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The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics

The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics

Written by Roger Penrose

Narrated by Julian Elfer


The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics

Written by Roger Penrose

Narrated by Julian Elfer

ratings:
4/5 (14 ratings)
Length:
18 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Oct 15, 2019
ISBN:
9781515943839
Format:
Audiobook

Description

For decades, proponents of artificial intelligence have argued that computers will soon be doing everything that a human mind can do. Admittedly, computers now play chess at the grandmaster level, but do they understand the game as we do? Can a computer eventually do everything a human mind can do?

In this absorbing and frequently contentious book, Roger Penrose puts forward his view that there are some facets of human thinking that can never be emulated by a machine. The book's central concern is what philosophers call the "mind-body problem". Penrose examines what physics and mathematics can tell us about how the mind works, what they can't, and what we need to know to understand the physical processes of consciousness. He is among a growing number of physicists who think Einstein wasn't being stubborn when he said his "little finger" told him that quantum mechanics is incomplete, and he concludes that laws even deeper than quantum mechanics are essential for the operation of a mind. To support this contention, Penrose takes the listener on a dazzling tour that covers such topics as complex numbers, Turing machines, complexity theory, quantum mechanics, formal systems, Godel undecidability, phase spaces, Hilbert spaces, black holes, white holes, Hawking radiation, entropy, quasicrystals, and the structure of the brain.

Publisher:
Released:
Oct 15, 2019
ISBN:
9781515943839
Format:
Audiobook

About the author

Roger Penrose, one the world's foremost theoretical physicists, has won numerous prizes, including the Albert Einstein Medal, for his fundamental contributions to general relativity and cosmology. He is the bestselling author, with Stephen Hawking, of The Nature of Space and Time (Princeton). Penrose's other books include Cycles of Time: An Extraordinary New View of the Universe and The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe (both Vintage). He is the Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics Emeritus at the University of Oxford and lives in Oxford, England.


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What people think about The Emperor's New Mind

3.9
14 ratings / 9 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (1/5)
    This is actually a hard book to review. If, like me, you came to this via Anathem and wanted to know where the ideas come from you will probably be very disappointed.If, on the other hand, you want a good primer on AI, Godel, Turing, classical, relativistic and quantum physics with some interesting ideas about quantum gravity then you will probably love it.The book starts with a good section on AI, Godel and Turing. It follows up with a skip through mathematical physics from Greeks to Black Holes and beyond.Then it adds some speculation about quantum gravity which is... ok I think. Interesting if not exactly widely agreed upon.Then it tacks on the end some neuroanatomy and some ideas about consciousness. And this is why it ended up with only 1 star for me. This should have been fairly central to the book, but it's the last 60 pages or so. It should have been well researched but it's bits of good science mixed with teleology and something that reads remarkably like Intelligent Design masquerading as debunking evolutionary theory whilst claiming to be a support of it.It ties together a few tricky things (how quantum events become "classical", is the brain restricted to algorithmic problem solving and why it probably isn't) and one pretty obvious one (the nervous system can react to quantum scale events - it reacts to photons) and claims there's something special and linking these. And here it's about as convincing as someone trying to tell you that creation is the literal truth. Which is a shame because if I'd bought it as a popularisation of science book, I'd probably have liked it quite a lot more.
  • (4/5)
    My reactions upon reading this book in 1991.This was a long, grueling read. I won't say I clearly understood (or even dimly understood) all this book. At times my eyes glazed over, and my comprehension phased out only to resume later -- usually after long passages of mathematical symbols though the math in this book was relatively simple. It helpd that I'd read other things about artificial intelligence, computers, relativity, cosmology, and quantam physics. By his own admission, Penrose finds it difficult to explain mathematical things verbally and his arguments often go on and on without tying them into the central question of the book -- is algorithmically based AI possible? -- but in the end I think they all show to be relevant. I think Penrose does a convincing job of attacking AI on a little used (most object to modeling the brain as a digital computer or emphasize the difficulties of language comprehension or pattern recognitiont) front -- the very idea thought is algorithmically based. Penrose shows that some activities of conscious intelligence can not be done algorithmically though he concedes some unconscious learned activities in the cerebellum may be algorithmic. However, I suspect, he thinks intelligence could be artificially created but not using current AI principles. Penrose ventures into widely speculative ground by saying he believes concsciousness will be better understood when quantam mechanics and relativity are joined, probably, he believes, by quantam gravity. He makes the startling the proposal that the brain is a quantam computer computing numerous quantam possibilities until gravitionally collaping the quantam wavefunction and realizing one quantam reality (or, at least, that's how I understood it). Penrose concludes with some intriguing paradoxes in time perception. Do we really, as certain experiments suggest, experience everything two seconds behind and are limited by a half-second delay before conscious action is realized? Penrose doubts it, but it's intriguing. Penrose isn't afraid to consider philosophical questions which most scientists shy away from and firmly grounds, unlike most philosophers, human behavior and consciousness in the physical world and its laws. Some of Penrose's approaches were different than the usual treatment his topics get, particularly deemphasizing quantam mechanics' indeterminism and inprecision as others do, but, rather, the precision and predictions the theory does allow. I didn't always glean everything that was there, but I'm glad I read the book.
  • (5/5)
    The weak AI's answer to Douglas Hofstadter: computers will never become self aware.
  • (5/5)
    Penrose certainly has a generous idea of his readers' mathematical ability. It's a kind of running joke among Penrose-fans: he always starts his books by saying you'll find it tough going if you haven't got a 12th Year (in Portugal)/GCSE (in the UK) in math, but that he'll explain it as he goes if you haven't. Twenty pages later you're on Gödel and conformable geometry. He doesn't do it deliberately; he really does believe his books are popular science. How can you not love him? I purchased an on-line kindle edition of this book back last year via Amazon and it was more about bringing myself up to date (I read it for the first time in 1991 when the book came out), although such things are never truly current due to Theories being debated and tested for very many years within Scientific Realms. Roger Penrose's books are as stated often inclusive of more mathematical devises than many books aimed at more laymen realms, so I often regard them as perhaps Bridging that gap between Solid Science Headaches and Laymen 'I read an article and am a common law know-all expert'. What to say about this re-read? What I liked within this particular tomb over multiple other works and writers from his genre was that Penrose took the opportunity to use more analogy & metaphor in his descriptions of the function of the ideas. So, you read the math and then you might see an image or descriptive wording of the comparisons. Overall as I have stated above, this is potentially overwhelming for your Mr/s-Average-Layman and Not-Hard-Core-Enough-for-Scientists. Though for anyone looking for a kind of Half-Way-House bridging zone, this book may well serve and be fit for the purpose.Anyone read Raymond Kurzweil's "The Singularity is Near"? It discusses this exact same stuff in more detail. Personally, I think it's a little more optimistic about strong AI than reality warrants. Penrose has interesting ideas about quantum consciousness, but I don't see humanity making any major gains on "the hard problem of consciousness" any time soon. It's like the holy grail of several disciplines. In reading about an electromagnetic theory of consciousness, a good point was brought up - if the brain develops its own field, then contemporary traditional computer engineering will never achieve the goal of true AI, simply because now actively creating shielding against short-circuits won't allow any field to develop. The closest I've seen to understanding consciousness seems to be the promising ideas about quantum theories of consciousness. We have yet to develop computers that can grow their own neural connections, much less create consciousness. It's been proven that memory doesn't reside in any one neuron - you can't create a lesion which excises a given memory, for instance. There's got to be some kind of unknown field. Until we understand the toughest riddle of all - consciousness - we will never develop true AI. Nor, I might add, will we be able to do what Kurzweil suggests - "uploading the mind". Bullshit. The day we can achieve either of those things we will also be able to create the ability to travel at the speed of light, but transmitting our consciousness, with perhaps genetic meta-data to reconstruct the body nanoscopically at the other end. It's the stuff of SF, to be sure. One only has to refer to Alan Turing's famous "Can Machine's Think?" to understand the singularity is total nonsense. Machines, hardware are nothing w/o a program to function it, which is nothing more than a theory. When one compares the structure of our ability to speak (our language) with that of programming, it's not even close to being in the same field of discussion. Programming languages follow a somewhat commonsensical pattern, because we're the ones manipulating it. When one looks at the core structure of our language, it's so remote from common sense notions that it is not for the ear, but more soothing for the mind. It's striking the deeper we look into out cognitive faculties, the more it diverts from our presumptions. Man's fascination with machines and their impact began to fully realize itself with Galileo and Descartes, only to get smothered rather abruptly forever (apparently not) by Newton not too long after. We should pay much more attention to history, most certainly politically but scientifically as well. NB: It's worth pointing out that towards the end of his life Hawking gained an interest in what is known as model dependent reality...which actually totally negates any notion of a "theory of everything". So, Hawking's book "The Grand Design" actually contradicts the very idea that a theory of everything is even possible. Hawking also worked with Professor Paul Davies on ideas about reverse causality....a very fringe and not widely accepted area of speculation. All of which shows he was open to new ideas.
  • (3/5)
    Some good stuff about machine thinking, calculabillity etc. Never mind the bollocks!
  • (1/5)
    This was a major disappointment. Penrose has made very good contributions to physics, but this is not one of them. The book can be summarized as "we don't understand consciousness, and we don't understand quantum gravity; they must be related!"
  • (5/5)
    Roger Penrose is the most brilliant and articulate physicist alive today. He has an ideosyncratic theory of human consciousness he wants to explain to scientifically literate laymen, so he takes all but the last bit of this wonderful book to bring us up to his exhalted level of understanding of all of the prerequisite subjects. It is the best tutorial on physics and mathematics I've ever read, and I've read a lot. The ending comes an an anti-climax, but getting there is worth the whole trip.
  • (4/5)
    I think the main aim of this book is to argue that consciousness is not just produced by a computer like mechanism, using just algorithms, but instead using something more complicated. It goes into topics like quantum mechanics to try and find examples of non computable things which could perhaps be playing a part in the way the mind can do things which a computer cannot.The book is quite heavy on the maths and physics, so anyone without any familiarity would probably struggle, though would probably not be reading this book anyway. I found some of it hard going, but it was easy enough to get the general gist of the various things he goes at length to explain, and their relevance, without having to get your head around every complicated equation.I think that some of his theories are enticing, and altogether this was a good read, but perhaps could have benefited from a more decisive outcome. But due to the nature of this subject, it probably wasn't possible for the author to make the conclusion much more satisfying, so it is understandable it was left as it is. I'm definitely going to seek out the sequel though, hopefully for a better insight into his theories of consciousness.
  • (3/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    Daniel Dennett's excellent book Consciousness Explained extracts a very funny cartoon from Scientific American, in which two professors stare at a blackboard showing a formula full of complex algebra. In the middle of the formula appears the sentence, "THEN A MIRACLE OCCURS". One professor points to the statement and says to the other, "I think you should be more explicit here in step two." Roger Penrose isn't just any old boffin: he is the Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University and has been knighted for his services to Science. The Emperor's New Mind is his attempt to crack that perennial philosophical chestnut, the Consciousness/Artificial Intelligence problem. Penrose's view is that Strong AI is simply wrong and that a computer could never replicate (functionally or actually) what we know as "consciousness". Right. Take a deep breath here. For it's a scary thing for a mere mortal (with a decidedly ordinary bachelor's degree in the humanities) to say something like this about the one of the cleverest men on the planet, but I can't see any way around it: In this book Roger Penrose completely, totally, misses the point. Insofar as it's considered an entry on the Consciousness/AI debate, The Emperor's New Mind - all 583 pages of it - is all but worthless. There. I said it. Then again, nearly 500 of those pages don't even purport to be about consciousness, so perhaps all is not lost. Instead, they contain an extremely dense, at times fascinating, but uniformly (and I use the word deliberately) dazzling overview of the more esoteric parts of modern mathematics, physics and cosmology. While Penrose thinks it is necessary background, it isn't - it amounts to an extremely long winded appeal to authority: One is left with the firm impression that the Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University is a very, very smart chap, and that one really ought to see that what ever he says goes. This is no small irony, given the title of his book. For if anyone is holding himself out as being a tailor purveying a cloth that only the cleverest people can see, it's Roger Penrose. Here's where I think he goes wrong. Firstly, his attempt to undermine the AI position is founded on purely mathematical reasoning. Pure mathematics is a closed logical system. Its truths aren't falsifiable, so by themselves have no explanatory force. Mathematical statements (such as "1+1=2") are necessarily true for all time and all universes so, ipso facto, they can't - by themselves - tell us anything about any particular universe. Yet that is just what Penrose asks them to do. He invokes Gödel's theorem of undecidability, perhaps to counter the argument I have just made, but it isn't convincing - being logically unable to prove all truths in a particular set (even though you know they are true) is very different from being able to falsify them. Without that power, you have no explanatory traction in the outside world. Penrose's entire attack on Strong AI is based on an unfalsifiable, and therefore non-content carrying, argument. Another error is to assume an algorithm must have been designed for the purpose for which it is used, and must work perfectly to be of any use. Natural selection illustrates that this is simply not the case. An algorithm may have a number of useful unintended by-products, and an algorithm can be extremely useful even when we know it to be completely misconceived at every level: take Newtonian mechanics as a good example. We've known for a century it isn't correct but in most practical circumstances it works fine. Which brings me to my next point: for all the learning Penrose includes on Mandelbrot sets, phase space, entropy and Hawking Radiation, The Emperor's New Mind is conspicuous for what it leaves out: The bibliography contains no reference to Karl Popper nor the general philosophy of science - which might have helped him on the issue of falsifiability - nor crucially to a number of writers who have been very influential on the modern mind/AI question: Daniel Dennett is barely mentioned (Dennett's writing probably represents the "forefront" of the consciousness debate), nor is Richard Dawkins well-referenced, despite having written compellingly (and, being a zoologist, with a great deal more expertise) on the question of algorithms in natural selection. Indeed, Penrose doesn't clearly present the arguments of any particular supporter of strong AI, but rather chooses to generalise loosely as if he is convinced his mathematical deductions can carry the day, and that AI doesn't present a significant challenge. Douglas Hofstadter is given a little space, and John Searle and his largely discredited Chinese Room Experiment a fair space, but other than that the only philosopher Penrose seems to be aware of is Plato. Another thinker Penrose doesn't seem familiar with is William of Occam. Instead of doing some background reading (and applying a little common sense), Penrose has launched a theory which (as he proudly proclaims) takes us to the ends of time and the universe and back to the smallest subatomic particles to explain (in ways he freely admits he doesn't understand) an everyday, prosaic (but still extremely hard to grasp) phenomenon. In its interstellar journey Penrose's theory drifts very close to dualism, and close (but not quite so close, perhaps) to positing (or needing) some sort of God to work. That will give succour in some quarters, but not the ones Penrose has in mind, I suspect. Occam's Razor would require that such untestable and speculative suppositions be rejected unless no other explanation is available. Penrose would protest there are none; Dennett, Dawkins, Hofstadter and their colleagues and adherents (including me) would beg to differ, and point to a lot of literature that Penrose hasn't read. In any case one would think that Penrose's own intuition (which he claims helps him to see truth despite Gödel undecidability!) ought to help him see his theory is, as Jeremy Bentham would say, "nonsense on stilts". Ultimately, when Penrose says "quantum theory explains consciousness" he is really saying no more than "something magic happens!" or even "THEN A MIRACLE OCCURS". Mr Penrose, I think you should be more explicit here in step two.

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