IN THE IMAGE OF THE BRAIN

BREAKING THE BARRIER BETWEEN THE HUMAN MIND AND INTELLIGENT MACHINES

All of a sudden comes a spate of books glorifying neural networks. Do we sense a paradigm shift here? Down with the old reductionist approach of artificial intelligence? Up with the biologically more relevant parallel processing network models? So it would seem, but don't expect consensus. Unlike other recent writers in the field who argue for a specific theory (e.g., Gerald M. Edelman in Bright Air, Brilliant Fire, p. 297), Jubak (former editor of Venture magazine) provides a broad survey of current work in academia and industry, leaving it up to the reader to judge. Jubak is an enthusiast who's on top of developments in speech and pattern perception, robotics, organizing principles in brain development, and so on—but it's just not easy to convey the structure and behavior of computer networks in which the builders themselves are uncertain about what happens in the ``hidden'' layers connected to an input layer (responding to light signals, for example) and to the output layer (identifying a letter or other pattern). Overall, the models try to emulate features of the human brain in its connectivity and its ability to learn. ``Learning'' is often defined in terms of the Hebb synapse—a strengthening of the connection between neurons that fire together. Some basis for the Hebb synapse is revealed late in the book in the discovery of the NMDA receptor—one of two kinds of receptors at neuronal synapses that may be responsible for long-term potentiation. At this microcosmic level of brain science, we learn, the nerve cell itself may be a master microprocessor computing its behavior from multiple inputs summed over time and space and subject to its own feedback circuits. Jubak's useful if demanding survey reveals that the state of the science is such that the more we know the less we know; but that what the brain does is absolutely thrilling—and beautiful. (Line drawings throughout.)

Pub Date: May 22, 1992

ISBN: 0-316-47555-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1992

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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