The Cambridge Quintet: A Work of Scientific Speculation

The Cambridge Quintet: A Work of Scientific Speculation

by John L. Casti, J. L. Casti

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In this narrative tour de force, five of the greatest minds of the twentieth century argue whether machines will ever have the ability to think like humans—and whether they should be allowed to do so.See more details below


In this narrative tour de force, five of the greatest minds of the twentieth century argue whether machines will ever have the ability to think like humans—and whether they should be allowed to do so.

Editorial Reviews

Paul Trachtman
John Casti's The Cambridge Quintet is a brilliant literary invention and intellectual feast.
Smithsonian Magazine
Library Journal
Casti calls this book a work of scientific fiction. He has created a narrative in which five scientistsC.P. Snow, J.B.S. Haldane, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Erwin Schrodinger, and Alan Turingare invited to dinner to discuss whether machines will ever be able to think like human beings. He is well versed in the scientific positions of each of his characters as well as their personal characteristics and blends both together in a work that reads more like fiction than science. And the interaction of the five individuals, pairs of whom actually did know each other, gives the author a wealth of viewpoints to contrast to bring out the strength and weaknesses of their various arguments. But what does this work actually represent, aside from Casti's speculation and philosophical interpretation? He presents his ideas enthusiastically and clearly, but we are left with no more answers than the more recent artificial intelligence (AI) debates producedwhich perhaps says more about the lack of progress of AI than about Casti's protagonists. Hilary Burton, Lawrence Livermore National Lab., Livermore, CA
John D. Barrow
[Santa Fe Institute scientist Casti] has invented an evening of spirited over-dinner arguments [among C.P. Snow, Ludwig Wittgenstein, J.B.S. Haldane, Erwin Schroedinger and Alan Turing] to unveil the problems faced by machine intelligence. -- John D. Barrow
Michio Kaku
Witty, fast-paced, engaging, and always riveting. -- Michio Kaku
Kirkus Reviews
A fictional dialogue between five seminal modern thinkers, on the thorny subject of artificial intelligence. Casti (Would-Be Worlds, 1996) postulates that in June of 1949, the British government asks physicist and novelist C.P. Snow to sound out the scientific community on the subject of "thinking machines." In response, Snow throws a special dinner at Cambridge for mathematician Alan Turing, geneticist J.B.S. Haldane, physicist Erwin Schr"dinger, and philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. This book is an account of their imaginary meeting, as well as a portrait of these five remarkable personalities. By 1949, Turing's mathematics had laid the groundwork for the idea of a programmable computer, which he explains to the other guests to begin the discussion. At first, the gruff Haldane acts as the voice of "common sense," asking what a simple "Turing Machine" is actually good for. Schr"dinger is quicker to see the mathematical implications, but Wittgenstein questions whether a finite machine can mimic any natural phenomenon at all, let alone one as complex as thought. Over the course of the evening, Turing continues to explain his ideas (including the "Turing test") using various dishes and implements as the dinner progresses, while the urbane Snow acts as host and master of ceremonies. The others offer insights or criticisms of Turing's model, bringing in such familiar concepts as the "Chinese room" (here recast in terms of hieroglyphics) in which a translator merely manipulates symbols without understanding them; can he be said to think? The holes in the various arguments are exposed, and many of the central ideas of today's artificial-intelligence debates are clearly outlined in thesediscussions. While Casti's attempts to blend exposition and dialogue are wooden, he does a good job of laying out the key philosophical issues raised by artificial intelligence, and of delineating the thought of these five men. Historians of science will enjoy this imaginary meeting of minds; others may find the fare too esoteric.

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Product Details

Basic Books
Publication date:
Helix Bks.
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)

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