ARE COMPUTERS ALIVE? by G. L. Simons

ARE COMPUTERS ALIVE?

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The title is to be taken seriously. Yes, all you vidiots and hackers (compulsive programmers), home computer buffs and robotophiles, the day may come when we will need laws to protect them from us or us from them--when fifth generation computers surpass the human intelligences that designed them; when, supplied with an appropriate inventory, machines will reproduce. So predicts Simons, a savvy Englishman who can be very persuasive, if sometimes too clever by half. Though some readers will find the whole notion of living computers off-putting, Simons does give fair exposure to leading authorities (such as Joseph Weizenbaum) who take strong exception to the idea of machina sapiens. But in many ways his real contribution is not so much the provocative prediction as the state-of-the-art display. Simons is particularly good at detailing the many varieties of robots already developed or almost here: the kinds of sensori-motor equipment they employ, their mobility, versatility, and adaptability. He describes the evolution of hard-and software, and devotes long chapters to the ongoing debate over artificial intelligence and the psychology of computers. Numerous examples of sophisticated programs are provided--including chess end-games, unbeatable checkers programs, and physician and psychiatrist interviews. On man-computer interactions, Simons supplies a rich literary history (reminding that ""robot"" comes from the Czech word for worker), as well as presenting some telling contemporary accounts (such as the machine whose conversational barrage got a boy in shock talking again). One can find lots to fault in Simons' restricted notions of consciousness, emotions, or life itself--which allow him to assert that machines can satisfy the criteria. Nonetheless, anyone curious about what's going on in those Japanese factories, or in labs from Boston to Belgrade, can find chip-fuls of information here.

Pub Date: Aug. 31st, 1983
Publisher: BirkhÄuser (P.O. Box 2007, Cambridge, MA 02139)