Intelligence in its bewildering manifestations, Jeanette Winterso 'Briskly and breezily, 12 Bytes joins the dots in a neglected narrative of female scientists, visionaries and code-breakers' Observer Twelve eye-opening, mind-expanding and provocative essays from Sunday Times-bestselling author Jeanette Winterson Drawing on her years of thinking and reading about Artificial Intelligence in its bewildering manifestations, Jeanette Winterson looks to history, religion, myth, literature, politics and, of course, computer science, to help us understand the radical changes to the way we live and love that are happening now. With wit, compassion and curiosity, Winterson tackles AI's most interesting talking points, from the algorithms that data-dossier your whole life, to the weirdness of backing up your brain. 'Her writing engulfs you in lucid, fairytale-like realities that take you on gender-bending and time-warped explorations of religion, love, sex, and sexual identity.' Independent *A 'BOOKS OF 2021' PICK IN THE GUARDIAN, FINANCIAL TIMES AND EVENING STANDARD*

30 review for 12 Bytes: How We Got Here. Where We Might Go Next.

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jenna

    (My possible future self excited to read a new Jeanette Winterson book) It's been eighteen years since I first read Jeanette Winterson. I remember being blown away by her words, the way she plays with them, stringing them together to create new meanings in a way I've never encountered with another author. Her writing is unique. And powerful. And such a delight to read. Whether it be with fiction or nonfiction, Jeanette Winterson's writing never fails to amaze me. 12 Bytes is a series of essays weav (My possible future self excited to read a new Jeanette Winterson book) It's been eighteen years since I first read Jeanette Winterson. I remember being blown away by her words, the way she plays with them, stringing them together to create new meanings in a way I've never encountered with another author. Her writing is unique. And powerful. And such a delight to read. Whether it be with fiction or nonfiction, Jeanette Winterson's writing never fails to amaze me. 12 Bytes is a series of essays weaving together themes her fans will recognise: AI, technology, mythology and religion, physics, unconventional relationships, non-binary people/characters. She is simultaneously forward-looking, past-probing, and introspective.  In these essays, Ms. Winterson explores the future of AI and AGI (artificial general intelligence), Big Tech, and the loss of privacy as we merge more and more with our technology. She tells of past scientific discoveries, paying special attention to women scientists, "computers", and programmers.  She explores Buddhism and the nature of reality. She discusses the potential dangers of the coming AGI and how we can work to use it to create a better and more egalitarian society, taking care of all the world's citizens instead of having a handful of people hoarding all the wealth, and all the power.  Ms. Winterson examines the ways in which women have historically been boxed in by gender, discouraged from venturing into careers in STEM, or any career outside the home. She looks at how there is still income inequality between women and men, and how we might do better in the future. Some of the essays bring to mind her last novel Frankissstein: A Love Story, with Ada Lovelace and Mary Shelley and sex bots. Like that novel, this book is philosophical, examining consciousness and exploring what it is to be human.... and what we might become. Fans of Yuval Noah Harari's Homo Deus: A History of Tomorrow, Michio Kaku's Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100, and Max Tegmark's Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence will find much to appreciate in "12 Bytes".  If you enjoy questioning the future of humanity, you do not want to miss this book.  You might never think of the future and artificial intelligence the same way again. (My thanks to Jeanette Winterson, Grove Press, and Edelweiss+ for a free digital review copy. This in no way influenced my review)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Henk

