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The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive

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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 conv 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?


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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 conv 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?

30 review for The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive

  1. 4 out of 5

    Gendou

    This is one of the most poorly written must-reads I've ever read. The topic of artificial intelligence is very important and well-researched by the author. But the delivery is couched in half-baked philosophy and capital abuse of the poetic license. Many times I paused the audiobook to yell at Brian Christian. "Just say what you MEAN!" "I don't think that word means what you think it means!" This book's saving grace is that he did a really cool thing. He was a human "c This is one of the most poorly written must-reads I've ever read. The topic of artificial intelligence is very important and well-researched by the author. But the delivery is couched in half-baked philosophy and capital abuse of the poetic license. Many times I paused the audiobook to yell at Brian Christian. "Just say what you MEAN!" "I don't think that word means what you think it means!" This book's saving grace is that he did a really cool thing. He was a human "confederate" on the Loebner prize. This contest implements the famous Turing Test. There's a prize for the most human computer, and the most human human, thus the book's title. The author won the later prize, mostly by typing everything that popped into his head, but also by studying what makes people vote "human" on the other end. This journey takes us through all the different tricks AI programmers use to make their chat bots believable. It doesn't go into depth on algorithms, but it doesn't really need to. When he tries to talk jargon, he gets it horribly wrong. I remember something about "statistical" vs. "algorithmic" programming that made no sense to this reader with a bachelor's degree in computer science... The book also talks about the history of AI programming, from checkers to chess, etc. One of the stupidest parts of the book was the theme early on with the left vs. right hemisphere of the brain. Christian dragged this neuroscience fact through the dirt and into the realm of nonsense philosophy. He argues that we should teach "right-brained" stuff in school like dance. This is wrong. You don't need a PhD in dance to be a dancer. You do need a PhD physics to be a doctor or physicist. These disciplines are different, and one has unique value above the other simply because it's useful to society. Liberal arts degrees do grow on trees, you know. He also thinks that Catholic guild, Von Neumann architecture, and analytical thinking are all left-brained. They aren't. That's a pernicious and foolish myth. Brian Christian should know better. He has this weird fertilization of "analytical thinking" that it's somehow lower than other types of thinking simply because it's how computers think. This is backwards. It's the highest form of thinking, and that's why we're able to program it into computers. Other forms of thinking are more messy, less objective, and less specific to the real world. Other forms of thinking may be site-specific (to use one of Brian Christian's favorite pieces of jargon) to your situation or your own feelings, but that doesn't make these other forms of thinking better in any way. Take away all that personal context, and the only type of thinking you have left at the bottom of the barrel is a thin film of "analytical thinking". I sound like Brian Freaking Christian right now...

  2. 4 out of 5

    B Schrodinger

    "Algorithms To Live By" was such a special find. It spoke to me and how I think in so many ways. I know human behaviour is weird and varied, but there are patterns. And I am always looking to streamline what I do. And I am always asking why do we do it that way? Surely there's a better way to do this! So, I've been getting around to Brian's previous book for a few months. And it was also magnificent. Not quite so good, but still a humdinger! Brian takes us into his world of the Turing "Algorithms To Live By" was such a special find. It spoke to me and how I think in so many ways. I know human behaviour is weird and varied, but there are patterns. And I am always looking to streamline what I do. And I am always asking why do we do it that way? Surely there's a better way to do this! So, I've been getting around to Brian's previous book for a few months. And it was also magnificent. Not quite so good, but still a humdinger! Brian takes us into his world of the Turing Test. Of being a designated human in the lot. He looks at how similar our cultures and behaviour are away from a potential programmed AI, and he talks of how computers were made in our image, and how we make ourselves into their image. There are some meaty ideas in here. And I listened to it via Audible, read by Brian himself who is a wonderful speaker. His reading is full of nuance and is much more like a lecture than a reading.

