Thursday, November 22, 2012

Ray Kurzweil "How to Create a Mind", Authors at Google

Ray Kurzweil has a new book out, How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed, and recently spoke about the book at Google. The video is below, and then some praise for the book. However, there is also a growing number of critics who suggest Kurzweil really has no good understanding of psychology, the mind, or the brain. A collection of reviews is offered at the bottom.

You can read an excerpt here.

How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed

About the book:

In How to Create a Mind, The Secret of Human Thought Revealed, the bold futurist and author of The New York Times bestseller The Singularity Is Near explores the limitless potential of reverse engineering the human brain. Ray Kurzweil is arguably today's most influential—and often controversial—futurist. In How to Create a Mind, Kurzweil presents a provocative exploration of the most important project in human-machine civilization—reverse engineering the brain to understand precisely how it works and using that knowledge to create even more intelligent machines. Kurzweil discusses how the brain functions, how the mind emerges from the brain, and the implications of vastly increasing the powers of our intelligence in addressing the world's problems. He thoughtfully examines emotional and moral intelligence and the origins of consciousness and envisions the radical possibilities of our merging with the intelligent technology we are creating. Certain to be one of the most widely discussed and debated science books of the year, How to Create a Mind is sure to take its place alongside Kurzweil's previous classics.

Early praise for the book:

It is rare to find a book that offers unique and inspiring content on every page. How To Create A Mind achieves that and more. Ray has a way of tackling seemingly overwhelming challenges with any army of reason, in the end convincing the reader that it is within our reach to create non-biological intelligence that will soar past our own. This is a visionary work that is also accessible and entertaining.
- Rafael Reif, President of MIT

Kurzweil's new book on the mind is magnificent, timely, and solidly argued!! His best so far!
- Marvin Minsky, Co-founder of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab

One of the eminent AI pioneers, Ray Kurzweil, has created a new book to explain the true nature of intelligence, both biological and non-biological. The book describes the human brain as a machine that can understand hierarchical concepts ranging from the form of a chair to the nature of humor. His important insights emphasize the key role of learning both in the brain and AI. He provides a credible roadmap for achieving the goal of super human intelligence which will be necessary to solve the grand challenges of humanity.
- Raj Reddy, founder, Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University

If you have ever wondered about how your mind works, read this book. Kurzweil's insights reveal key secrets underlying human thought and our ability to recreate it. This is an eloquent and thought-provoking work.
- Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST

About the Author

Ray Kurzweil has been described as "the restless genius" by the Wall Street Journal, and "the ultimate thinking machine" by Forbes. Inc. magazine ranked him #8 among entrepreneurs in the United States, calling him the "rightful heir to Thomas Edison," and PBS included Ray as one of 16 "revolutionaries who made America," along with other inventors of the past two centuries.

As one of the leading inventors of our time, Kurzweil was the principal developer of the first CCD flat-bed scanner, the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments, and the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition. His website Kurzweil has more than one million readers.

Among Kurzweil's many honors, he is the recipient of the $500,000 MIT-Lemelson Prize, the world's largest for innovation. In 1999, he received the National Medal of Technology, the nation's highest honor in technology, from President Clinton in a White House ceremony. And in 2002, he was inducted into the National Inventor's Hall of Fame, established by the US Patent Office. He has received 19 honorary Doctorates and honors from three U.S. presidents. Kurzweil is the author of five books, four of which have been national best sellers.

The Age of Spiritual Machines has been translated into nine languages. His last book, The Singularity is Near, was a New York Times-best seller and has been translated into eight languages.

This talk was hosted by Boris Debic on behalf of Authors at Google.
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Here is a selection of recent reviews of the book. These are just excerpts, so follow the links to read the whole review.

New Scientist - Culture Lab: Will we ever understand how our brains work? by Laura Spinney
The reductionist approach has to be supplemented by a constructivist one - putting the pieces back together again to explain the whole. Modern tools, including supercomputers and the mathematics of complexity, make that possible.

You can see why, on learning about this new line of research, Kurzweil felt he had to write this book. For years he has been talking about what he calls the law of accelerating returns, according to which both biological and technological evolution are speeding up. In his 2005 book, The Singularity is Near, he argued that we are approaching a point where humans and machines will merge, producing a leap in intelligence. Reverse-engineering the human brain could open the door to all sorts of significant innovations, such as the design of a computer that thinks more like us. This could be the springboard from which to make that leap.
Greg Laden - Greg Laden's Blog (at Science Blogs)
My biggest problem with Kurzweil’s book is in relation to the first point, a theory about how the brain’s cortex works. He asserts that the cortex is a self organizing entity that responds to information, creating an ability to manage and recognize patterns. My problem with this is that Kurzweil seems to have not read Deacon’s work (such as The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain and Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter. I’m not saying that Kurzweil is wrong in thinking of the cortex as self organizing in response to the challenges and inputs of pattern recognition. I’m simply saying that this property of the cortex, and of the human mind, has already been identified (mainly by Deacon) and that Kurzweil should sit down with Deacon and have a very long conversation before writing this book! (Well, ok, the next book.) I don’t think they’ve done that yet.
The New Yorker: Ray Kurzweil’s Dubious New Theory of Mind by Gary Marcus
The deepest problem is that Kurzweil wants badly to provide a theory of the mind and not just the brain. Of course, the mind is a product of the brain, as Kurzweil well knows, but any theory that seriously engages with what the mind is has to reckon with human psychology—with human behavior and the mental operations that underlie it. Here, Kurzweil seems completely out of his depth. The main place where the book discusses psychology is a chapter called “Thought Experiments on Thinking,” a scant nine pages devoted to “thought experiments” that Kurzweil seems to have performed while sitting in his arm chair. Not a single cognitive psychologist or study is referred to, and he scarcely engages the phenomena that make the human mind so distinctive. There’s no mention, for example, of Daniel Kahneman’s Nobel Prize winning work on human irrationality, Chomsky’s arguments about innate knowledge that sparked the cognitive revolution, or Elizabeth Spelke’s work on cognitive development demonstrating the highly nuanced structure that is present within the mind even from an extremely early age. Similarly absent is any reference to the vast literature on anthropology, and what is and isn’t culturally universal.
Reason - Here Comes Artificial Intelligence: Ray Kurzweil's new book imagines man-made minds by
As with anything that Kurzweil writes, there is a question of how accurate his past forecasts have been and how seriously we should take his thoughts on the future. The prediction that the singularity will be upon us by 2045 has come under particularly skeptical criticism.

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