THE SOCIETY OF MIND by Marvin Minsky


Email this review


Here, the MIT professor and doyen of artificial intelligence lays out for popular consumption his grand scheme for modeling mental activities. It is a scheme that embodies a consortium of ""agents"" and ""agencies"" that he calls the society of mind. To present his ideas, Minsky adopts an unusual format: each page presents an idea or speculation under a subhead (e.g., ""The Concept of Concept"" or ""The Power of Negative Thinking""), the single pages grouped in a wide array of chapters that span subjects from general psychology, linguistics, development biology, and computer science. This chapter-and-verse approach was adopted because Minsky found that ""A mind is too complex to fit the mold of narratives that start out here and end up there."" Unfortunately, this atomistic approach is often frustrating. Minsky carries a speculation only so far, then jumps to a new, albeit related idea. The result is that one finds that Minsky has extremely interesting, sometimes controversial things to say about how the human mind may be organized to do a lot of specific and non-trivial tasks, but less about how it all hangs together over a day, a year, a lifetime; about who is the ultimate arbitrator and decision maker in the ""society."" The pages here are dotted with wiring diagrams that look like neurons arranged in chains. There is considerable attention to language, learning, and memory, to developmental processes (with respectful allusions to Piaget and Freud), and, in an appendix, an interesting discussion about the brain in evolution and how genes and environment may interact in shaping the various agents and accounting for individual differences in ways of thinking. An enormous amount of thinking through, of experience with robot design and computer programs, has led to Minsky's present position. One would like to see him take some of his speculations and run with them in new computer programs. At the same time, it is clear that he must reckon with all that brains do that has been omitted. For example, an important feature that may be essential is the presence of other minds--not only in terms of nurturers, but also as the source for the urgency of social cooperation that may be basic to the development of language. A fascinating, not-easy book by one of the cleverest brains turned upon itself.

Pub Date: Jan. 30th, 1987
ISBN: 0671657135
Publisher: Simon & Schuster