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Understanding Artificial Intelligence    Editors Scientific American order for
Understanding Artificial Intelligence
by Scientific American
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2002 (2002)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I have had a longstanding interest in the field of artificial intelligence, dating both from graduate studies in an early approach to the problem (automatic theorem proving) and from SF. My favorite AI hero is Robert Heinlein's Mycroft Holmes (Mike) in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress; my vote for most sinister goes to Harlan Elllison's horrific machine intelligence of I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream; and of course Isaac Asimov's I, Robot is the definitive work of fiction on the implications of intelligent robots.

I have been vaguely aware of advances in AI - from expert systems to the ubiquitous heuristics that drive computer strategy games - and looked forward to getting a more thorough update from this Scientific American compilation of essays on a field of research, whose spin-offs have been sneaking into many different aspects of daily life. Understanding Artificial Intelligence is entertaining, informative and insightful.

In On Computational Wings, authors Ford and Hayes review the Turing test and develop a fascinating analogy with the development of artificial flight. Lenat's Programming Artificial Intelligence discusses a project that goes beyond early expert systems to come to grip with computation of the 'skills and assumptions' that underly our thinking. Kosko illuminates the many applications of Fuzzy Logic (including fuzzy washing machines) and their tuning by neural network learning. Are we heading into a fuzzy future?

Hinton's How Neural Networks Learn from Experience describes investigation of machine models in order to understand 'the underlying mechanisms of learning.' Computing speed, long recognized as a prerequisite for the achievement of AI, is covered in Reed and Tour's Computing with Molecules, which describes recent (though still early) advances in the 'Lilliputian domain' of nanotechnology.

Intelligent Materials by Rogers goes into the intriguing efforts of 'modern-day alchemists' to animate inert substances with the ability to react to their environment. In The Coming Merging of Mind and Machine, Kurzweil predicts that 'in the 2020s neural implants will improve our sensory experiences, memory and thinking' through exponential advances in technology, and reverse-engineering of the human brain.

Moravec's Rise of the Robots predicts for 2010 full-sized robots with lizard-like brains, able to vacuum and take out the garbage - I can't wait! He expects that Asimov's dream of an intelligent robot will be realized by 2040. The AI guru and critic Marvin Minsky ponders human evolution and augmentation in Will Robots Inherit the Earth?

Research predictions are always dicy, but these essays make clear that there has been significant progress in the field of artificial intelligence, and that the pursuit, and everything learned along the way, is just as important as the goal. It's exciting stuff.

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