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Society Of Mind [Paperback]

Marvin Minsky
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 15 1988 Touchstone Book
Marvin Minsky -- one of the fathers of computer science and cofounder of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT -- gives a revolutionary answer to the age-old question: "How does the mind work?"
Minsky brilliantly portrays the mind as a "society" of tiny components that are themselves mindless. Mirroring his theory, Minsky boldly casts The Society of Mind as an intellectual puzzle whose pieces are assembled along the way. Each chapter -- on a self-contained page -- corresponds to a piece in the puzzle. As the pages turn, a unified theory of the mind emerges, like a mosaic. Ingenious, amusing, and easy to read, The Society of Mind is an adventure in imagination.

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Society Of Mind + Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
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From Amazon

For some artificial intelligence researchers, Minsky's book is too far removed from hard science to be useful. For others, the high-level approach of The Society of Mind makes it a gold mine of ideas waiting to be implemented. The author, one of the undisputed fathers of the discipline of AI, sets out to provide an abstract model of how the human mind really works. His thesis is that our minds consist of a huge aggregation of tiny mini-minds or agents that have evolved to perform highly specific tasks. Most of these agents lack the attributes we think of as intelligence and are severely limited in their ability to intercommunicate. Yet rational thought, feeling, and purposeful action result from the interaction of these basic components. Minsky's theory does not suggest a specific implementation for building intelligent machines. Still, this book may prove to be one of the most influential for the future of AI.

From Publishers Weekly

Minsky, cofounder of MIT's Artificial Intelligence Lab, is a charter member of the community of AI pioneers committed to understanding the workings of the human mind and mimicking its processes by computer. Here he takes his place as this generation's Buckminster Fullera revered seminal thinker whose depth and originality sometimes place him out of reach for many. But Minsky's difference is his style: he writes aphoristically, with wit and precision, and makes the most of his perception that the mind learns by images, which perform as agents that connect, interact and even "censor" in a staggeringly subtle "society" of microprocedures. This holistic view of the mind's learning stages is the culmination of Minsky's study, and its insights into the developing world of computers-as-machines are matched by paradoxically intuitive glimpses of the growth of a sense of "self" through introspection, short- and long-term memory, mind-frames utilizing pictures and language. Minsky's creative terminology for freshly perceived mental processes is a major contribution to the future of mind-science. Illustrated. Major ad/promo; Macmillan Book Club alternate.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We are all greatly indebted April 22 2003
I was interested in AI for many years, and read hundreds of papers or books on the subject. After I found this book, I thought I wasted much time.
The book is about methodology of finding things out, and building things up.
Many researchers wrote books about AI or other sciences, and describe the philosophy in a different context. However, they are just the same thing presented in new fashions. And unfortunately, seldom give him the credit. An extreme example is the now best selling ANKOS by Wolfram, which is just an application of Minsky's theory with some variations, on some different problems!!
Scientific theories in the deepest sense are all based on the same philosophy -- building up complicated things from simple things. And the mathematician Minsky was the first to put all that simple-complicated theory all together in a concise small book, in a philosophic way, and for science people.
The philosophy can be applied to many fields, not only AI. It's also a philosophy of problem solving and modeling. Or, even how to study philosophy!
The book is quoted more often in philosophy papers than AI.
I recommend this book for all people who love knowledge.
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The fundamental assumption underlying the principles in the book is that the mind is a result of many small and independent pieces that act in a predictable way and CANNOT think for themselves - but that the result (the mind) CAN think. Of course, the title 'The Society of the Mind' is not a good fit to the ideas in the book because Society and its parts (individual minds) can BOTH think.
But leaving these kind of simple inconsistencies and incongruencies (I discovered at least a couple after some deep thinking) to the side, this book makes for an absolutely fascinating read if you are interested in the subject of how the mind works. The approach is very unique, and the ideas are thought provoking. There are 270 components in the book grouped into 30 chapters and each component takes up 1-2 pages to explain the idea and some basic logic supporting the idea presented in that component. The book has 339 pages in case you are wondering (including the index).
The format of the book makes it very convenient to pick up the book once in a while and read 5-6 ideas in a 15 minute sitting. Of course, to get the most benefit from the book, you have to read one chapter at a time as each chapter contains ideas that are interconnected. The best approach would be to finish reading the book in 2 or 3 sittings so you can connect all the ideas. The author does warn you at the beginning that there are a lot of cross-connections between the different ideas that you may miss. You have to take this advice into consideration and pay extra attention to connecting the ideas in order to get the real theory that the author is trying to communicate. He never actually explains the theory in a nutshell. He leaves it to the reader to come to some conclusions that hopefully will match the author's theory.
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In this book the author attempts to explain the workings of the human mind as a collection of a large number of autonomous mindless connected agents. The approach is metaphorical/philosophical, and no empirical evidence is given for the ideas expounded. The "society of mind", composed as it is of a collection of simple objects, is purely reductionist in its strategy and philosophy. It is though a highly original and thought provoking introduction to the major questions involving mental states, concept formation in the brain, learning theory, and artificial intelligence. The author gives many interesting examples that entice the reader to "think out of the box".
The book itself is written as though each chapter were itself one of these agents. Typically a chapter poses a question or a particular phenomenon, and the author then addresses how the mind would implement of resolve this question or deal with this phenomenon. Some interesting chapters in the book include:
1. Self-Knowledge is Dangerous: The author argues that mental constraints are needed to prevent the individual from artificially creating emotional states that would prevent deliberate action on our part. An intelligent machine will then need to have such constraints in order to prevent it from repeating endlessly the same activity.
2. Learning from Failure: Minsky argues that confining oneself to positive learning experiences will not be as robust or effective as one that will involve some kind of discomfort or pain. Such discomfort will enable more radical changes in conceptual structure.
3. Power of Negative Thinking: The author argues that an optimistic problem-solving strategy is contingent on the ability to recognize several paths to the solution, with the best path then selected.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Challenge from Minsky to Think Different May 20 2001
In the Society of Mind, Marvin Minsky advocates that the human mind is composed of a number of various networked agencies (or societies). He discusses a number of different areas (psychology, linguistics, reasoning, child development, computer science, humor, etc.) in the context of this mind-agency theme.
Minsky also assigns names to a number of other entities in our brains that he discusses. He calls these b-brains, k-lines, polynemes, pronomes, isonomes, trans-frames, uniframes, etc. They are all unified via this agency-thread. In any case, much of the work in the book is not originally Minsky's. However, the book serves as a collage of essays (all written by Minsky) which express Minsky's unique perspective on the mind and the work of others in these areas, namely Seymour Papert and Jean Piaget.
I recommend the Society of Mind to anyone interested in psychology or the human-computer interaction (HCI) and artificial intelligence (AI) sub-disciplines of Computer Science, or in looking at life in an esoteric way. In addition, a potential reader needs to be able to tolerate a book which is long and talks about a number of different areas, but by the end has really not made any concrete conclusions. In this book, Minsky states (describes) some obvious things (phenomenon) in complicated / drawn out manners. However, he does provide interesting perspectives on certain things. Minsky challenges us to think about common things in unique ways.
Marvin Minsky was the 1969 ACM A.M. Turing Award winner.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars This book tries to explain how the mind works
Before one can understand artificial intelligence one must understand the real thing.

