lilianxcheng, March 27, 2012 (view all comments by lilianxcheng)
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.
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"In a fast-paced, witty, and thoroughly winning style, Christian documents his experience in the 2009 Turing Test, a competition in which judges engage in five-minute instant-message conversations with unidentified partners, and must then decide whether each interlocutor was a human or a machine. The program receiving the most 'human' votes is dubbed the 'most human computer,' while the person receiving the most votes earns the title of 'most human human.' Poet and science writer Christian sets out to win the latter title and through his quest, 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.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
by Booklist (Starred Review),
"This book will surely change the way readers think about their conversations."
by New York Times Book Review,
"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."
by The New Yorker,
"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."
by The Wall Street Journal,
"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"
by The Boston Globe,
"Questions about what computers are doing to our minds lie at the heart of...[this] charming, friendly, and often funny read."
by Columbus Dispatch,
"[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 success."
by Kirkus Reviews,
"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."
"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."
by Matthew B. Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft,
"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."
by David Shenk, author of The Forgetting, The Immortal Game, and The Genius in All of Us,
"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."
by Alan Lightman, author of Einstein’s Dreams and Ghost,
"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."
by David Eagleman, author of Sum and Why The Net Matters,
"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?"
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