Nine Books for A Bigger Picture: Recommended Reading from SymphonyAI Founder Dr. Romesh Wadhwani

Intellectual curiosity and a willingness to explore the limits of what’s possible are core values at SymphonyAI. In the spirit of that enthusiasm, our founder and CEO Dr. Romesh Wadhwani recently shared nine books that have inspired him over the last year. While most have little to do with AI directly, they provide important perspectives about humankind’s collective future as technological innovation continues its lightning-fast pace. As a collection, these stories provide context for our adventure and shine a light on why our actions today are so necessary.

Dr. Wadhwani’s list starts with Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, in which author Yuval Noah Harari chronicles the four stages of humankind:

  1. 70,000 BCE, Cognitive revolution: the period when people became imaginative.
  2. 10,000 BCE, Agricultural revolution: Farming took hold to satisfy basic human needs.
  3. Gradual unification of humankind: People began consolidating into political organizations.
  4. 500 BCE, Scientific revolution: the birth of objective science and exponential progress.

It’s a book that echos Dr. Wadhwani’s conceptualization of AI developing in four distinct stages:

  1. 1970’s, Conceptual: The first wave of AI and its potential was being explored at Carnegie Mellon, where Dr. Wadhwani earned his Ph.D.
  2. 1980’s, Emergence: Robotics emerged, though its capabilities remained basic.
  3. 2000’s, Progress: The transition to cloud computing began, greater computing power came online, and AI gained traction.
  4. 2020’s, Exponential Growth: today, massive data availability and analysis set the stage for exponential growth of AI capabilities and adoption.

Conception, growth, integration, and, finally, a burst of innovation. Every organism or organization might take these same four steps to evolve. The challenge, of course, is learning how to make an impact from that process in limited time – a career or life, say – as Brian Greene describes in the fascinating second entry on Dr. Wadhwani’s list, Until the End of Time. This sweeping exploration uses concepts of philosophy, physics, and genetics to both consider and appreciate our place in the universe.

In Dr. Wadhwani’s third pick, The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations, Daniel Yergin tackles a more specific subject than Greene’s but one that also has far-reaching, global implications – changes in oil production and consumption and their effect on the environment. Yergin concludes that, despite the growth of renewable energy, humans will depend on carbon for decades, a reality check with political and economic consequences that business leaders – especially those developing AI and other technological innovations – would be wise to consider as they seek to transform the world.

Oil also plays a role in the fourth book on the list, Black Wave by Kim Ghattas. In the book, Ghattas writes about how history, culture, geopolitics, dogmatism, and foreign meddling created today’s rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, fueling decades of violence and strife. Ghattas shows how ideas, and consequently historical records, can become distorted over time – to grave consequences.

Similarly, in Dr. Wadhwani’s fifth selection, Fascism: A Warning, Madeline Albright reminds readers how even supposedly civilized societies can succumb to the lure of hateful and seductive thinking. As the title implies, the book is not solely historical. It’s a cri de coeur about an ideology that still exerts a malevolent influence today.

The past-as-present theme reappears in Steven Lee Myers’ biography of Vladimir Putin The New Tsar, Dr. Wadhwani’s sixth recommendation. In the book, we see how the urge to face and contain the chaos engulfing the Soviet Union molded a strong leader into a controversial figure. This deep dive illustrates how historical forces change individuals at the heights of power.

Robert Penn Warren considers a related story in All the King’s Men, a Pulitzer Prize-winning favorite of Dr. Wadhwani’s. This seventh book choice is based on Huey Long, a populist American politician of the 1920s and 1930s. Like Myers’ biography, Warren’s fiction provides examples of how people shape and react to their times, a dynamic that everyone can and should appreciate.

In contrast to fear and domination, however, there is also hope and collaboration on the book list. In Dr. Wadhwani’s eighth selection, Metropolis, author Ben Wilson shares how the world’s greatest cities grew into venues for remarkable human achievement by “aligning human activities with the underlying order and energies of the universe.” This message rings true for Dr. Wadhwani, who established the Wadhwani Foundation in 2003 to accelerate economic development in emerging economies through initiatives in entrepreneurship, small business growth, and skills development. The foundation now operates in 20 countries across Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

The final selection on Dr. Wadhwani’s list speaks to his true passion – music. Bob Dylan’s The Lyrics: 1961-2012 is a comprehensive volume of the musician and songwriter’s lyrics, with edits that speak to the truth that every day is an experiment. Also a lover of and learner from books, Dylan noted in his 2016 Nobel prize acceptance speech the power that stories have had on him, in particular Moby DickAll Quiet on the Western Front, and The Odyssey.

Dr. Wadhwani’s commitment to lifelong learning is perhaps best illustrated in a quote from Virgil’s Aeneid that graces the back of the medal for the Nobel Prize in Literature. The inscription, “Inventas vitam iuvat excoluisse per artes,” loosely translates as “they who bettered life on earth by new-found mastery.” From the sciences to the arts, the world is improved by those who learn and create.

From the universal to the individual: Dr. Wadhwani’s reading recommendations

  1. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
  2. Until the End of Time by Brian Greene
  3. The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations by Daniel Yergin
  4. Black Wave< by Kim Ghattas
  5. Fascism: A Warning by Madeline Albright
  6. The New Tsar by Steven Lee Myers
  7. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
  8. Metropolis by Ben Wilson
  9. The Lyrics: 1961-2012 by Bob Dylan