Conversations

Reuben Hersh: 1927-2020

[1.21.20]

REUBEN HERSH, (1927-2020), was professor emeritus at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. He was the recipient (with Martin Davis) of the Chauvenet Prize and (with Edgar Lorch) the Ford Prize. Hersh was the co-author (with Philip J. Davis) of The Mathematical Experience and Descartes' Dream, which won the National Book Award in 1983, and author of What is Mathematics, Really?

He advocated for what he called a "humanist" philosophy of mathematics, opposed to both Platonism (so-called "realism") and its rivals nominalism/fictionalism/formalism. He held that mathematics is real, and its reality is social-cultural-historical, located in the shared thoughts of those who learn it, teach it, and create it. His article "The Kingdom of Math is Within You" (a chapter in his Experiencing Mathematics, 2014) explains how mathematicians' proofs compel agreement, even when they are inadequate as formal logic.​ 

[February 10, 1997]

What is mathematics? It's neither physical nor mental, it's social. It's part of culture. It's part of history. It's like law, like religion, like money, like all those other things which are very real, but only as part of collective human consciousness. That's what math is.

For mathematician Reuben Hersh, mathematics has existence or reality only as part of human culture. Despite its seeming timelessness and infallibility, it is a social-cultural-historic phenomenon. He takes the long view. He thinks a lot about the ancient problems. What are numbers? What are triangles, squares and circles? What are infinite sets? What is the fourth dimension? What is the meaning and nature of mathematics?

In so doing he explains and criticizes current and past theories of the nature of mathematics. His main purpose is to confront philosophical problems: In what sense do mathematical objects exist? How can we have knowledge of them? Why do mathematicians think mathematical entities exist forever, independent of human action and knowledge?

REUBEN HERSH: What is a number? Like, what is two? Or even three? This is sort of a kindergarten question, and of course a kindergarten kid would answer like this: (raising three fingers), or two (raising two fingers). That's a good answer and a bad answer. 

Open Letter to H. Allen Orr

[2.12.07]

Dear Allen,

You claim Dawkins ignores the best thinking on the subject. The Selfish Gene, which you rightly admire, doesn't waste any time rebutting Teilhard de Chardin, or any of the perennial would-be defenders of Lamarckism, or even—I might add—many of the murkier claims made by Richard Lewontin over the years. Do you object that he thus "ignores the best thinking on evolution"? No, you say he "wrestled with the best thinkers." So you must have in mind some neglected gems on religion: what arguments and/or thinkers on the topic of religion ought Dawkins to have tackled in detail? What in your opinion is the best thinking on the subject?

I hope that you don't mean the recent reviews. Some of them did indeed "shred" Dawkins' 747 argument, if by that you mean they scoffed and hooted and clawed at it. Did any of them, in your opinion, rebut it soundly? Tom Nagel made some dismissive remarks-not arguments-in passing. Do you count that? I'd really like to know which published critique of the 747 argument you endorse, so I can explain to you, a non-philosopher, what its shortcomings are. Maybe there are some good ones I haven't seen, but I'll lead with my chin. I myself think Dawkins has made some excellent improvements on the standard arguments, improvements any philosopher would be proud to have composed. As I said in my own review, in Free Inquiry:

Dawkins set out to expose and discredit every source of the God delusion, and even when he is going over familiar ground, as he often must, he almost invariably finds some novel twist that refreshes our imaginations. Some of the innovations are substantial. After flattening all the serious arguments for the existence of God, he turns the tables and frames an argument against the existence of God, exploiting one of the favorite ideas of Intelligent Design demagogues: the improbability of design. The basic argument, that postulating God as creator raises the question of who created God, has been around for years, but Dawkins gives it a proper spine and uses it to show first that "Chance and design both fail as solutions to the problem of statistical improbability, because one of them is the problem, and the other one regresses to it. Natural selection is a real solution. It is the only workable solution that has ever been suggested." (p121) Then he goes on to show how understanding this conclusion illuminates the confusing controversies surrounding the proper use of the anthropic principle. We are accustomed to physicists presuming that since their science is more "basic" than biology, they have a deeper perspective from which to sort out the remaining perplexities, but sometimes the perspective of biology can actually clarify what has been murky and ill-motivated in the physicists' discussions.

I'd be interested to see the "shreddings" that persuaded you otherwise.

And you say that C.S. Lewis "had already dispensed with" one of Dawkins' claims. Am I to take it that you are now endorsing the quote from Lewis as an adequate rebuttal or pre-refutation of Dawkins?

