Machinery of the Mind
By George Johnson
Book Review by Sally Morem
George Johnson has written a solid, informative book on the bewilderingdiscipline of Artificial Intelligence (AI). He deals with the history of theidea, the personalities involved—the scientists, debunkers and champions— and the hardware and software which actually shape AI. He describes processes and explains their meaning so clearly that even a novice can graspthe issues and controversies surrounding this field.AI researchers delve into some of the most profound and difficult questions people have ever asked about themselves and the world: What does it meanwhen
about something? What
this ‘I’? Is it a thing like a soul? A process? What is thought? What is mind and how does it differ from the brain? Neurologists have been studying these and other questions byexamining the structures and the operation of the brain. AI researchers arestudying the questions from a different angle—bycreating and runningcomplex computer programs that mimic mind processes.Through work on programs that play checkers and chess, parse sentences,diagnose illnesses, read printed material, respond to the spoken word,translate languages, draw pictures and reprogram themselves, researchershave gotten some idea about how powerful digital computer programs can become. And, they have discovered something even more amazing: The power of our own human intelligence. It is extraordinarily hard to write programs that do things young children do without much difficulty— building a tower of blocks, for example. And yet, the computer does thingswe find very difficult to even conceive of—adding long strings of numbersrapidly and plotting chess moves by anticipating millions of variationsseveral moves ahead of time.