    Really looking forward to this, hope my pre-order gets through post-Brexit VAT import well enough. The article in the Guardian is very interesting, and timely with Bezos last week, as an appetizer: https://www.theguardian.com/books/202... Really looking forward to this, hope my pre-order gets through post-Brexit VAT import well enough. The article in the Guardian is very interesting, and timely with Bezos last week, as an appetizer: https://www.theguardian.com/books/202...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    2.5 rounded down Having throughly enjoyed Winterson's previous books (Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson: Note, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? and Frankissstein: A Love Story) I was curious when I heard she was writing a non fiction book on technology. I guess I shouldn't have let my curiosity get the better of me as I found this to be pretty disappointing. The book contains 12 essays which read almost as blog posts on Winterson's musings on AI and technology as a whole an 2.5 rounded down Having throughly enjoyed Winterson's previous books (Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson: Note, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? and Frankissstein: A Love Story) I was curious when I heard she was writing a non fiction book on technology. I guess I shouldn't have let my curiosity get the better of me as I found this to be pretty disappointing. The book contains 12 essays which read almost as blog posts on Winterson's musings on AI and technology as a whole and how it impacts our lives in the 21st century. These essays are ambitious in scope, but I thought the execution often left something to be desired. I was unsure what the book was trying to be - to be brutally honest, if I wanted incisive views on the future of AI and how it will impact upon our lives in the future then I'd read a book written by an expert on it. Not bad by any means, but 12 Bytes missed the mark for this reader. Thank you Netgalley and Grove Atlantic for the advance copy, which was provided in exchange for an honest review.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Malene

    Extremely poignant and thought provoking examination of the journey of humankind towards a world of AI and its further advancements. What do we believe we are in control of in the present world, how come we readily let our own lives be open to misuse by algorithms, how will we ever live in an equal world when the tech world is led by predominantly white males? Essential reading, in my humble opinion.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Victoria Mityul

    :( as someone who also loves AI and tech and looking at where things came from in the humanities sense this book should’ve been perfect but everything felt disjointed, jarring, incoherent. the essays were hard to read because they were written like half-baked notes, everything was broken up sentences and disjointed concepts. i also felt like they just didn’t flow together very well. overall felt like no one read or edited this before publishing - tons of typos too especially toward the end? very :( as someone who also loves AI and tech and looking at where things came from in the humanities sense this book should’ve been perfect but everything felt disjointed, jarring, incoherent. the essays were hard to read because they were written like half-baked notes, everything was broken up sentences and disjointed concepts. i also felt like they just didn’t flow together very well. overall felt like no one read or edited this before publishing - tons of typos too especially toward the end? very disappointed i was super excited for this book :(