You misconstrued my NYRB letter in several ways. I didn't say you held Dawkins' book to too high a standard; I said you imposed a goal on the book that was not Dawkins' goal. I didn't say or imply that Dawkins' book was "merely a popular survey" and I didn't say or imply that you were "disturbed by Dawkins' atheism." I said you adopted a double standard-like many atheists, I might add-and were attempting to protect religion from serious criticism, for reasons I am curious to know. These misconstruals do not strike me as unintended, but perhaps you read with a broad brush.

As I write this message, I am reminded of your earlier trashing, more than ten years ago, of my book Darwin's Dangerous Idea, first in Evolution, which does not permit rebuttals from authors, and then, slightly enlarged, in the Boston Review, which does. You leveled very serious charges of error and incomprehension in that review, and when I challenged them, you responded with a haughty dismissal of my objections (in an exchange in the Boston Review). Quoting an example, dealing with the speed of evolution: "Now I've been in the population genetics business for some time and, frankly, I have no idea what Dennett is talking about. And-I can find no polite way of putting this-it's hard to escape the conclusion that Dennett has no idea what he's talking about either." (1996, p. 37) Now that was rude-even ruder than your reply this time. When I explained then in a private letter to you what I had meant, you conceded to me in your private response that you had not seen my point in the light I intended, and that my claim was not in fact the blunder you had said it was-but of course you never chose to recant your criticism in print, so your uncorrected accusation stands to this day. Such a gentleman and a scholar you are! But times have changed. We now have blogs, so this time you can readily respond in public to my open letter.

Note that I have not yet claimed that you have no idea what you're talking about; we philosophers try not to jump to conclusions. I have however asked you, twice now, to tell us what you're talking about. Please.

I await your reply.

—Dan Dennett

DANIEL C. DENNETT is University Professor, Professor of Philosophy, and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. His latest book is Breaking the SpellDaniel C. Dennett's Edge Bio Page

Remembering Sir John Maddox

[4.12.09]

 

Sir John Maddox
1925 - 2009

My guess is that if the question of human extinction is ever posed clearly, people will say that it's all very well to say we've been a part of nature up to now, but at that turning point in the human race's history, it is surely essential that we do something about it; that we fix the genome, to get rid of the disease that's causing the instability, if necessary we clone people known to be free from the risk, because that's the only way in which we can keep the human race alive. A still, small voice may at that stage ask, but what right does the human race have to claim precedence for itself. To which my guess is the full-throated answer would be, sorry, the human race has taken a decision, and that decision is to survive. And, if you like, the hell with the rest of the ecosystem. —John Maddox, March 4, 1997

SIR JOHN MADDOX, who served 22 years as the editor of Nature, was a trained physicist, who has served on a number of Royal Commissions on environmental pollution and genetic manipulation. His books include Revolution in BiologyThe Doomsday Syndrome, Beyond the Energy Crisis, and What Remains to be Discovered: The Agenda for Science in the Next Century.

* * * *

As editor of Nature for 22 years (the 70s to the 90s), John Maddox was a dominant figure in a golden age of science. A fierce proponent of reason, rationalism, and science-based thinking, he ran the best publication of its kind in the world and gave those in his orbit permission to be great. His friendship meant a great deal to me, as did his support and encouragement of Edge and the third culture. —John Brockman


The editor emeritus of Nature and the editor of Edge at 
the Edge London Science Dinner, January 24, 2006

Link: "Complexity and Catastrophe A Talk With Sir John Maddox" [3.4.97]

The Last Unknowns

With a Foreword by Daniel Kahneman
[6.10.19]

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Indie Bound | Apple Books


ON EDGE
by Daniel Kahneman

It seems like yesterday, but Edge has been up and running for twenty-two years. Twenty-two years in which it has channeled a fast-flowing river of ideas from the academic world to the intellectually curious public. The range of topics runs from the cosmos to the mind and every piece allows the reader at least a glimpse and often a serious look at the intellectual world of a thought leader in a dynamic field of science. Presenting challenging thoughts and facts in jargon-free language has also globalized the trade of ideas across scientific disciplines. Edge is a site where anyone can learn, and no one can be bored.

The statistics are awesome: The Edge conversation is a "manuscript" of close to 10 million words, with nearly 1,000 contributors whose work and ideas are presented in more than 350 hours of video, 750 transcribed conversations, and thousands of brief essays. And these activities have resulted in the publication of 19 printed volumes of short essays and lectures in English and in foreign language editions throughout the world.

