Are the Androids Dreaming Yet?
Amazing Brain. Human Communication, Creativity and Free Will.
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Alan Turing invented the computer, helped win World War II and left us with one of the greatest puzzles of our time – the imitation game. Can computers do everything a human mind can do?
Many scientists think we have a tenuous hold on the title, "most intelligent being on the planet". They think it’s just a matter of time before computers become smarter than us, and then what? This book charts a journey through the science of information, from the origins of language and logic, to the frontiers of modern physics. From Lewis Carroll’s logic puzzles, through Alan Turing and his work on Enigma, to John Bell's inequality, and finally the Conway-Kochen 'Free Will' Theorem. How do the laws of physics give us our creativity, our rich experience of communication and, especially, our free will?
James Tagg is an inventor and entrepreneur. A pioneer of touchscreen technology, he has founded several companies, including Truphone, the world’s first global mobile network. He holds numerous patents, filed in over a hundred countries. He studied Physics and Computer Science at Manchester University, Design at Lancaster University and Engineering at Cambridge University. He lives with his family on a farm in Kent, England.
Something interesting on every page
This is a fat book that covers a huge amount of ground. James’ topic is primarily the brain and how we think, but there is a running theme contrasting the human brain with computers. His thesis is that computers can never think like humans (for example, that they can never be truly creative) and he explores many fields from philosophy and logic to mathematics in pursuit of this proof. Before you get hot under the collar about this, as I did, he is using a narrow definition of computers - essentially computers as they are normally designed today (as linear logic engines). He admits right at the end that we probably will be able to construct artificial minds in the future, it is just that they won’t be computers as we currently know them.
Anyway, whether you agree or disagree with his conclusions is not really the most important thing. What is undoubtedly the case is that he takes us on a fascinating journey via all kinds of interesting discoveries, projects, conjectures, puzzles and experiments.
He has in common with AC Grayling the characteristic that he makes you think hard on almost every page. It took me months to finish because I found it too stimulating to read at my normal reading time just before falling asleep at night and instead had to wait for daytime train journeys when work was not too pressing. This was also quite frustrating as every chapter left me wanting to research some of the topics mentioned more, but I often did not have a usable internet connection.
I don’t mean to convey the impression that the book is heavy going - it is not. In the tradition of the best popular science writing he avoids too much mathematics, but tries hard not to lose the rigour of the argument. He injects humour, and tries to make the concepts as accessible as possible. He also does not spend too long on any one topic so there is always something new to keep you engaged.
It is remarkable that he has produced this huge and meticulously referenced book whilst holding down a demanding job as the founder and CTO of a large telecoms start-up.