The Most Human Human is a provocative, exuberant, and profound exploration of the ways in which computers are reshaping our ideas of what it means to be human. Its starting point is the annual Turing Test, which pits artificial-intelligence programs against people to determine if computers can "think". Named for computer pioneer Alan Turing, the Turing Test convenes a panel of judges who pose questions - ranging anywhere from celebrity gossip to moral conundrums - to hidden contestants in an attempt to discern which is human and which is a computer. The machine that most often fools the panel wins the Most Human Computer Award. But there is also a prize, bizarre and intriguing, for the Most Human Human.
In 2008, the top AI program came short of passing the Turing Test by just one astonishing vote. In 2009, Brian Christian was chosen to participate, and he set out to make sure Homo sapiens would prevail.
The author’s quest to be deemed more human than a computer opens a window onto our own nature. Interweaving modern phenomena like customer service “chatbots” and men using programmed dialogue to pick up women in bars with insights from fields as diverse as chess, psychiatry, and the law, Brian Christian examines the philosophical, biological, and moral issues raised by the Turing Test.
One central definition of human has been a "being that could reason". If computers can reason, what does that mean for the special place we reserve for humanity?
©2011 Brian Christian (P)2011 Random House Audio
"This book will surely change the way readers think about their conversations." (Booklist)
"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)
"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)
Letting the rest of the world go by
The writer really knows how to talk about what it means to be human. The Turing Test competition is a device for the author to talk about what it means to be a human versus being a computer. The actual competition that the author wins is not as exciting as his preparation for the competition and his expositions on thinking machines (both humans and computers).
I come from more of a technical background in regards to AI, and found a more philosophical treatise on man vs machine refreshing. Many of my personal interests (computer chess, neural networks, the singularity, speculation on the soul) crossed here, which was thoroughly enjoyable. I did find some of the conclusions to be a bit self aggrandizing of the liberal arts, which unfortunately tainted my views on many of his arguments.
The writer is extremely precise with his choice in language, which is not surprising given his background in poetry, and his philosophical arguments were well laid out. From a technical perspective, this book targets a more lay audience, and thus was not difficult to follow.
It wasn't a book that really had characters other than the author himself.
It read a little slow at times, and tended to drift towards the end. It was interesting, but not a page turner by any means.
Awesome read. Not just about AI (though you can pick up lots if computer science jargon), but about language, philosophy, life... Lots of interesting discussions, though I'm slightly disappointed that in the end he merely related the results of the Turing test, and offered no transcript. I think it would have been fun, after learning about the strengths and weaknesses about programming bots and characteristics of computer vs human conversations, to read and see for ourselves if we could judge or pick up on nuances that help distinguish a bot's response from a human's. Left me with an optimistic kind of feeling though, like I want to go out and absorb reality in its fullest and live as unique, un-anonymous and "incompressible" a life as I can.
Interesting subject! However, the authors superfluous ramblings add up to very little in the end. If you must, go watch his talk at the Santa Fe Institute online - it's actually quite good.
I have often heard speakers use humans for inspiration in their attempts to build better A.I. - this is the first time I have heard an author use A.I. as a modus for building a better human. The erudition in this book is staggering, but it is never used boastfully. Instead the ideas get layered one on the other, building an artful and logical thesis. I was particularly inspired by his comparison of chess games to daily conversation; the beginnings and the endings are largely already known, the real chess playing lies in the middle game where the personality of the player comes through. In a conversation the work and the weather are standard openings - how we get away from the standard is where the real conversation starts.
One listen will not do for this book, I imagine I will be coming back to it many times in the years to come, as well as purchasing the hard copy in order to foist it on loved ones.
Depends on the friend's interests. This book is entertaining, but also thought-provoking.
This is really a philosophy book with the theme of the Turing competition between humans and computers to appear human as a theme to create some suspense. The thought and research that the author put into what makes us human, and the nature of human discourse is fascinating, but the Turing test is almost a distraction. (I must admit a prejudice. I think the idea of computers emulating humans is a waste of time and discussion, and not a valid direction for research. I published Computer Oriented Approaches to Pattern Recognition in 1972 and The Software Society this month that goes into this further.)
Christian's ideas, independent of the Turing test theme, are interesting and thought-provoking. They are well-written and enthusiastically presented in audio form. It seems today that we must come up with titles that grab a potential readers attention, but a title like "What it means to be a human" describes his focus better. Too bad that more readers aren't simply interested in philosophy and ideas.
It seemed like a personal message.
No one moment I can cite, but the discussion of how we converse, with its subtleties and meaningful pauses, is a subject that I found persuasive and haven't seen elsewhere in general reader sources.
A more unified story
The narrator wasn't a problem.
There was no Principal character.
If you have an average attention span don't read this book.
This is such a wonderful, thoughtful book about what it means to be human. Centered around the Turing Test, an annual competition for computers to exhibit intelligent behavior alongside human competitors in various language based assessments, the author trains to win The Most Human Human prize. While the prize is sort of a gag (since the competition is really meant to test the computers against real live people) the author starts to meditate on what it might mean to be the most human human and in the process discusses many interesting happenings in artificial intelligence as well as examples of people acting less than human. How many robotic, thoughtless, automatic tasks make up your day. How many things in your life are just like computer routines, written into your code at one point and run when necessary?
I read this almost a year ago and I still think about some of the things brought up.
I'm a diverse individual with a Masters in both Theology and Computer Science, a fellow traveler and explorer going after all the marrow I can get out of life!
This is a fascinating look at who we are as human beings from the perspective of a person picked to take part in a challenge to pick the computer out from a group of people. How far have computers come? Can they be mistaken for human beings? They can mimic human beings but what is it, really, that makes us different from them? This is the story of a man in a struggle to make that determination and be forced to test it. Think about it... you go to a web site and you are invited to "chat" with someone about the products offered on that site: are you chatting with a real human being? How can you tell? How you can tell, is what this book is about...
Probably... someday. The book touches on many different areas - all of which go into what it is to be human - many areas where one's own humanity could be considered sorely lacking. I also hope and expect to read the sequel, as I expect that the Turing contest is only going to get more interesting as time goes on.
Not sure. I will say that my very next audible.com purchase was "The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human" by Jonathon Gottschall. Narrated by Kris Koscheski.
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