Posted Monday 5 June 2023
A fascinating exploration of the ways in which machine learning, algorithms and artificial intelligence are transforming modern-day society has been selected as the ninth annual Big Read title by Kingston University.
The award-winning initiative aims to foster a strong sense of belonging through shared reading among students and staff, providing a common talking point during the first term at University.
Hello World! How to Be Human in the Age of the Machine, a non-fiction title by best-selling author, maths professor and television presenter Hannah Fry, is this year's chosen title, selected by a panel from a shortlist of six. A special-edition copy of the book, published by Transworld, will be sent out to all first-year students ahead of the next academic year, with further copies made available for staff and students from other years.
A collection of real-life short stories, it sets out the growing influence of computers, how artificial intelligence and algorithms are becoming central to people's lives, and the wider implications of this technological shift – for better or worse. Hannah Fry takes the reader on a journey, diving into the tumultuous world of algorithms, reflecting on how they have shaped today's society and looking at where humanity is heading in the not-too-distant future.
The author and academic, who recently fronted BBC series The Secret Genius of Modern Life, said she hoped the themes of the book would provoke widespread discussion among the University community around the impact and influence of technology. "The Big Read is the most brilliant initiative," she said. "I'm thrilled to be involved and that Hello World has been chosen. I hope it will inspire lots of great conversations – I just wish I could join in with them all."
The Big Read began in 2016 at Kingston University and has since been implemented across partner institutions including St George's, University of London, and Royal Holloway, University of London. Big Read Director, Professor Alison Baverstock, said she was delighted this year's panel had selected a non-fiction STEM book – a first for the shared-reading initiative. "I think it will appeal both to students studying these subjects as well as anyone in the Kingston community who wants to find out more about how technology is changing the world we live in," she said. "Hannah Fry is a brilliant communicator and we are thrilled to have this link with her."
Big Read events will take place throughout the next academic year for readers across the University to get involved in, exploring key themes within the book ranging from living in a digital world to trust in algorithms, art through technology and data privacy.
Transworld Publisher, Non-fiction, Susanna Wadeson said the publishing company was delighted to be partnering with Kingston University for a second time, after Rachel Joyce's novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was selected for the fifth year of the Big Read in 2019.
"The Big Read is such a great initiative, and Hannah Fry's book is such a timely choice given so much anxiety around artificial intelligence," she said. "It addresses questions that we have all started to ask – how far can we trust a machine, how reliable is our data? Can we trust it with our health, our justice system? Can a computer be truly creative? As Kingston University students begin their adult lives I can't think of a better book to provoke and guide their thinking around these critical issues for the future."
Previous winning titles of the Big Read have included About a Boy by Nick Hornby, The Humans by Matt Haig, My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, Airhead by Emily Maitlis, The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu and The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper.