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VWN Product Reviews: Mind as Machine: A History of Cognitive Science

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Site Shop > Mind as Machine: A History of Cognitive Science

Mind as Machine: A History of Cognitive Science comes as a two volume set, of 1631 pages between them.

The two weighty volumes consider all aspects of the science of cognition, a broad-minded field crossing and including includes the study of thinking, perception, emotion, creativity, language, consciousness and learning.

Computational models have been used for many decades, at varying levels of sophistication, attempting to recreate mental processes from the organic brain in-silico. Neural networks, need based AI, in fact, all AI, robotics work, artificial life, and linguistic translation attempts have their roots in cognitive science.

In this broad field, you find are philosophers, psychologists, linguists, software engineers, hardware engineers, biologists, medical researchers and mathematicians.

Margaret Boden?s book set, attempts to include all of this, spanning the entire half-century of the field. Not bad for a philosopher, psychologist and computer scientist who has been working in it since the start.

Despite their size and weighty content, the books strive to be interesting, and maintain a lively pace, making you desire to read further, more than groaning at the size.

As the title might suggest, both tomes do their level best to explain the functioning of the mind in terms of a computer system, and how the workings of a mind can be directly mapped to it.

Boden's goal, she says, is to show how cognitive scientists have tried to find computational or informational answers to frequently asked questions about the mind?"what it is, what it does, how it works, how it evolved, and how it's even possible." How do our brains generate consciousness? Are animals or newborn babies conscious? Can machines be conscious? If not, why not? How is free will possible, or creativity? How are the brain and mind different? What counts as a language?

The first few chapters dive straight into background infills, bringing the reader up to date, if they are not already, with the exploits of experts in related fields; figures such as Ren? Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Charles Babbage, Alan Turing and John von Neumann.

Next come cybernetics, brain-machine interfacing feedback, all manner of methods to connect organic and silico computers together.

From that brainstorming start, filled with fascinating mind-fodder, only then does she delve into specialists in cognitive science itself.

By the seventh chapter, the book is discussing the evolution of emotion in machines, and drawing parallels with biology.

Chapter 8 discusses the very minor role of anthropology as the "missing," or "unacknowledged," discipline of cognitive science.

Chapter 9, the last in volume 1, describes Noam Chomsky's early impact on cognitive science, and the initially much-derided view that certain principles of language are innate to the ability to understand language.

Volume two kicks off with the development of artificial intelligence, described in passionate, loving detail. The two warring sides of AI each have their own chapters: The propositional systems, developing basic reasoning powers within the structure of the language itself; whilst the connectionist systems focussed on AI systems such as neural networks and control systems, coded in any language and gaining intellect through structure, not hardcoding.

The second book closes on the more recent developments: VR systems, attempts to construct societies of artificial agents that interact socially, and artificial imaginators.

All in all, it is the first attempt at chronicling the entire 50-year history of the field, and showing how the paths are laid for future research. Both books are invaluable for this reason, as well as providing very intriguing and useful reading for anyone interested in creating powerful AI, or interfacing their brain with a computer, or even seeing where others have trod before.


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