Tuesday, June 7, 2011

TURING TEST Human vs. Computer subject Audiobooks

Imagine a game show panel judging whether instant-message conversations with unseen contestants are being shared with humans or computers.  That's the Turing Test, and journalist Brian Christian documents his experience as a human contestant in THE MOST HUMAN HUMAN. By examining the likelihood of machines fooling judges into believing they are human, the author attempts to define what makes us unique.  Narrating this intriguing book himself, Christian demonstrates his own human qualities, which a computer voice can't yet mimic.  I recommend it, not due to its computer geek oriented technobabble, but rather because it examines how we are becoming robotic (even as robots become more human.) There is also much in this book about language and what constitutes the meaning of words, as perceived by people and by computers undergoing the Turing Test. He draws examples from movies and art and locations, along with how the brain processes information, to describe how strangers come to relate to each other. His thesis is also that “art doesn’t scale.” You can’t keep repeating life experiences and not become “robotic.” He says, so called “once in a lifetime events” come every day, because every day is once in a lifetime. That’s what makes us unique, and not robotic.

An appropriate companion book here would be INCOGNITO, written and read by David Eagleman, who serves up a nutritious dose of neuroscience in exploring the subconscious mind, and the secret lives of the brain.  If you've always wondered about intuition, deja vu, dreams, or where ideas come from, here's the answer: your mind is working overtime, whether you realize it or not.  So computers might be able to process information faster, but we are still more complex than we appear. One intriguing question resolved here involves ethics, too: are we responsible for unseen influences our subconscious directs us, and who exactly is the "us" involved in choices and "free" will, given both conscious and subconscious influences? Eagleman also discusses the soul, and how the brain's consciousness arises from a sum greater than its parts.  The answer cannot be found by reductionism, he says, "by looking at smaller and smaller parts." This makes the concept of the soul more complex than current science can discover.

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