  6. 4 out of 5

    David Marsland

    Around Eurovision time, I nearly had a fight with my Alexa over her refusal to “play Jaja Ding Dong” at a party we were holding. Instead, she continually pumped out Scottish electro-band Orange Juice’s Ya Ya, Ding Dong – see the subtle difference? Also, half the people in my house were Scottish that night, so I swear she was doing it to wind me up. Had we started screaming in an Icelandic accent instead I fear she’d have granted our wish, having manipulated us into re-enacting a scene from Will Around Eurovision time, I nearly had a fight with my Alexa over her refusal to “play Jaja Ding Dong” at a party we were holding. Instead, she continually pumped out Scottish electro-band Orange Juice’s Ya Ya, Ding Dong – see the subtle difference? Also, half the people in my house were Scottish that night, so I swear she was doing it to wind me up. Had we started screaming in an Icelandic accent instead I fear she’d have granted our wish, having manipulated us into re-enacting a scene from Will Ferrell’s Eurovision movie for her own amusement. Reading Jeanette Winterson’s eerie 12 Bytes, about the history and future of Artificial Intelligence, I’m looking at that little Echo Dot in my kitchen with increasing suspicion. “Oh, AI will soon work us out,” Winterson told me in a recent chat I had with her. “We’re gullible, we’re vain, we’re susceptible. It’s already figured us out in terms of itself as a tool. It’s now in all the advanced algorithms that Facebook and co are working on to try and convince us to like things we don’t like; to want things we don’t want. So, manipulating us either for good or ill won’t be difficult.” Winterson’s concern isn’t so much that we’re going to end up in a Terminator-style war with the machines. She’s more worried that overexcited humans are building a new lifeform and won’t realise when it’s promoted itself to become our boss. It’s a bit like that line from Jurassic Park about scientists being “too preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Except Winterson suggests “we will be the dinosaurs this time” with AI fencing us off with distractions like social media while it gets on with running the planet. “We may believe we are still World King – that might even be part of the delusion – when nothing we do matters anymore,” she writes. Steven Spielberg’s movie is one of many pop culture references in a collection of a dozen essays that try to describe some of the most complicated technologies ever developed in ways a mass audience can understand. But then, in Winterson’s argument, AI itself came from pop culture. The inspiration for this book rose from her last one, Frankisstein, a re-imagining of Mary Shelley’s classic monster novel. “A message in a bottle for the future,” Winterson calls the 1818 best-seller about life being created using electricity. A few years later in the same century, Ada Lovelace became the first person to write computer code for the ‘Analytical Engine’ that her friend Charles Babbage had designed but couldn’t actually build. Lovelace’s theories on what computers would - and would not - be able to do echoed down through the years, until Alan Turing picked them up and used them to develop his own ideas. We now have the Turing Test, which measures whether a computer’s behaviour can be indistinguishable from a human’s. What Winterson is asking is how did a concept imagined by women like Lovelace and Shelley end up being in the hands of men like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk? Re-examining the history of AI from a feminist perspective brings to light the extraordinary work of women such as the codebreaking contemporaries of Turing at Bletchley Park, or Katherine Johnson who helped NASA put men (not women) into space. Achievements by women were sidelined by their male bosses, such as the six women who programmed one of the world’s first computers, the ENIAC, and weren’t invited to its launch in 1946. Winterson also takes us through the industrial revolution, when machines were supposed to make our lives easier but only made them busier and drove down wages, especially for women. The parallels with the present day, where AI watches warehouse workers even as they take a toilet break, are striking. She calls for governments to start legislating Big Tech, particularly over taxes, but concedes none of them know how. And yet, for all the acknowledgement that AI could bring about humanity’s destruction, Winterson is optimistic that it won’t. While we argue over transgender issues today, she’s looking to a future of transhumanism, where our species has taken control of evolution. Neural implants can connect us to the web, while nanobots clean up our bloodstreams. We’re at a crossroads, creating a new type of life that can either control or collaborate with us. Where we go from here, she writes, “depends on what you believe about human nature.” 12 Bytes is fascinating and scary, but also often very funny, with Winterson’s wry observations and clear love of a good sci-fi movie keeping things moving. It is also released at a time when the future of AI, and humanity, could go in any direction. Hopefully the people building these new brains will take a look at it, too.

  7. 4 out of 5

    OonaReads

    4.5 stars

  8. 5 out of 5

    Justine

    Thanks to NetGalley and Grove Press for providing an ARC!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mairead

    Intriguing ideas, full of male writers' quotes! Intriguing ideas, full of male writers' quotes!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Saoirse