This book has lots of fin diagrams as it explained the complexities of what is not... Read more
Published 10 months ago by bernie
5.0 out of 5 stars Minsky's signature work
In this collection of papers on how the mind work, Minsky seamlessly melds Cognitive Science, Psychology and Artifical Intelligence concepts into a collection of theories that... Read more
Published on June 1 2009 by Floyd F. James
5.0 out of 5 stars best book ever
I've never read anything as brilliant as this book. It's easy to read and couldn't put it down
Published on Dec 5 2004 by Jean Legros
5.0 out of 5 stars Reasonable instead of AI
Marvin Minsky are great scientist, but he and the crowd are mistaken.
Intelligence can't be artificial. Only system could. Read more
Published on June 4 2004 by Michael Zeldich
5.0 out of 5 stars a modern "The Origin of Species"
like Darwin's epiphany- Minsky's genius has revealed an idea that once understood- it is almost unquestionable- and makes you shout "Of course! Read more
Published on Jan. 23 2004 by T. Aubuchon
4.0 out of 5 stars Minsky is a bold thinker
I work in virtual human technology and Minsky has long been an inspiration. I can't just sit down and read this stuff through, I have to think about it in chunks. Read more
Published on Feb. 6 2003 by Quinbould
5.0 out of 5 stars How computers think
Minsky can't claim he knows how the mind works. However, he can claim he knows how to make mind-like things; as one of the persons turning dirt into a thinking machine on your... Read more
Published on Oct. 14 2002 by Brandon E. Wolfe
5.0 out of 5 stars The closest theory about the mind
I think this book is the closest and encomassing theory about the workings of the mind, as compared to other theories like neural network, expert systems in the field of AI. Read more
Published on March 28 2002 by Naveed Ahmad
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book to stimulate thought
Minsky's book isn't terribly profound or monumental. Most of his claims are purely his own philosophies, without much scientific backing. Read more
Published on Nov. 28 2001 by Andrew Fischer
4.0 out of 5 stars Minsky's Great Exposition of his Theory
This is an excellent introduction to one school of thought in cognitive science and Artificial Intelligence, namely, the "bottom-up" approach. Read more
Published on Oct. 21 2001 by C. Gardner
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