In his book The Most Human Human, Brian Christian looks at the artificial intelligences we've built, and what they say about us
By Brian ChristianPosted 05.02.2012 at 4:05 pm 13 Comments
Brian Christian's book The Most Human Human, newly out in paperback, tells the story of how the author, "a young poet with degrees in computer science and philosophy," set out to win the "Most Human Human" prize in a Turing test weighing natural against artificial intelligence. Along the way, as he prepares to prove to a panel of judges (via an anonymous teletype interface) that he is not a machine, the book provides a sharply reasoned investigation into the nature of thinking. Are we setting ourselves up for failure by competing with machines in their analytical, logical areas of prowess rather than nurturing our own human strengths?
The Turing test attempts to discern whether computers are, to put it most simply, "like us" or "unlike us": humans have always been preoccupied with their place among the rest of creation. The development of the computer in the twentieth century may represent the first time that this place has changed.
The story of the Turing test, of the speculation and enthusiasm and unease over artificial intelligence in general, is, then, the story of our speculation and enthusiasm and unease over ourselves. What are our abilities? What are we good at? What makes us special? A look at the history of computing technology, then, is only half of the picture. The other half is the history of mankind's thoughts about itself.
“Are you on your period?” It’s a question most women have been asked at one point or another by their boyfriend or spouse during a disagreement. It turns out that some men actually can tell when it’s a woman’s time of the month—and it’s not because of bratty behavior.
Jot it down: November 15, 2011, is when it began. Researchers in France have given a small robot the ability to directly control a living human's arm by running electricity through his muscles. The evil little bot mercilessly forces blindfolded human test subjects to put a toy ball through a toy basket again and again, by stimulating electrodes attached to their arms.
When we look at how evolution has taken us from eyeless blobs to moderately capable bloggers, it can seem like a vast, unknowable force. But when we look at individual traits and how they appear and disappear in clever ways, the functioning of cause and effect is clear, and fascinating, to see. People keep poisoning your lake? Well, Mr. Fish, why don't you develop a resistance to that poison, and pass it down to your kids? Bats keep ignoring your flower and pollinating others? Well, tropical vine, how about evolving an echolocation-reflecting satellite-dish-shaped leaf? We gathered a list of ten evolutions and adaptations that are either new or newly discovered, ranging from plants to animals to, yes, people. We're not perfect, either.