  3. 4 out of 5

    ashley c

    I have a special interest in the philosophy of the mind - and I love reading and re-reading what people have to say about the brain, or mind, or soul. The computational theory of mind is the main angle that Christian explored in this book through the Turing Test and its implications. An AI passes the Turing Test when it's indistinguishable from a human, usually determined through conversation with another human. And there were times throughout history where different AI programs did pass the test - I have a special interest in the philosophy of the mind - and I love reading and re-reading what people have to say about the brain, or mind, or soul. The computational theory of mind is the main angle that Christian explored in this book through the Turing Test and its implications. An AI passes the Turing Test when it's indistinguishable from a human, usually determined through conversation with another human. And there were times throughout history where different AI programs did pass the test - even if it was just for 5 minutes. Christian presents a wonderful mish-mash of thoughts, comparisons, personal experiences, and research. The book was so stuffed full of ideas and I devoured them eagerly. "Our very essence is a kind of mongrelism. It strikes me that some of the best and most human emotions come from this lichen state of computer/creature interface, the admixture, the estuary of desire and reason in a system aware enough to apprehend its own limits, and to push at them: curiosity, intrigue, enlightenment, wonder, awe." Christian's book can be rambling a large portion of the time - it feels like a raw unedited draft with all his ideas and thoughts. It didn't bother me that much because I'm intrigued by most things he's wrote - but it would have been better if it was more structured. Something he said struck me: that currently, one of the biggest things that separates humans from AIs is that a human actively responds to new information and it's environment. We essentially change after every single new experience we have, because we are always adapting, updating ourselves. Whereas a programmed AI is limited to its program. Even when it's programmed to learn from new experiences it doesn't decide how it learns, only what. (I'm probably not doing this justice and I'm probably wrong, but that was my takeaway.) It blew me away.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Quite simply, the best book I've read, ever. I'm compelled get up out of bed and write down some thoughts after finishing The Most Human Human. I did a double-take when Christian wrote about listening to the Spice Girls in middle school. He writes way beyond his 26 years. On the other-hand maybe those further along in years are writing ever so slightly off the pulse of the intersection of humans and technology. In contrast to What Technology Wants by Kelly, a journalist and also a favorite of mi Quite simply, the best book I've read, ever. I'm compelled get up out of bed and write down some thoughts after finishing The Most Human Human. I did a double-take when Christian wrote about listening to the Spice Girls in middle school. He writes way beyond his 26 years. On the other-hand maybe those further along in years are writing ever so slightly off the pulse of the intersection of humans and technology. In contrast to What Technology Wants by Kelly, a journalist and also a favorite of mine, Christian passes some sort of authenticity tech guru turing test. I point out his age because, in essence, what I'm left with is faith that we, humans, get better with each generation just as Christian's generation is showing the world. That despite the unbounded trajectory of computing power, Humans are also unbounded. Computing will keep taking ground but humans will keep taking the higher ground. Christian writes that the year the Turing test is passed is not the year to watch. It's the next year, when Humans roll up their sleeves and prove that we are context aware, anti-cliche, anti-summupable, autoincorrectable, entropy-rich, uncompressable and have awoken once more from complacency. The singularity IS near but humans will continue to lead computing right past that non- event. I have new faith that my sons and their generation will be smart as hell as a result of this sublime tension of humans and computing.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Bill Horne

    In principle, I should have loved this book. I did my PhD in machine learning. I have a fascination with philosophy. But, I found it somewhat tedious at times. I kept wanting to hear more about his actual experience with the competition. He should have included the transcript, or at least more excerpts. But, there was not very much about his experience with the competition at all. Instead it was a collection of examples of how humans differ from computers, or how ideas from AI apply to humans, e In principle, I should have loved this book. I did my PhD in machine learning. I have a fascination with philosophy. But, I found it somewhat tedious at times. I kept wanting to hear more about his actual experience with the competition. He should have included the transcript, or at least more excerpts. But, there was not very much about his experience with the competition at all. Instead it was a collection of examples of how humans differ from computers, or how ideas from AI apply to humans, etc. I thought the last major chapter on compression could have, ironically, been compressed. On the plus side, it's a very unique book. There were some very interesting observations. It was well written, and at times the writing was quite funny.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Bruce

