Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science Department chair Susan Fox teaches courses on artificial intelligence, robotics, and machine learning.

Any standout books you’ve read recently?
I’ve been rereading a lot of books lately—comfort reading. I did recently read a book by Connie Willis called Passage. I love Connie Willis. She does science fiction-y sorts of books, but with a lot of deep ideas. Passage is about near-death experiences.

What’s one of your all-time favorite reads?
In terms of books that I keep coming back to, I like Jane Austen novels. My favorite is Persuasion.

What book is crucial to understanding your academic niche?
Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot is a short story collection that’s full of interesting ideas about the limitations of robotics. His books are not really about robots so much as artificially intelligent creatures. And he sets up these basic laws that humans would put in place to protect themselves from robot misbehavior. Robots can’t harm humans; they have to do what humans say, and then only after that are they allowed to think about self-preservation. But really, each of the stories in I, Robot is pointing out the flaws and limitations of that system and the edge cases—the places where it doesn’t work out right for one reason or another.

Any guilty-pleasure reads?
I read a lot of science fiction, so a fair amount of that is guilty-pleasure reading. This is an old series, but Anne McCaffrey wrote a series of books about dragons, the Dragonriders of Pern. And they are definitely guilty-pleasure reads—but I do go back and reread them once in a while because they’re fun.

What one book would you recommend to everyone at Macalester?
You know, I don’t have any deep philosophical books to recommend. But there’s a really fabulous current science fiction series called The Expanse by James S. A. Corey. It’s a really interesting near-future series with a lot of great subtext about racism and different social issues coming into play.

By Rebecca Edwards ’21

January 25 2021

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