February 26, 2016

History, science, and robots...what more can you ask for?

I started reading In Our Own Image: Savior or Destroyer? The History and Future of Artificial Intelligence by George Zarkadakis with the naive idea that he would definitively answer the question "Will robots destroy the human race?" Instead he's done something even better. He's given a comprehensive history of mathematics, philosophy, psychology, computer science, and Artificial Intelligence. He's explained how our evolution as a species is directly related to the possibility (and the success) of the creation of AI. I'm always amazed when reading scientific nonfiction to discover just how much of the history I already know (Turing! Aristotle!) and how much I am woefully ignorant of (Godel and so much more). AI has been in the works for years. Scientists have approached it from a variety of standpoints and for a multitude of purposes. One of the biggest hurdles facing the scientific community is whether or not consciousness is programmable in a computer. A machine can be "intelligent" but does it exhibit intelligence in the same way as humans? Can a machine understand the true meaning of the questions that it answers through the logic programs installed in its hardware? No one really knows. Is it possible to map the human brain and recreate this mechanically inside of an android? Probably. Is humanity ready for machines that look like us, act like us (to an extent), but are more efficient and intelligent than us? Doubtful. As you know, I love a good end notes and this book has a truly excellent one. I learned the difference between ontology and epistemology, that there's something called the Ig Nobel Prize, and that writers are simply "empty vessels" waiting to be filled by texts. This book asks more questions than it answers and I think that's the point. Humans are unique because we have the capacity to ask questions and to be curious. If you're looking for a thought provoking book on a truly fascinating (and still terrifying) topic then this one will definitely fit the bill.

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

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