    First there was Eliza. Then fractal music giving way to database-rich Bach- and Beethoven-simulators. Then Deep Blue. Then Watson. Soon… R. Giskard Reventlov of Aurora? Philip K. Dick’s Preserving Machine? Suffice it to say that The Most Human Human is one of the best nonfiction books it has been my pleasure to read. It touches on all my favorite topics -- recreational math, information theory, philosophy, social psychology, virtual vs. genuine identity – it’s like John Searle meets Willia First there was Eliza. Then fractal music giving way to database-rich Bach- and Beethoven-simulators. Then Deep Blue. Then Watson. Soon… R. Giskard Reventlov of Aurora? Philip K. Dick’s Preserving Machine? Suffice it to say that The Most Human Human is one of the best nonfiction books it has been my pleasure to read. It touches on all my favorite topics -- recreational math, information theory, philosophy, social psychology, virtual vs. genuine identity – it’s like John Searle meets William Poundstone as might have been channeled through Alex Trebek. Those wishing to preview the themes and overall plot of the book in greater depth can read the author’s own 8-page online redaction. I did, and can assure you it only whetted my appetite to read the book itself. Nor did this book disappoint. For those too time-strapped or lazy to check out the redacted version, here’s a thumbnail sketch. If you only had 5 minutes of text-only IM’ing to convince somebody you were YOU, could you do it? How would a stranger figure out that yours were not the automated responses of a preprogrammed ‘bot, nor that of a phisher, nor even that of David Bowie, but YOU. (Umm, uunless, of course, you *are* David Bowie, in which case, may I suggest you use this book’s premise for your next concept album?) Could you convince them? And how would you do it? How do we recognize each other as distinct individuals? How does one measure the soul? Who are we really? That’s the challenge that Christian sets for himself, and if this strikes you as a bit arbitrary as personal challenges go, then you need a bit of background on Alan Turing’s test and its annual incarnation as the Loebner Prize. Alan Turing was a math genius who cracked the Nazi’s Enigma code and helped invent the modern-day computer among other things. (This bit of history is fascinating and well worth your time, as you get to meet not only Turing, but guys like Claude Shannon, Johnny Von Neumann, John Nash, and others. Fiction readers can find them in Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon and the film “A Beautiful Mind;” casual nonfiction readers will find them in books by William Poundstone, James Gleick, and Richard Rhodes, and all of these I highly recommend. Turing was fascinated by the idea of artificial intelligence and thinking machines and proposed that the only way to tell the difference between a sentient and nonsentient being was through a basic conservatory audition. Only, instead of some aspiring floutist piping their way through Fauré’s Morceau des Concours in hopes of an appointment, it was an invisible conversant. If the auditors believed their interlocutor to be human, then voila! Whatever turned out to be behind the screen would have to be considered capable of independent thought. Seem crazy? Yeah, crazy like a fox, and it was only a matter of time before the Turing test got institutionalized in the form of the Loebner Prize competition, that 5-minute IM thing to which Christian wangled himself an invitation (thus the challenge at the core of this book). However, Christian isn’t content to “just be himself” in the hope and expectation that so doing will prove sufficient to win over the Loebner’s panel of PhD’d judges (psychologists, linguists, computer programmers, etc.), nor does Christian want merely to outcompete the various chatbots entered alongside him and his fellow human controls/confederates. No, Christian is out to prove to all and sundry that not only is he capable of demonstrating his humanity anonymously to strangers, he can do so better than any other human in the competition. Much of the book deals with his efforts as a kind of Rocky Balboa IV, training himself to challenge the Ivan Dragos of chatbots and fellow panelists to a human-off. Think it’s easy, do you? Try sitting down next to someone at random on the Acela and striking up a conversation without mentioning the weather or running some other personally pre-programmed bit of dialogue: “Hi, how are you, my name’s ___, where are you headed, etc.” Unless you’re a transactional analyst, you’d be surprised how much of our lives come to us pre-scripted in your typical five-minute span. The issues touched on here run from the sublimity of learning to live life to its fullest (by avoiding rote, repetitive experiences) to the ridiculous informational density of language (he shares his results playing the “Shannon Game” at p. 227 -– I tried it and can tell you that the phrases given are bizarre, and not always grammatical; anyway, it’s worth playing once). Along the way, he offers a rogues gallery of chatbots -- from the ever-popular therapist Eliza and her patient foil Manny all the way to present-day AIs like the U.S. Army’s SGT STAR – as well as a collection of brain-damaged case-studies the likes of which would fascinate even the pickiest Oliver Sacks fan. If you think you can’t be fooled by a cleverly-written script, the next time you’re desperate for tech help and Click to Chat! to a real-live expert, try getting a rise out of your deponent. Only if you can manage to get it off book and not spewing non sequiturs will you have assurances you have an intelligent counterpart. (This still might not be human, but at this level I think it prejudice to discriminate.) The book overruns with ideas. For example, Christian offers a terrific alternative to the zero-sum forensics of debate/Model UN at pp. 179-180 that manages to promote constructive, persuasive argument and collaboration in a competitive context that all educators should be made to read. For another, there’s this brilliant passage at p. 237 that all Goodreaders ought to appreciate: People complain from time to time about folks who read the Cliffs-Notes to a book, or reviews or essays about a book, but don’t read the book itself. Hey, if the information density of Anna Karenina is low enough that a review 1 percent as long conveys 60 percent of the form and content ‘gist’ of the book, then it’s Tolstoy’s fault. His readers are human beings with only twenty-eight thousand days or so separating birth and death. If they want to read the lossy gloss and move on, who can blame them? Likewise for conceptual art: who needs to see a Duchamp toilet when you can hear about one so much faster and extract most of the experience from that? Conceptual art might be, for better or worse, (definable as) the art most susceptible to lossy compression.The Most Human Human is really a wonderful book. You can take it from me, assuming that at this point in my exegesis I have indeed managed not only to bring you round, but have done so without you having recourse to wonder whether or not *I* and only I wrote this text -- without resort to plagiarism, paraphrase, or other outside assistance organic or otherwise. (See, e.g., my trilogy of essays on this conundrum, the first of which can be found here.) To put it another way: everything that has ever been written or will ever be written can be found in the Universal Library (including all languages, all typos, all lossless compressions of all 4D smellavision film versions, and this review). It has been said (by Martin Gardner, I believe, that it would take more matter than we know to actually be in existence to replicate the Library. On this basis alone, you’d think it safe to conclude that no computer could be devised to make appropriate selections… that each distinct work must be the result of an independently operating, organic intelligence. But computers are matter as we are matter, and we believe ourselves each to have a unique identity, a unique voice. Brian Christian argues passionately that we can work at and improve our too-human, perfectly-flawed organic experience, and thereby exalt ourselves. We need never lose a *real* Turing test to a computer, however it may be run. Of course, computers, programmers' children, are wonderful mimics. It's only a matter of time.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Nikki

