The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive Hardcover – Mar 1 2011
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"Illuminating.....an irreverent picaresque that follows its hero from the recondite arena of the 'Nicomachean Ethics' to the even more recondite arena of legal depositions to perhaps the most recondite arena of all, that of speed dating.....As THE MOST HUMAN HUMAN demonstrates, Christian has taken his own words to heart. An authentic son of Frost, he learns by going here he has to go, and in doing so proves that both he and his book deserve their title."--New York Times Book Review
"Terrific.....one of the rare successful literary offspring of Gödel, Escher, Bach, where art and science meet an engaged mind and the friction produces real fire......dense with ideas"--The New Yorker
"Absorbing.....Mr. Christian cleverly suggests that the Turing Test not only tells us how smart computers are but also teaches us about ourselves....Mr. Christian covers a great deal of ground with admirable clarity but with a lightness of touch, and he never tries too hard. He also has a real knack for summing up key ideas by applying them to real-life situations....Following Mr. Christian's advice, we should not see this victory as a threat but as a chance to learn even more about who we are. Every technology that seems to dehumanize us is an opportunity to rehumanize ourselves"--The Wall Street Journal
"Questions about what computers are doing to our minds lie at the heart of.....[this] charming, friendly, and often funny read."--The Boston Globe
"[A] curious look into the history and potential of artificial intelligence, and a brilliant comparison between artificial intelligence and our natural variety. Christian may have won a prize demonstrating his humanness, but confirms his victory in this humane, humorous and thought-provoking book.....Christian wants to call attention to how special we are, and his book is a succes"--Columbus Dispatch
"A fascinating exploration of what it means to be human. This book will surely change the way readers think about their conversations."--Booklist, starred review
"A heady exploration of the intersection of artificial intelligence (AI) and human nature. Christian's examination of the way machines are forcing us to appreciate what it means to be human leads him to explore everything from poetry, chess and existentialism…[and] offers an overview of the history of AI."
-- Kirkus Reviews
"Exhilarating....it does make you think. Reading it, I constantly found my mind pinging off of whatever Christian was discussing and into flights of exploratory speculation about the amount of information encoded in the seemingly routine exchanges of small talk or the reasons why it's much harder to tell a false story in reverse chronological order. It's an unusual book whose primary gift lies in distracting you from itself. I'd like to see the computers come up with something like that."--Salon
"This is a strange, fertile, and sometimes beautiful book. It has been said that man creates images of himself, then comes to resemble the images. Something like this seems to be going on with the computer. Brian Christian writes with a rare combination of what Pascal took to be two contrary mindsets: the spirit of geometry and the spirit of finesse. He takes both the deep limitations and halting progress of artificial intelligence as an occasion for thinking about the most human activity—the art of conversation."
--Matthew B. Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft
"This is such an important book, a book I've been waiting and hoping for. Machines are getting so smart that it forces us to take a completely fresh look at what smart is, and at what human is. Brian Christian takes on this very weighty task, and somehow makes it fun. Christian is nimble, insightful, and humble -- a very human human, indeed, and one you will like very much."
- David Shenk, author of The Forgetting, The Immortal Game, and The Genius in All of Us
"THE MOST HUMAN HUMAN is immensely ambitious and bold, intellectually provocative, while at the same time entertaining and witty – a delightful book about how to live a meaningful, thriving life."
--Alan Lightman, author of Einstein’s Dreams and Ghost
"A book exploring the wild frontiers of chat-bots is appealing enough; I never expected to discover in its pages such an eye-opening inquest into human imagination, thought, conversation, love and deception. Who would have guessed that the best way to understand humanity was to study its imitators?"
--David Eagleman, author of Sum and Why The Net Matters
About the Author
BRIAN CHRISTIAN holds a dual degree from Brown University in computer science and philosophy, and an MFA in poetry. His work has appeared in both literary and scientific journals.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
But I really enjoyed Brian Christian's sense of humor and, most of all, his rich English language. Until I opened this book, I'd been thinking that even though I was not a native speaker of English, I had a decent English vocabulary. My god, this writer knows how to surprise in a linguistic sense! No wonder, he's got the degrees in computer science and philosophy as well as poetry. Let me tell you something, if you are preparing for some crazy test like GRE, this is the book to read. Besides, I'm grateful to B. Christian's generous sharing and intriguing choice of the books for further reading.