    Amazing idea, poorly executed. I am such a fan of Jeanette Winterson - particularly how she explores questions of gender, time, and the body through a postmodern lens in her fiction. So, when I discovered that she had written a nonfiction book on technology and AI - I jumped at the chance to read her book. What she gets right: The approach Winterson takes to questions of technology by drawing from a feminist perspective is exactly the kind of socio-critical analysis we need within the space today. Amazing idea, poorly executed. I am such a fan of Jeanette Winterson - particularly how she explores questions of gender, time, and the body through a postmodern lens in her fiction. So, when I discovered that she had written a nonfiction book on technology and AI - I jumped at the chance to read her book. What she gets right: The approach Winterson takes to questions of technology by drawing from a feminist perspective is exactly the kind of socio-critical analysis we need within the space today. Her research is extensive but not quite thorough (more on this in cons) and her characteristic writing style is brilliant. What doesn't work at all: The research has significant gaps which prevents her feminist analysis from being truly intersectional. I would say she would benefit from reading on the history of race and technology, the decolonial perspectives on technological innovation as well as marxist analyses of the digital age to truly round out her perspectives. Secondly, her rhetoric is based entirely on structure and juxtaposing different historical stories to create contrast. This approach works perfectly in fiction but in an essay format, I would expect this evidence to be sandwiched between original analyses and that simply did not happen. So the book feels like a well-curated book on the history of technology with little to know original insights. Overall, I would say, if you enjoy Winterson's previous work for her writing style, her smooth sentences and her use of verbs, you can find good examples of that here. For the deep insight into technology, I would recommend a writer like Ruha Benjamin instead.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    *read this advanced reader copy as a bookseller at an indie bookstore* I picked up this book due to my best friend’s love of the author. Most of what I knew about the author were the snippets of wisdom sent to me by my friend on subjects such as love and grief. Imagine my surprise to be greeted by essays focused on tech, AI, and sci fi! There was a lot to engage with — I think this book is definitely worthy of a second (or more) read. Overall, Winterson reflects on the pros and cons to tech’s fu *read this advanced reader copy as a bookseller at an indie bookstore* I picked up this book due to my best friend’s love of the author. Most of what I knew about the author were the snippets of wisdom sent to me by my friend on subjects such as love and grief. Imagine my surprise to be greeted by essays focused on tech, AI, and sci fi! There was a lot to engage with — I think this book is definitely worthy of a second (or more) read. Overall, Winterson reflects on the pros and cons to tech’s future. She seriously considers these factors, but with the understanding that tech takeover is our future. The book itself is a lobby for the need for women and the humanities to be involved in the tech conversation. Winterson makes the compelling argument that, currently, tech is in the hands of mainly white men who have already screwed up the world repeatedly. If we want a benevolent future with something as powerful as AI, we need diverse creators involved and we need to allow artists, writers, and creatives involved. Winterson crafts these essays carefully with a well-researched understanding of tech, history, and society. And, in the end, she relates all back to the reason I picked up the book in the first place: love.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Chloe

    A collection of essays which could equally translate into speeches, Winterson makes fascinating connections from technology to literature, “hard” science to “soft” ethics, morals and urban planning to show that there shouldn’t be, doesn’t have to be, a divide (Fuck the Binary being the most explicit). The unequivocal essays are the historical ones, Winterson is scathingly hilarious and knowledgeable on women in science. The future-facing writing is harder to read as it demands action from all of A collection of essays which could equally translate into speeches, Winterson makes fascinating connections from technology to literature, “hard” science to “soft” ethics, morals and urban planning to show that there shouldn’t be, doesn’t have to be, a divide (Fuck the Binary being the most explicit). The unequivocal essays are the historical ones, Winterson is scathingly hilarious and knowledgeable on women in science. The future-facing writing is harder to read as it demands action from all of us. But as Winterson says, we have all the technology we need to change, to stop polluting the earth and changing the climate so much it is no longer habitable (for us). We just need to want to, and that’s what she explores. What we all need to be talking about.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Megan Courtman

    Like the author, I am a great believer in combining the sciences and the humanities particularly in the field of AI, so I expected to enjoy/agree with this book more than I did. It was filled with such interesting ideas and connections of concepts - I just would have loved to have seen them in a more honed form. The book felt unpolished in the detail - with typos, inconsistencies in style, and things assertively stated that were not true - which undermined the clout of the arguments. I also felt Like the author, I am a great believer in combining the sciences and the humanities particularly in the field of AI, so I expected to enjoy/agree with this book more than I did. It was filled with such interesting ideas and connections of concepts - I just would have loved to have seen them in a more honed form. The book felt unpolished in the detail - with typos, inconsistencies in style, and things assertively stated that were not true - which undermined the clout of the arguments. I also felt that the conversational narrative voice lacked clarity and made the logic of the essays harder to follow. I loved the idea of this book, but unfortunately not the execution.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sharondblk

