That Bill Gates is passionate about reading is not a mystery to anyone. For more than a decade, the Microsoft co-founder has published on a personal blog what he considers to be the best books of the year and shares with his followers which titles help us better understand the world, either because they directly address certain scientific advances in different fields (technology, biology, economics, etc.), either because in the form of a novel, they invite us to reflect on different topics such as climate change, artificial intelligence or genetic editing.
One more year he has not wanted to miss his appointment and for this Christmas, he recommends five books: two science fiction novels, the new biography of Walter Isaacson and two essays. If you are thinking of “giving away reading” this year, you can’t go wrong with these titles.
“Klara and the Sun” – Kazuo Ishiguro
Kazuo Ishiguro reflects in his new novel “Klara and the Sun” on one of the perhaps most hackneyed elements of science fiction: can robots and artificial intelligences have feelings? He does it of course, with the style that characterizes the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature.
In his new job, perhaps inherited from the famous “Never leave me”, Ishiguro puts us in the shoes of Klara, an AA (Artificial Friend) specialized in childcare. Klara spends her days in a store, waiting for someone to buy her and take her to a house, a home. While you wait, look outside from the window. He observes the passers-by, their attitudes, their gestures, their way of walking, and he witnesses some episodes that he does not quite understand, such as a strange fight between two taxi drivers. Klara is also different: more observant and more “intelligent” than the rest of her peers. What will the world that awaits you outside be like?
“Hail Mary Project” – Andy Weir
From the author of “The Martian” comes this “Hail Mary Project”, a novel that puts us in the shoes of Ryland Grace, the only survivor on a desperate mission. It is the last chance and if it fails, humanity and the Earth itself will perish. The problem? At the moment he does not know. He cannot even remember his own name, much less the nature of his mission or how to carry it out.
All he knows is that he has been in an induced coma for a long, long time. You have just woken up and are millions of miles from home. As her memories are confusedly retrieved, Grace realizes that she is faced with an impossible mission. Traveling through space in a small ship, it is up to him to end a threat of extinction for our species.
“Hamnet” – Maggie O’Farrell
Agnes, a peculiar girl who seems to be accountable to no one and who is capable of creating mysterious remedies with simple combinations of plants, is the talk of Stratford, a small town in England. When she meets a young Latin tutor just as extraordinary as she is, she quickly realizes that they are called to form a family. But his marriage will be put to the test, first by his relatives and then by an unexpected misfortune.
Drawing from Shakespeare’s family history, Maggie O’Farrell travels between fiction and reality to trace a hypnotic recreation of the event that inspired one of the most famous literary works of all time.
The author, far from focusing solely on known events, tenderly vindicates the unforgettable figures that inhabit the margins of history and delves into the small great questions of any existence: family life, affection, pain and loss.
“A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence” – Jeff Hawkings
Despite the great advances in neuroscience, this field has generated more questions than answers. We know that the brain combines sensory information from the entire body into a single perception, but not how. We believe that brains “compute” in some sense, but we cannot say what those calculations are. We believe that the brain is organized hierarchically, with different pieces working together to create a single model of the world. But we can’t explain how those pieces differ or how they collaborate.
Neuroscientist and computer engineer Jeff Hawkins argues that answering questions about the brain is so difficult because our basic picture of how it works is wrong. In “A Thounsand Brains,” Hawkins takes a radically new approach, arguing that the brain is organized around thousands of individual units of calculation, which he calls cortical columns.
The fundamental job of the brain would not be to build a single thought, but to manage the thousands of individual thoughts that it has at each moment.
“The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race” – Walter Isaacson
The author of great bestsellers such as “Steve Jobs” or “Leonardo da Vinci” addresses on this occasion the life of Jennifer Doudna, Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020 and known throughout the world for having led the team that developed the system CRISPR gene editing program.
For Isaacson, the development of CRISPR accelerates the transition to the next great revolution in the innovation era, surpassing even the one starring the microchip, the computer and the Internet; and fully entering a new era marked by the life sciences and the new possibilities of biology and gene editing.
The book also addresses different ethical dilemmas that arise from the application of this technique, such as whether we can use it not only to prevent diseases, but also to improve our genetic load and perhaps in the future, improve our IQ.