"The Most Human Human" is an amazing book. I really enjoyed reading it, particularly the curious anecdotes from the Turing competitions and the preparations for them. On the downside, I'd say the author's obsession with us trying to stay human and not resemble the computers is a bit perplexing since stating the rules of how to achieve this objective is in a way an attempt to systematize, simplify, codify human behavior (or language in this case)...
I think there is nothing wrong with people resembling computers even though it might look degrading in the case of phone operators. This is a typical case of Pygmalion's wish. We always want what we create to be part of us...
I recommend it to anyone interested in computing, philosophy, or the arts of writing and conversation.
I will be coming back to this book over and over again, I have no doubt.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I can describe this book in two ways; one of them is the title of my review, the other is the title of another 2/5 review here on Amazon: "Maddeningly Unfocused".
The book starts off great, very appeasing to a geek like myself who's into some light reading. The book takes a nosedive once it gets heavy on pretentious philosophy, random (and frequent) musings, and page after page of content that makes you go "wait, what does this have to do with anything?!"
Had the book continued the way it started, I would be its biggest fan. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Still, some pages worth reading. 2/5
The Loebner Prize grew out of the Turing Test. Alan Turing was a brilliant British mathematician and codebreaker who in 1950 wrote about the test and predicted that it would be but fifty years before a computer could play the imitation game so well that the average interrogator could not tell it from a human. He was overoptimistic; programs competing for the Loebner Prize are doing better and better, and although they are not yet conversing as well as humans, to read Christian's book is to be convinced that someday it is going to happen. There are manuals to tell programmers how best to make conversation realistic, but Christian discovers there are no such guides to tell humans how to show themselves human. He talks with former competitors (and seems to have a collegial relationship with the humans who were in the tests with him) to get advice. Much of the book involves his interviews with linguists, information theorists, philosophers, and even lawyers about what the Turing Test means, and thereby what it means to be human, and the best ways to show it. And whatever it is that computers do, it is not thinking like we do. For instance, there is a conversational program called Cleverbot, which has been awarded prizes in the competition. It has a website, and not only can humans visit it and engage in conversation, Cleverbot borrows from what they tell it. It takes samples of these conversations and from the samples it makes its own answers and remarks. Since Cleverbot is an amalgamation of conversations, even though it can crunch a huge database of words and phrases actually used by humans, it doesn't do too well with even the most basic of conversation starters. "Where are you from?" I asked, and it said, "I don't know."
That's a true answer, of course! None of the computer programs comes close to knowing anything. Christian often asks us to look at an example of successful artificial intelligence, Deep Blue which defeated Garry Kasparov in chess in 1997. There is no doubt that the computer was playing chess. It might even be said to be planning moves or playing aggressively. But it had no idea what it was doing; it could not tell you what a pawn was, nor could it feel any thrill of victory. No conversation programs have any idea what they are doing, either; they are all simulating conversation. Some of the conversational give-and-takes reproduced here are just clunkers, remarks no human would make, but there are others that are surprisingly life-like. They are really conversations, just like Deep Blue was really playing chess, although the conversational computers are not nearly so good at their job as Deep Blue was at its job. It is comforting, in a way, that computers are so bad at something we take for granted, just chatting. Christian wants to call attention to how special we are, and his book is a success, showing that, among other things, humans can take into account context, allusion, and metaphor, which computers cannot. Even more important, when humans don't understand what has been said, they don't have to risk saying something stupid in response; they can ask questions to aid understanding, but computers have no understanding to be aided. It would be so fascinating to hear what Turing would say about these machines, or about the next generation of them that really is going to be able to converse with some sort of naturalness. What would Turing think, for instance, if Cleverbot turned really clever and sampled its huge database of conversations so well that it really was a good conversation partner? It's hard to believe that Turing would think that such successful sampling would actually be thinking. We will have reliable conversational computers sometime fairly soon; I predict that at that point, we will still be asking if computers are ever going to be able to think.
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