The public response has been equally impressive: Edge's influence is evident in its Google Page Rank of  "8", the same as The Atlantic, The Economist, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, in the enthusiastic reviews in major general-interest outlets, and in the more than 700,000 books sold. 

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the increasingly eager participation of scientists in the Edge enterprise. And a surprise: brilliant scientists can also write brilliantly! Answering the Edge question evidently became part of the annual schedule of many major figures in diverse fields of research, and the steadily growing number of responses is another measure of the growing influence of the Edge phenomenon. Is now the right time to stop? Many readers and writers will miss further installments of the annual Edge question—they should be on the lookout for the next form in which the Edge spirit will manifest itself.

What is the secret of Edge’s success? To begin with, the charisma of John Brockman, its founder and leader. Add to that his eclectic but discerning taste in the choice of participants. The two major formats of Edge activities are no less important. The interviews are edited to make the interviewer invisible. Masking the questioner is not new, but remarkable skill is required to elicit both clarity and depth in seamless expositions of the participants’ ideas. Edge interviews read and sound like coherently constructed informal lectures—a surprising feat when the flow of the content is entirely driven by the interviewer’s questions.

The short-essay format of the Edge Annual Question is a daring innovation and a striking success. Apparently, 600-1,000 words is the sweet spot for introducing one big idea. The brevity disciplines the author and allows the reader to grasp the essential point—and to remain hungry for more even as she moves to another essay.

The unifying message in the story of Edge is that ideas matter, and they matter to many. They can be told with elegance, sometimes with wit, never with condescension. There is a large audience eager to learn what scientists in various disciplines are up to, and a large group of scientist-teachers eager to tell their stories. And certainly, there will be more stories.