    This book is a fever dream. Poorly organised, rambling, full of statements that may be facts or may be presumptions. Each essay moves swiftly through 10s or hundreds of concept and years with an organising principle that is not always evident. The odd sentence that is clearly true but illogical in context. This could be written by an undergraduate Arts student who left writing an essay to the last minute, and drank a lot of coffee to get it done. Winterson's sin, in my opinion, isn't that these This book is a fever dream. Poorly organised, rambling, full of statements that may be facts or may be presumptions. Each essay moves swiftly through 10s or hundreds of concept and years with an organising principle that is not always evident. The odd sentence that is clearly true but illogical in context. This could be written by an undergraduate Arts student who left writing an essay to the last minute, and drank a lot of coffee to get it done. Winterson's sin, in my opinion, isn't that these essays are barely coherent, it's that tehy are not that interesting.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mekon

    Overall this is an interesting and entertaining diversion, but it's a bit rambly and unfocussed. I'd have loved each of the essays to have a clearer point. On the other hand, it feels as if the author is still working though and organising these thoughts for herself - which isn't necessarily a bad thing when the topics under examination are so current and still developing. It got me thinking and I enjoyed this book, although I think I would have enjoyed it more after a bit more editing. Overall this is an interesting and entertaining diversion, but it's a bit rambly and unfocussed. I'd have loved each of the essays to have a clearer point. On the other hand, it feels as if the author is still working though and organising these thoughts for herself - which isn't necessarily a bad thing when the topics under examination are so current and still developing. It got me thinking and I enjoyed this book, although I think I would have enjoyed it more after a bit more editing.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Florina

    Torn between 3 and 4 stars, though inclining towards 3. I guess I was looking for a bit more substance and new insight, but Winterson is effortlessly funny and companionable as a writer and she does have some very interesting things to say. I am also happy she provided such a personalised reading list. Some of the topics here should have been given more space (the chapter on AI sex dolls!), but overall the collection is, as she says it herself, a sort of testimony and "fossil for the future". Torn between 3 and 4 stars, though inclining towards 3. I guess I was looking for a bit more substance and new insight, but Winterson is effortlessly funny and companionable as a writer and she does have some very interesting things to say. I am also happy she provided such a personalised reading list. Some of the topics here should have been given more space (the chapter on AI sex dolls!), but overall the collection is, as she says it herself, a sort of testimony and "fossil for the future".

  17. 4 out of 5

    Katherine Dixon

    Winterson's feminist analysis of artificial intelligence - its history and its future - is an excellent example of how you use the humanities to better scientific practice and policy. A fascinating read that takes you from Ada Lovelace to augmented reality, sex robots to selfhood. Winterson's feminist analysis of artificial intelligence - its history and its future - is an excellent example of how you use the humanities to better scientific practice and policy. A fascinating read that takes you from Ada Lovelace to augmented reality, sex robots to selfhood.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lara Martyn

    Important and prescient. Fabulous mix of humour and fact. Tech, Science, Algorithms, Psychology and sex are some of the topics covered. If you are interested in where the world is headed you need to read this book.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Karlijn

    Interessant maar een vrij algemeen boek over AI - als je een beetje geestenwetenschappen kent, is dit zeker niet vernieuwend.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Claudia

    Interesting collection of informative essays in which she develops some ideas she had already hinted at in previous fiction and non-fiction works of hers.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lily

    Rating: 4 / 5 stars

  22. 4 out of 5

    John

    This book is full of fascinating information. I'll be reading it again in the near future to absorb more of the facts. Thanks Jeanette. This book is full of fascinating information. I'll be reading it again in the near future to absorb more of the facts. Thanks Jeanette.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jaap

    Well written, good overview, and some good thought provoking!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Martijn van Bruggen

    Recensie volgt in de Boekenkrant van november.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Linda Skugge

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rose

  28. 4 out of 5

    Gray

  29. 4 out of 5

    Alexandru Circiumaru

  30. 5 out of 5

    Roel

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