Starred Review. In a fast-paced, witty, and thoroughly winning style, Christian investigates the nature of human interactions, the meaning of language, and the essence of what sets us apart from machines that can process information far faster than we can. Ranging from philosophy through the construction of pickup lines to poetry, Christian examines what it means to be human and how we interact with one another, and with computers as equals—via automated telephone menus and within the medical establishment, for example. This fabulous book demonstrates that we are capable of experiencing and sharing far deeper thoughts than even the best computers—and that too often we fail to achieve the highest level of humanness. (Mar.)
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Easily one of the most inspiring books I’ve read this year. Brian Christian brings us into his journey of conquering the Turing Test which is an annual competition between humans and chatbots. Basically, human judges chat with either a chatbot or a human confederate. After five minutes of chatting, they decide if the other party is human. There are two winners, the Most Human Computer and The Most Human Human, The book follows his theories on how to prove his “humanity” along with plethora of intriguing anecdotes and raising an abundance of compelling points regarding the battles between AI and human intelligence. It took me more than a month to finish (because I was bombarded with other things), but the pace is well structured into bite-sized pieces. Christian explores the distillation of language in computers, the shortcuts, and the flaws. Perhaps the largest difference is that language is ephemeral, as soon you think you got it all straight, it starts to evolve and contort itself. Old Meanings fade away while new meanings arise.
You have to give it to the chatbots for being impressive. It seems like whatever strategy Reminds me of one of my older sister’s friends who loved to chat with Cleverbot (Cleverbot is a past Turing Test winner.) Cleverbot is actually just a database of past human answers which are fed right back to it’s users. It’s a smart plan, but fails when it comes to having a distinct identity, since Cleverbot is a compilation of answers from a multitude of people of different backgrounds. One moment Cleverbot may be a 16year old kid from Argentina, and the next a forty year old mother of two in Ohio.
We fear the intelligence of computers, as if it will attain self consciousness and take over the world. Arguably, computers are similar to humans more than a fax machine or a rice cooker simply because of its seemingly endless possibilities. Christian mentions that we buy computers and figure out what to do with them afterwards. We buy a computer then we use it to do our taxes, hop for a new pair of shoes, or chat with strangers; but seldom would one buy a rice cooker, only to go home and wonder if he should sit on it or throw it at their neighbor’s annoying dog. Humans seem to have the same problem, we aren’t completely sure what we were made to do because we are capable of so much. There’s a paradox to advancing technology, we want to test the limits but we are also fearful that what we discover will uproot our position as the most advanced beings.
Christian has created a masterpiece. I admit that while some of the language was hard to grasp (in particular the section on Chess, which I have no experience in), I did not feel it hindered the book. I have to applaud the conclusion, simply because it make me smile. I admit to falling into Christian’s trap (which he mentions) , where I was racing to the end of the book, counting page numbers till I was finished. Overall, I highly recommend this book for anyone and everyone. You will think twice about the way you write or talk to your friends. I had to jump on Omegle and Chatroulette in the midst of reading, just to test how “human” I could be. Of course, I was already familiar with those “chat with a strangers” websites, but reading this book makes you more observant of syntax, structure, and what makes humans so…human..