How to Build a Mind: Toward Machines with Imagination

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Overview

Igor Aleksander heads a major British team that has applied engineering principles to the understanding of the human brain and has built several pioneering machines, culminating in MAGNUS, which he calls a machine with imagination. When he asks it (in words) to produce an image of a banana that is blue with red spots, the image appears on the screen in seconds.

The idea of such an apparently imaginative, even conscious machine seems heretical and its advocates are often accused of sensationalism, arrogance, or philosophical ignorance. Part of the problem, according to Aleksander, is that consciousness remains ill-defined.

Interweaving anecdotes from his own life and research with imagined dialogues between historical figures — including Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant, Wittgenstein, Francis Crick, and Steven Pinker — Aleksander leads readers toward an understanding of consciousness. He shows not only how the latest work with artificial neural systems suggests that an artificial form of consciousness is possible but also that its design would clarify many of the puzzles surrounding the murky concept of consciousness itself. The book also looks at the presentation of "self" in robots, the learning of language, and the nature of emotion, will, instinct, and feelings.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

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The Barnes & Noble Review
Will there ever come a day when an artificial consciousness exists? This fascinating addition to the literature on artificial intelligence argues that perhaps, one day, consciousness could emerge from machines we construct. And along the way, we might even learn something about how our own brains work by trying to build one.

Because so many people fundamentally reject the concept of a machine consciousness, Aleksander has taken the time to familiarize himself with the pertinent philosophical debates concerning consciousness. In this book, he intersperses an autobiographical account of his research with chapters containing imaginative encounters with philosophers (a dream sequence set in ancient Greece) and others whose opinions inform attitudes toward the origins of consciousness (a quite plausible TV roundtable with Francis Crick, Daniel Dennett, et al.). It's not surprising that Aleksander takes the view that consciousness arises as an emergent property of neurons interacting together.

As a scientist and engineer Aleksander has had a long-standing fascination with the possibility of using research in neuroscience to build more interesting computers. In the same sense that a human heart is a pump and is thus analogous to, say, a mechanical water pump, the neurons of a brain might possibly be artificially simulated. Aleksander's work led him to try to re-create the visual processing in the brain in a computer with projects such as WISARD, a recognition device. Aleksander believes that creating a means for a computer to have an internal representation of the external world is the beginning of a sense of self and also the ability to "imagine" things that do not exist. (Laura Wood)

Laura Wood is the Barnes & Noble.com Science & Nature Editor.

The Guardian (London)
Neatly illustrates how the field of artificial intelligence has mostly been leaping from enthusiasm to enthusiasm without any deep theoretical consideration of human brains or human consciousness.... Written with warm amusement.
San Francisco Chronicle
A worthy trip for anybody who's wondered... just how the brain does it.

— Carl T. Hall

Tech Directions
Igor Aleksander has spent most of his life in the frustrating attempt to develop intelligent machines. In doing so, he has been at the forefront of the Artificial Intelligence community for over four decades. How to Build a Mind is simultaneously a history of AI and an intellectual biography. Since designing thinking machines requires not just the ability to write computer programs but also an understanding of what we mean by 'consciousness,' 'mind,' and 'intelligence,' How to Build a Mind also takes up an inquiry into the history of philosophical explanations of those terms, from Miletus to Ludwig Wittgenstein.
The Guardian(London)
Neatly illustrates how the field of artificial intelligence has mostly been leaping from enthusiasm to enthusiasm without any deep theoretical consideration of human brains or human consciousness.... Written with warm amusement.
San Francisco Chronicle - Carl T. Hall
A worthy trip for anybody who's wondered... just how the brain does it.
Hilary Burton
This far-ranging book should interest readers at varying levels, from engineers and computer scientists to science fiction and psychology buffs.
Guardian London
Neatly illustrates how the field of artificial intelligence has mostly been leaping from enthusiasm to enthusiasm without any deep theoretical consideration of human brains or human consciousness. . . . Written with warm amusement.
Carl T. Hall
A worthy trip for anybody who's wondered . . . just how the brain does it.
Library Journal
One of the earliest proponents of neural engineering to build artificially intelligent systems, Aleksander (Imperial Coll. of Science, Technology, and Medicine, London) has more than 30 years of artifical intelligence research under his belt. Though he covers a substantial amount of engineering as it applies to building machines with imagination, this work is actually more of a philosophical argument for why he has arrived at his current position. His discussion of why he thinks that a "conscious machine" is feasible is spelled out in a number of imaginary debates and dialogs between himself and various philosophers ranging from Aristotle to Wittgenstein. He also brings in Francis Crick and several arguments from prominent biological researchers. This far-ranging book should interest readers at varying levels, from engineers and computer scientists to science fiction and psychology buffs. Hilary Burton, Lawrence Livermore National Lab., CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Clarifying the notion of consciousness, Aleksander (neural systems engineering, Imperial College of Science, Technology, and Medicine, London) argues not only that it is possible to build a machine that has it, but that doing so would reveal much more about the workings of the human mind. His account is more philosophy and personal anecdote than hard science, and so accessible to general readers. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231120135
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 10/29/2003
  • Series: Maps of the Mind Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.99 (w) x 8.93 (h) x 0.66 (d)

Meet the Author

Igor Aleksander is professor of neural engineering systems at the Imperial College of Science, Technology, and Medicine in London. He has studied artificial intelligence for more than thirty years and has published over 200 papers and ten books on the subject, including Reinventing Man, Impossible Minds: My Neurons, My Consciousness and Neurons and Symbols: The Stuff That Mind Is Made Of.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

Preface1. Imagination and Consciousness2. Miletus: Where the Dreaming Begins3. Nineteen Fifty-eight: A Voyage Toward Interdisciplinarity4. The Ghost of Aristotle: An Influence Across Two Millennia5. Early Artificial Neurons and the Beginnings of Artificial Intelligence6. Liberating Philosophy: The Empiricists7. Canterbury: The First Machines8. Wittgenstein: A Brief Interlude9. The WISARD Years: Machines with No Mind10. Starting the Week with Consciousness11. MAGNUS in South Kensington and Pasadena12. On Being Conscious: The Ego in the MachineEpilogueFurther Reading

Columbia University Press

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