~~

DANIEL KAHNEMAN is Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology Emeritus, Princeton University, and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow. He is the winner of the 2013 Presidential Medal of Honor, and the recipient of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. Daniel Kahneman’s Edge Bio Page.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Scott Aaronson • Anthony Aguirre • Dorsa Amir • Alun Anderson • Chris Anderson • Ross Anderson • Samuel Arbesman • Dan Ariely • Noga Arikha  • W. Brian Arthur • Scott Atran • Joscha Bach • Mahzarin Banaji • Simon Baron-Cohen • Lisa Feldman Barrett • Andrew Barron • Thomas A. Bass • Mary Catherine Bateson • Gregory Benford • Laura Betzig • Susan Blackmore • Alan S. Blinder • Paul Bloom • Giulio Boccaletti • Ian Bogost • Joshua Bongard • Nick Bostrom • Stewart Brand • Rodney A. Brooks • David M. Buss • Philip Campbell • Jimena Canales • Christopher Chabris • David Chalmers • Leo M. Chalupa • Ashvin Chhabra • Jaeweon Cho • Nicholas A. Christakis • Brian Christian • David Christian • George Church • Andy Clark • Julia Clarke • Tyler Cowen • Jerry A. Coyne • James Croak • Molly Crockett • Helena Cronin • Oliver Scott Curry • David Dalrymple • Kate Darling • Luca De Biase • Stanislas Dehaene • Daniel C. Dennett • Emanuel Derman • David Deutsch • Keith Devlin • Jared Diamond • Chris Dibona • Rolf Dobelli • P. Murali Doraiswamy • Freeman Dyson • George Dyson • David M. Eagleman • David Edelman • Nick Enfield • Brian Eno • Juan Enriquez • Dylan Evans • Daniel L. Everett • Christine Finn • Stuart Firestein • Helen Fisher • Steve Fuller • Howard Gardner • David C. Geary • James Geary • Amanda Gefter • Neil Gershenfeld • Asif A. Ghazanfar • Steve Giddings • Gerd Gigerenzer • Bruno Giussani • Joel Gold • Nigel Goldenfeld  • Rebecca Newberger Goldstein • Daniel Goleman • Alison Gopnik • John Gottman • Jonathan Gottschall • William Grassie • Kurt Gray  • A.C. Grayling • Tom Griffiths • June Gruber • Jonathan Haidt • David Haig • Hans Halvorson • Timo Hannay • Judith Rich Harris • Sam Harris • Daniel Haun • Marti Hearst • Dirk Helbing • César Hidalgo • Roger Highfield • W. Daniel Hillis • Michael Hochberg • Donald D. Hoffman • Bruce Hood • Daniel Hook • John Horgan • Sabine Hossenfelder • Nicholas Humphrey • Marco Iacoboni  • Isabel Behncke Izquierdo • Nina Jablonski • Matthew O. Jackson • Jennifer Jacquet • Dale W. Jamieson • Koo Jeong-A • Lorraine Justice • Gordon Kane • Stuart A. Kauffman • Brian G. Keating • Paul Kedrosky • Kevin Kelly • Gary Klein • Jon Kleinberg • Brian Knutson • Bart Kosko • Stephen M. Kosslyn  • John W. Krakauer • Kai Krause • Andrian Kreye • Coco Krumme • Joseph Ledoux • Cristine H. Legare • Martin Lercher • Margaret Levi • Janna Levin • Andrei Linde • Antony Garrett Lisi • Mario Livio • Seth Lloyd • Tania Lombrozo • Jonathan B. Losos • Greg Lynn • Ziyad Marar • Gary Marcus • John Markoff • Chiara Marletto • Abigail Marsh • Barnaby Marsh • John C. Mather • Tim Maudlin • Annalena Mcafee • Michael Mccullough • Ian Mcewan • Ryan Mckay • Hugo Mercier • Thomas Metzinger • Yuri Milner • Read Montague • Dave Morin • Lisa Mosconi • David G. Myers • Priyamvada Natarajan • John Naughton • Randolph Nesse • Richard Nisbett • Tor Nørretranders • Michael I. Norton • Martin Nowak • Hans Ulrich Obrist • James J. O’donnell • Steve Omohundro • Toby Ord • Tim O’reilly • Gloria Origgi • Mark Pagel • Elaine Pagels • Bruce Parker • Josef Penninger • Irene Pepperberg • Clifford Pickover • Steven Pinker • David Pizarro • Robert Plomin • Jordan Pollack • Alex Poots • Carolyn Porco • William Poundstone • William H. Press • Robert R. Provine • Matthew Putman • David C. Queller • Sheizaf Rafaeli • Vilayanur Ramachandran • Lisa Randall • S. Abbas Raza • Syed Tasnim Raza • Martin Rees • Ed Regis • Diana Reiss • Jennifer Richeson • Gianluigi Ricuperati • Matthew Ritchie • Siobhan Roberts • Andrés Roemer • Phil Rosenzweig • Carlo Rovelli • Douglas Rushkoff • Karl Sabbagh • Todd C. Sacktor • Paul Saffo • Eduardo Salcedo-Albaran • Buddhini Samarasinghe • Scott Sampson • Laurie R. Santos • Robert Sapolsky • Dimitar D. Sasselov • Roger Schank • René Scheu • Maximilian Schich • Simone Schnall • Bruce Schneier • Peter Schwartz • Gino Segre • Charles Seife • Terrence J. Sejnowski • Michael Shermer • Olivier Sibony • Laurence C. Smith • Monica L. Smith • Lee Smolin • Dan Sperber • Maria Spiropulu • Nina Stegeman • Paul J. Steinhardt • Bruce Sterling • Stephen J. Stich • Victoria Stodden • Christopher Stringer • Seirian Sumner • Leonard Susskind • Jaan Tallinn • Timothy Taylor • Max Tegmark • Richard H. Thaler • Frank Tipler • Eric Topol • Sherry Turkle • Barbara Tversky • Michael Vassar • J. Craig Venter • Athena Vouloumanos • D. A. Wallach • Adam Waytz • Bret Weinstein • Eric R. Weinstein • Albert Wenger • Geoffrey West • Thalia Wheatley • Tim White • Linda Wilbrecht • Frank Wilczek • Jason Wilkes • Evan Williams • Alexander Wissner-Gross • Milford H. Wolpoff • Richard Wrangham • Elizabeth Wrigley-Field • Richard Saul Wurman • Victoria Wyatt • Itai Yanai • Dustin Yellin • Eliezer S. Yudkowsky • Dan Zahavi • Anton Zeilinger • Carl Zimmer



