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Programs and people are not as different as they seem,"" says Margaret Boden, reader in Philosophy and Psychology at the University of Sussex. She then proceeds to demonstrate that thesis admirably through some $00 pages of refined analysis and detailed examples of computer simulations of higher mental processes. Most readers know that machines can play chess, produce engineering drawings, do some modest language translation. The kinds of programs that Boden discusses are more challenging. There are psychiatric programs, for example--modeling the dialogue of a neurotic, an idealogue(fashioned after Barry Goldwater), or a paranoid personality. Visually perceptive computers are programmed to recognize 3-D figures in 2-D geometric schema; learning programs supply the computer with ways to learn by example, to solve problems, and to generate short stories. Boden describes the strengths and weaknesses of the various programs, illuminating her arguments with apt quotes from Alice in Wonderland, with intriguing parlor games and puzzles. The practical purpose of such research is obvious: it would be nice to be able to talk to a computer in idiomatic English and have it answer back in style--like ""HAL"" in 2001. Present technology doesn't approach that level, of course, but, meanwhile, the design process itself is instructive. It forces the human thinker to focus on the salient points in structuring an attack on a problem, while the act of objectifying--establishing a data base, rules of operation and choice, and then seeing what the computer spews out--can furnish fresh insights on human cognitive processes. Boden is a graceful writer; she even manages to use the feminine pronoun throughout the book without seeming coy. But this is not an easy book, not for the reader unfamiliar with Wittgenstein, ""Turing machines,"" or phrases like ""the universe of discourse."" For the rest--professional psychologists, linguists, philosophers, the intellectually curious, and the games players--this is an excellent review of a new and growing field, an ""interface,"" as they say, between human psychology and epistemology.

Pub Date: June 10th, 1977
Publisher: Basic Books