New reading to savour for the summer, including the future of artificial intelligence, a voice from inside the Manus Island detention centre, the untold story of the vote for marriage equality, the best science writing of 2018, and the story of Australian chefs overcame their fear of garlic.


Humanity confronts a defining question: how wil AI change us?

What will happen when we’ve built machines as intelligent as us? According to the experts this incredible feat will be achieved in the year 2062 – a mere 44 years away – which certainly begs the question: what will the world, our jobs, the economy, politics, war, and everyday life and death, look like?

Fortunately, Toby Walsh, Scientia Professor of Artificial Intelligence (AI) at UNSW has done the research for us.


Scientia Professor Toby Walsh

An avid sci-fi fan from childhood, Walsh – who also leads the Algorithmic Decision Theory group at Data61, Australia’s Centre of Excellence for ICT Research – has long been fascinated by robots, machines and the future. In 2017, he published his first book, It’s Alive!, in which he tells the story of AI and how it is already affecting our societies, economies and interactions.

“After I published It’s Alive!, people started asking me lots of questions about the social impact of AI, in particular the increasing concerns about how it’s encroaching into our lives,” he says. “That’s why I wrote my second book, 2062: The World that AI Made, which ignores the technology, and focuses instead on … where AI is going to take us.”

According to Walsh (and, he says, the vast majority of his colleagues) this future looks less like the dystopian world of the Terminator and more like the sensitive world of Short Circuit.

“Most of the movies from Hollywood featuring AI paint a very disturbing picture of the future. But there is one movie that seems to get it right,” Walsh continues.

He is referring to the 2013 American sci-fi movie Her, in which the protagonist falls in love with his intelligent computer operating system.

“One thing Her does really well is to demonstrate our deepening relationship with machines,” Walsh explains. “As the Internet of Things gets more established and our devices become interconnected, things like your front door, washing machine, fridge and TV, will all be voice activated.”

While Walsh makes a series of predications based on the way the technology is heading, he is very careful to emphasise that the future isn’t fixed. There is no technological determinism and what happens next in AI is very much the product of the choices we make today.

“We are at a critical junction in history where there’s a lot to play for. It’s rightly called the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and we need to start making choices so that it turns out to be a revolution that everyone can benefit from,” Walsh says.

“If we make the right decisions now, we can build a future where we let the machines take the sweat and we can focus on the more important things in life; our families and art, for example. Just think about it. This could usher in the next Renaissance, a great flaring of creativity.” - Penny Jones

Detainee Behrouz Boochani defies the confines of Manus Island

Kurdish-Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani described his book No Friend but the Mountains as “a victory against the system” at the official launch at UNSW Sydney.

“They tried to imprison me, but in fact, I’m not in prison – I’m free,” he said. “The system that governs [Manus] prison has tried everything it can to limit me, to restrain me. But I’ve managed to defy it at every turn.”


Literature is an act of resistance and a means to reclaim humanity for the author, scholar and filmmaker. Both its creation and consumption can drive change.

He asked readers to look beyond the political to see the book as a piece of cultural history, as “a piece of art”.

Boochani joined translators Omid Tofighian and Moones Mansoubi and poet Janet Galbraith for the panel discussion via Whatsapp from Manus Island, where he has been detained since fleeing Iran in 2013. He was intercepted attempting to reach Australia from Indonesia by boat.

He wrote the book on various mobile phones over five years, in the one to two hours a day he was unobserved by officers. Mobiles were illegal in Manus Detention Centre until 2016; Boochani’s first phone was confiscated, his second stolen.

“There was always a danger of losing his writing if it remained on his phone,” Tofighian said. “The harassment, intimidation and degradation by the authorities made it hard [for him] to write.”

The poor internet connection on Manus further hampered communications between the author and his translators. Boochani sent the text in thousands of messages.

The book deals with displacement and diaspora, war and trauma, nature and homeland, within the context of Australia’s border politics.

Professor Martine Antle from the University of Sydney, who translated the book into French, sees its strategies of resistance as both “powerful and radical”. Written in Farsi, “it blurs the frontiers between journalism, philosophy and creative fiction”, she said.

In the book, Boochani writes: “Creativity is the only means of survival, being forced to straddle the border between human and animal.” He believes literature’s power to create change reaches beyond that of journalism.

In 2017 he wrote: “I publish a lot of stories in the newspapers and in the media about Manus, but people, really, they cannot understand our condition, not in journalistic language. Where we are is too hard.

“I think only in literary language can people understand our life and our condition.”