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Read it now." San Francisco Chronicle • "Open-minded, free ranging, intellectually playful ... an unadorned pleasure in curiosity, a collective expression of wonder at the living and inanimate world ... an ongoing and thrilling colloquium." Ian McEwan, The Telegraph • "Astounding reading." Boston Globe • "A provocative, wiz bang collection." Vanity Fair • "Splendidly enlightened." The Independent • "A jolt of fresh thinking ... a fabulous array of issues." Globe and Mail • "Intriguing ... unapologetic sophistication." The Daily Beast • "When the lightbulb above your head is truly incendiary." Scientific American • "Brilliant ... a eureka moment at the edge of knowledge…a website that will expand your mind." The Sunday Times • "Brockman is a kind of thinker that does not exist in Europe." La Stampa • "These are thoughts to make jaws drop." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung • "Uplifting ... enthralling." Daily Mail


REMEMBERING MURRAY

[5.28.19]

MURRAY GELL-MANN
September 15, 1929 – May 24, 2019
  

[ED. NOTE: Upon learning of the death of long-time friend, and colleague Murray Gell-Mann, I posed the question below to the Edgies who knew and/or worked with him. —JB]

Can you tell us a personal story about Murray and yourself (about physics, or not)?  


THE REALITY CLUB
Leonard Susskind, George Dyson, Stuart Kauffman, John Brockman, Julian Barbour, Freeman Dyson, Neil Gershenfeld, Paul Davies, Virginia Louise Trimble, Alan Guth, Gino Segre, Sara Lippincott, Emanuel Derman, Jeremy Bernstein, George Johnson, Seth Lloyd, W. Brian Arthur, W. Daniel Hillis, Frank Tipler, Karl Sabbagh, Daniel C. Dennett


[ED. NOTE: For starters, here's a story Murray told about himself when I spent time with him in Santa Fe over Christmas vacation in 2003, excerpted from "The Making of a PhysicistEdge, June 3, 2003—JB]

Uncharacteristically, I discussed my application to Yale with my father, who asked, "What were you thinking of putting down?" I said, "Whatever would be appropriate for archaeology or linguistics, or both, because those are the things I'm most enthusiastic about. I'm also interested in natural history and exploration."

He said, "You'll starve!"

After all, this was 1944 and his experiences with the Depression were still quite fresh in his mind; we were still living in genteel poverty. He could have quit his job as the vault custodian in a bank and taken a position during the war that would have utilized his talents — his skill in mathematics, for example — but he didn't want to take the risk of changing jobs. He felt that after the war he would regret it, so he stayed where he was. This meant that we really didn't have any spare money at all.

I asked him, "What would you suggest?"

He mentioned engineering, to which I replied, "I'd rather starve. If I designed anything it would fall apart." And sure enough when I took an aptitude test a year later I was advised to take up nearly anything but engineering."

Then my father suggested, "Why don't we compromise — on physics?"


Introduction
By Geoffrey West

Murray Gell-Mann was one of the great scientists of the 20th century, one of its few renaissance people and a true polymath. He is best known for his seminal contributions to fundamental physics, for helping to bring order and symmetry to the apparently chaotic world of the elementary particles and the fundamental forces of nature. He dominated the field from the early ‘50s, when he was still in his twenties, up through the late ‘70s. Basically, he ran the show. By modern standards he didn’t publish a lot, but when he did we all hung on every word. It is an amazing litany of accomplishments: strangeness, the renormalization group, color and quantum chromodynamics, and of course, quarks and SU(3), for which he won the Nobel prize in 1969.

He was the Robert Andrews Millikan Professor Emeritus of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology, a cofounder of the Santa Fe Institute, where he was a Distinguished Fellow; a former director of the J.D. and C.T. MacArthur Foundation; one of the Global Five Hundred honored by the U.N. Environment Program; a former Citizen Regent of the Smithsonian Institution; a former member of the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology; and the author of The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex.

Despite his extraordinary contributions to high-energy physics, Murray maintained throughout his life an enduring passion for understanding how the messy world of culture, economies, ecologies and human interaction, and especially language, evolved from the beautifully ordered world of the fundamental laws of nature. How did complexity evolve from simplicity? Can we develop a generic science of complex adaptive systems? In the ‘80s he helped found the Santa Fe Institute as a hub on the academic landscape for addressing such vexing questions in a radically transdisciplinary environment.

Murray Gell-Mann knew, understood and was interested in everything, spoke every language on the planet, and probably those on other planets too, and was not shy in letting you know that he did. He was infamous not just for correcting your facts or your logic, but most annoyingly to some, for correcting how you should pronounce your name, your place of birth, or whatever. Luckily my name is West but that never stopped him from lecturing me many times on the Somerset dialect that I spoke as a young child.