    I was hoping for more of the artificial intelligence part of this book, but it turned out to be more "what we can do better than AIs", which wasn't quite what I was interested in. It's an interesting meditation on what sets us apart, in some places, though it's lacking in organisation -- if I tried to turn in my dissertation with such random chaptering and subtitles, I'd be whacked over the head with the red pen of loving correction by my supervisor. It didn't flow at all well. And I know it's n I was hoping for more of the artificial intelligence part of this book, but it turned out to be more "what we can do better than AIs", which wasn't quite what I was interested in. It's an interesting meditation on what sets us apart, in some places, though it's lacking in organisation -- if I tried to turn in my dissertation with such random chaptering and subtitles, I'd be whacked over the head with the red pen of loving correction by my supervisor. It didn't flow at all well. And I know it's non-fiction, but it felt clunkily info-dumpy. Half the time I was going duh, I know this stuff, that's why I'm reading this book and the other half whoa, slow down. I think this could be a very interesting book, if it caters to what you're interested in. I was more interested in the artificial intelligences, of which there's very little direct discussion...

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mishehu

    At last, proof positive that degrees in philosophy and poetry superbly complement a degree in computer science! TMHH is an extended think piece, thread through with prose poetic writing, on how human minds and silicon ones are alike and how they differ. It is a hugely thought-provoking book, sentence after paragraph after page after page. Judging from its jacket photo, the author is a pretty young guy (a striking contrast with the depth and maturity of the book in review). May he have a long and At last, proof positive that degrees in philosophy and poetry superbly complement a degree in computer science! TMHH is an extended think piece, thread through with prose poetic writing, on how human minds and silicon ones are alike and how they differ. It is a hugely thought-provoking book, sentence after paragraph after page after page. Judging from its jacket photo, the author is a pretty young guy (a striking contrast with the depth and maturity of the book in review). May he have a long and fruitful writing career ahead of him. And may he continue cogitating on the blurring boundaries between man and machine. There's enormous wisdom in his thinking. Splendid book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ivy