In a forward, Tofighian writes: “Behrouz recounts stories in order to produce new knowledge and to construct a philosophy that unpacks and exposes systematic torture and the border-industrial complex.” - Kay Harrison



Turmoil: Letters from the Brink

Robyn Williams (NewSouth Books)

Acclaimed broadcaster Robyn Williams believes we’re in an era of turmoil, when everything he cherishes – particularly science, public broadcasting, conservation and tolerance – is under attack. In this searingly honest, and often blackly funny, reflection on life, Williams opens up about the people and things he loves and loathes, and a multi-faceted career that includes more than 40 years on ABC Radio National’s The Science Show. Williams writes frankly about everything from his insights on David Attenborough to climate change denialism, in a revealing account of a life well lived.





City Life: The New Urban Australia

Seamus O’Hanlon (NewSouth Books)

Our cities are changing quickly. Focusing on Sydney and Melbourne, Seamus O’Hanlon, one of Australia’s leading urban historians, tells the story of the major economic, social, cultural and demographic changes that have come with the globalisation of the Australian city and the opening up of the economy. Refraining from using stereotypes about mateship, the bush or Anzacs, O’Hanlon, examines how one of the most urbanised, multicultural countries in the world sees itself – and challenges received ideas about how Australia presents itself to the world.




Beyond Combat: Australian Military Activity Away from the Battlefield

Edited by Tristan Moss and Tom Richardson (UNSW Press)

War is just one part of military life. Away from the battlefields is a wide range of military operations, which are often overlooked in the writing of military histories. From an army nurse’s letters home during World War I, to the recovery of air-force war dead and the experiences of LGBTIQ soldiers, Beyond Combat examines the all-important supporting roles of war. With contributions from historians and military personnel, this compelling behind-the-wars history is edited by ADFA lecturer Tom Richardson with his ANU colleague Tristan Moss.



Yes Yes Yes: Australia’s Journey to Marriage Equality

Alex Greenwich and Shirleene Robinson, NewSouth Books

Yes Yes Yes reveals the untold story of how the grassroots movement for marriage equality won hearts and minds and transformed a country. Based on personal memories and more than 40 interviews with key figures from across Australia, the book captures the passion that propelled the movement forward, weaving together stories of heartbreak, hope and triumph. It covers the movement’s origins in 2004, when the Marriage Act was amended to exclude same-sex couples, through to the unsuccessful High Court challenge, a public vote in 2017 and the Parliamentary aftermath.



The Getting of Garlic: Australian Food from Bland to Brilliant

John Newton (NewSouth Books)

Was there ever a world without garlic? Apparently so. The white colonisers of Australia suffered from alliumphobia, a fear of garlic. Local cooks didn’t touch the stuff and it took many generations for that fear to lift. Renowned food writer John Newton visits restaurants from haute cuisine to cafes as he ponders what everyday people have cooked and eaten for the past 200 years. His observations and recipes, old and new, show what has changed and what hasn’t, as our chefs are hailed as some of the best in the world.




Misfits and Me

Mandy Sayer (NewSouth Books)

At just three, Mandy Sayer fell in love with her first “misfit”, a man in a wheelchair who sold afternoon newspapers outside a Sydney hotel. Misfits and Me compiles for the first time a selection of Sayer’s non-fiction writing from the past 20 years. Each essay unveils a unique and hidden story. She talks to child gangs, carjackers, public housing communities, hoarders, pensioner drug dealers, as well as writers and artists. Exploring misfits in life, love, and literature and art, Sayer celebrates marginal characters with empathy, warmth, and pitch-black humour.




Planning Metropolitan Australia

Edited by Stephen Hamnett and Robert Freestone (Routledge)

Australia has long been a highly (sub)urbanised nation. But most Australians live in a small number of large metropolitan areas focused on the state capital cities. This book examines case studies in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Canberra and the fast-growing metropolitan region of south-east Queensland, centred on Brisbane, and looks at how the future of Australian cities might play out. The book is co-edited by UNSW’s Built Environment professor Robert Freestone, with essays by some of Australia’s leading urbanists, including UNSW professors Bill Randolph, James Weirick and Ray Bunker.


The Best Australian Science Writing 2018

Edited by John Pickrell (NewSouth Books)

The finest Australian science writing of the year is all in this book, a compilation of articles vying for the Bragg UNSW Press Prize for Science Writing 2018. The annual prize is for the best short non-fiction piece on science written for a general audience. The winner receives a prize of $7000 and two runners up each receive a prize of $1500. Judges of the Bragg UNSW Press Prize 2018 are: Professor Merlin Crossley, UNSW Sydney; Professor Lesley Hughes, Macquarie University; Professor Fred Watson, Australian Astronomical Observatory; Professor Mary-Anne Williams, UTS and Stanford University; John Pickrell, editor, The Best Australian Science Writing 2018.