Practical Artificial Intelligence For Dummies

I have been getting into Natural Language Processing more lately, and have been reading about tools and products that are available right now. I came across the name Narrative Science again. It’s an Artificial Intelligence technology company based in Chicago. I first heard about them a few years ago when I read an article about one of their products writing pretty decent sports reports for local newspapers. I looked around their website to see if I can learn a bit more about their technology, but unsurprisingly they are very cagey about revealing anything actionable about their work. I did find something interesting though: a short e-book written by one of their cofounders named “Practical Artificial Intelligence For Dummies.” The book is free and can be obtained from their website, but to the best of my knowledge it doesn’t exist as an “officially” published book, ISBN and all. I am usually not a big fan of the “For Dummies” series of books, but since this one was free, on a topic I am very interested in, and from a very well established author, I decided to give it a try.

To be honest, I was expecting something very different based on the title of the book. I expected that the qualifier “practical” referred to a hands-on introduction to various AI tools and products, something that you can start using immediately. However, the “practical” in the title is the author’s way of distinguishing the kind of AI described in this book from the theoretical and more advanced AI that is talked about in most other publications these days. In my experience most “popular” AI books talk primarily about the really cool (or frightening) super AI that may or may not arrive at some point in the future, while the technical AI publications are all written at the level of advanced undergraduate or graduate class. Instead, the author wanted to let the reader know what are the AI tools that are being used right now, and what sorts of problems are those tools capable of solving. The book for the most part succeeds at that task. It is well written, informative and accessible without being trite or condescending. It gives you a good idea of what the current AI is capable of, as well as what are its limits. It talks about some really cool AI-based products and services, but in my opinion it doesn’t cover nearly as many of those as there are out there right now. Part of it is due to the book’s short format — it is very brief, about 70 pages, and it can be read in a couple of hours. However, I do hope that someone comes up with a more exhaustive resource for those of us who are interested in getting to use some of the cool AI stuff that’s available right now.

The book, naturally, talks about Narrative Science, but it is not just a plug for their products. The ideal audience for the book is anyone who wants to understand the basics of what the state of the art AI technology is about, or someone who is interested in using some of it for their business purposes. If you are at all interested in AI then the book might be worth your time.

Originally published at on August 26, 2015.

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