A synoptic overview of the debate regarding artificial intelligence coupled with a defense of the uniqueness of human consciousness.
The extraordinary progress of neuroscience has led many to believe that a comprehensive explanation of human thought—and its artificial replication—is a theoretical inevitability. First-time author and inventor Tagg argues, however, that the analogy between human cognition and artificial computation is flawed. In fact, computers don’t really seem to think or understand at all in the sense in which humans do, and their often amazing feats are accomplished with a minimum of creativity and no self-awareness. Also, while computers can mimic human communication, our exchanges are so riddled with microscopic nuance that machines could never adequately capture all of them. So while Tagg concedes that machines execute algorithms with far greater efficiency than their human counterparts, that fact alone doesn’t tell the whole story: “Machines cannot discover theorems using algorithms, yet mathematicians do it all the time.” The investigation covers the main players and theories in the field, including Alan Turing, Daniel Dennet, John Searle, Roger Penrose, and even René Descartes, among many others. The culmination of the study is a philosophical argument that human rationality is the basis for our free will, a capacity that ultimately distinguishes between human action and intellection from its artificial counterpart. Especially given the densely technical nature of the debates covered here, as well as the unavoidable employment of specialized terminology, Tagg does an admirable job keeping his prose clear and relatively uncluttered. Along the way, he includes helpful illustrations, as well as experiments and puzzles. What emerges is a challenging contention that computation is only one narrow component of human mental life, which also includes intuition and emotion. Also, Tagg articulates a kind of skeptical epistemology that outlines how one can reasonably hold a belief without becoming irrationally attached to it in the face of counterfactual evidence. An impressive effort full of depth and rigor.
An excellent choice for both the newcomer looking for an introduction to the debate over artificial intelligence and a more sophisticated reader looking for a deep reassessment.