January 27, 2012

The Most Human Human

The Most Human HumanThe Most Human Human by Brian Christian

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good, but oh, it could have been better.

There's an annual Turing test event in Britain every year. A group of top computer programs compete against a group of human confederates, as the computers try to prove, per Alan Turing, that they're really humans, just as the humans do.

So far, no computer has won this test, but, given the relatively narrow parameters of the test at this particular contest, that may not be too far off.

Christian, who successfully competed to be a human "confederate," takes off from that point in the paragraph above, to riff on what it means to be human (the human confederate the judges in the Loeber prize most frequently judge to be human wins "the most human human" award), larger issues in communication and information theory, and more.

Christian invokes the likes of Douglas Hofstadter at times, and in his last chapter, especially, does some Hofstadter-type pondering.

Contra others that gave this less than five stars, I didn't mind the digressive tone of the book at all; in fact, I loved it. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of depth or follow-through on the speculation.

This book could have been, and should have been 50 pages longer at a minimum. A full 100 pages of additional material, without getting as long as Goedel, Escher, Bach, or as technical, could have been doable.

Oh, and given the number of people mentioned in the book ... no index?

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Anyway, as for my thoughts, beyond the review ...

Christian looked at depth of communication, especially non-formulaic communication, as being part of what makes us human. So, the ever-more "on," wired world may be dehumanizing indeed. Even for the harried US CEOS and their mega-millions.

So, like slow food, we need slow talk. We need to break some chains. That includes OWS protests ... they must be about quality of life, as well as quantity.

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