Advances in computers have made artificial intelligence a new hot topic for most observers—but not science writer and futurist Zarkadakis, who maintains that it is an ancient human obsession.
Combining enthusiasm, scholarship, and lively prose, the author, who has a doctorate in AI, points out that as soon as Paleolithic man became self-aware and realized that his companions were also thinking individuals, he took for granted that animals, trees, and even inanimate objects possess human attributes. In the first third of the book, Zarkadakis delivers an ingenious history of our fascination with nonhuman entities, such as ancient religious totems, which were regarded as sentient, and Pygmalion, golems, medieval mechanical automata, Frankenstein, robots, and a torrent of movies, including Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), Forbidden Planet (which the author watched as a child, an event that “changed my life forever”), Star Wars, Blade Runner, The Matrix, and Her. Having described the reality, the author then moves on to theory. Some thinkers and scientists and most laymen believe that the mind is immaterial. If so, “how can we ever hope to construct a material computer with a soul? How can we force mindless electrons inside computer chips to become self-aware?” Zarkadakis inclines to the opposing view that the mind is an emergent property of living tissue. Whatever billions of neurons and their trillions of connections can accomplish will eventually emerge from the right software. He does not conceal his excitement as he recounts the history of computing, research that is recording what happens in brains as they observe, decide, think, and feel, and new approaches to programming and design that are already turning out products that, if not yet intelligent, seem awfully clever.
A delightfully lucid combination of the history, philosophy, and science behind thinking machines.