Although he decidedly did not suffer fools and would harshly, sometimes almost cruelly, criticize sloppy thinking or incorrect factual statements, he would intensely engage with anyone regardless of their status or standing if he felt they had something to contribute. I rarely felt comfortable when discussing anything with him, whether a question of physics or lending him money, expecting to be clobbered at any moment because I had made some stupid comment or pronounced something wrong.

Murray could be a very difficult man…but what a mind! However, he loved to collaborate, to discuss ideas, and was amazingly open and inclusive even if he did dominate the proceedings. By the time we had become colleagues at SFI, I had become less and less sensitive to the master’s anticipated criticism or even to his occasional praise; the potential trepidation had pretty much disappeared and our relationship had evolved into friendship and collegiality, just in time for me to become his boss. Negotiating with Murray over a perplexing physics question is one thing, but try negotiating with him over salary and secretarial support, then you’ll really see him in action. To quote Hamlet: "He was a man. Take him for all in all. I shall not look upon his like again."

GEOFFREY WEST is a theoretical physcicist; Shannan Distinguished Professor and Past President, Santa Fe Institute; Author, ScaleGeoffrey West's Edge Bio page.

On Edge

[5.22.19]

 

ON EDGE
by Daniel Kahneman

It seems like yesterday, but Edge has been up and running for twenty-two years. Twenty-two years in which it has channeled a fast-flowing river of ideas from the academic world to the intellectually curious public. The range of topics runs from the cosmos to the mind and every piece allows the reader at least a glimpse and often a serious look at the intellectual world of a thought leader in a dynamic field of science. Presenting challenging thoughts and facts in jargon-free language has also globalized the trade of ideas across scientific disciplines. Edge is a site where anyone can learn, and no one can be bored.

The statistics are awesome: The Edge conversation is a "manuscript" of close to 10 million words, with nearly 1,000 contributors whose work and ideas are presented in more than 350 hours of video, 750 transcribed conversations, and thousands of brief essays. And these activities have resulted in the publication of 19 printed volumes of short essays and lectures in English and in foreign language editions throughout the world.

The public response has been equally impressive: Edge's influence is evident in its Google Page Rank of  "8", the same as The Atlantic, The Economist, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, in the enthusiastic reviews in major general-interest outlets, and in the more than 700,000 books sold. 

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the increasingly eager participation of scientists in the Edge enterprise. And a surprise: brilliant scientists can also write brilliantly! Answering the Edge question evidently became part of the annual schedule of many major figures in diverse fields of research, and the steadily growing number of responses is another measure of the growing influence of the Edge phenomenon. Is now the right time to stop? Many readers and writers will miss further installments of the annual Edge question—they should be on the lookout for the next form in which the Edge spirit will manifest itself.

Possible Minds: 25 Ways of Looking at AI

Chapter 1 - "Wrong, but More Relevant Than Ever" - on Slate
[2.28.19]

The Human Use of Human Beings, Norbert Wiener’s 1950 popularization of his highly influential book Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine (1948)investigates the interplay between human beings and machines in a world in which machines are becoming ever more computationally capable and powerful. It is a remarkably prescient book, and remarkably wrong. Written at the height of the Cold War, it contains a chilling reminder of the dangers of totalitarian organizations and societies, and of the danger to democracy when it tries to combat totalitarianism with totalitarianism’s own weapons.

Possible Minds: 25 Ways of Looking at AI

Lightning talks by thirteen “Possible Minders” at the Brattle Theatre—a Harvard Bookstore Event
[2.21.19]

Lightning talks (1 hour, 28 minutes) from thirteen experts: Mary Catherine Bateson, Kate Darling, Peter Galison, Neil Gershenfeld, Alison Gopnik, Caroline Jones, David Kaiser, Seth Lloyd, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Alex Pentland, Steven Pinker, Max TegmarkStephen Wolfram Thursday, February 21, 2019  — A Harvard Bookstore EventSubscribe

Possible Minds: 25 Ways of Looking at AI

Chapter 21 - "AIs Versus Four-Year-Olds" - First Serial on Smithsonian
[2.22.19]

Everyone’s heard about the new advances in artificial intelligence, and especially machine learning. You’ve also heard utopian or apocalyptic predictions about what those advances mean. They have been taken to presage either immortality or the end of the world, and a lot has been written about both of those possibilities. But the most sophisticated AIs are still far from being able to solve problems that human four-year-olds accomplish with ease. In spite of the impressive name, artificial intelligence largely consists of techniques to detect statistical patterns in large data sets. There is much more to human learning

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