    This is a fine book. Which is a huge disappointment, because it could have been excellent. It has one of the best premises--and best titles--of any book to come out recently. It got a lot of press, because the interest in the topic is immediate and obvious. With all that, I wanted a story of the Loebner Prize and the author's quest for the Most Human Human award, along with some computer science and philosophy. I didn't get a story of the Loebner Prize--at all. He talks about leading This is a fine book. Which is a huge disappointment, because it could have been excellent. It has one of the best premises--and best titles--of any book to come out recently. It got a lot of press, because the interest in the topic is immediate and obvious. With all that, I wanted a story of the Loebner Prize and the author's quest for the Most Human Human award, along with some computer science and philosophy. I didn't get a story of the Loebner Prize--at all. He talks about leading up to it, makes a few references to the actual event randomly throughout, and then skips to the award ceremony, which was profoundly disappointing. As for the computer science and philosophy, well... There's a lot of it. Christian talks about human speech patterns, which, in spoken conversation, are overlapping, interrupting, digressing--everything but linear. Maybe it was his intent to write the book that way, but if it was, it's an impressive failure. There are some chapters that have a coherent direction. But most of them randomly wander off and never get to the point. You might find yourself suddenly reading about Aristophanes in Plato's Symposium and never quite figure out how that has anything at all to do with the Turing test. Sometimes he'll give a bit of a precis at the start of the chapter, but then he won't follow it. And there are all these headers throughout, which contain no structural value at all. It seems like he wrote the thing and then just stuck a header in whenever a pun occured to him. Or whenever he realized that this page-long bit has nothing to do with anything in the text surrounding it. And they're all A-heads, so they don't help create a sense of hierarchy. There are also random epigraphs, sometimes in the middle of a section. I get it, dude, you studied philosophy and poetry. You know stuff. But you need to work all of this material together into a coherent whole, instead of leaving all the lumps in the gravy. So as you read, you find yourself in a forty-page long digression about data entropy and compression algorithms. Or not even a digression, really, because "digression" implies some sort of starting off point, and the only relation this seems to have to the purported topic of the book is that he read about it while researching the book. And there are some interesting things about how video compression works in there, but somewhere in the hour or so of reading this chapter, you start to wonder what the hell happened to the narrative. The chapters that I liked best were the ones I read all in one sitting--it seems like you need to take this book in hundred-page chunks in order for him to wander back to his topic often enough to figure out what's going on. There are interesting things in this book. But--honestly--the interesting things have already been mined. I've heard several radio stories based on this book, and a few more brushing the same topics (on This American Life and Radiolab). Those stories were a lot better than this book is. Which shows what a really talented journalist can do with the material. Christian, on the other hand, mostly squanders it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Danny

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Once awhile we chanced upon a book that really altered the way we look at things. The every-day things. Learning from machines to become more human. Doesn’t it sound odd? Brain Christian rightly pointed out that computers are tool designed without a specified purpose initially, and tons of applications were designed after computers (tools) were constructed. Now, we can see the power of computing applied to almost every mundane activity. With computers seemingly invading all Once awhile we chanced upon a book that really altered the way we look at things. The every-day things. Learning from machines to become more human. Doesn’t it sound odd? Brain Christian rightly pointed out that computers are tool designed without a specified purpose initially, and tons of applications were designed after computers (tools) were constructed. Now, we can see the power of computing applied to almost every mundane activity. With computers seemingly invading all territories of our daily activities, taking over human jobs, and with our ever-increasing reliance on computers to manage our schedule and tasks, it is inevitable that we question just how much has machines become human. To answer that question, Brian Christian goes on to explore what really make a human.... human? The differentiating factor is our unique ability to "communicate" with each other. Most languages are designed around a very structured system, yet we adopt an unstructured way to deliver our ideas, thoughts and feelings everyday. Our tendency to add in conversational fillers (uhh, umm), having unique slang, ability to have our own point of view, having a 'stateful' identity, adding in emotions, all are contributing factors that add depth and flow into conversation that makes us human. Something computers just isn't quite there yet. By creating new thoughts and ideas, and selectively choosing words, every conversation in itself is a poetry. Conversations with machines are repetition and a mimic of ideas that are after all... inputs. Without those 'human' elements, we will never get the form of satisfaction and fulfillment in a conversation with a computer. The duels of arguments and counter-arguments. The gamble of approvals and rejections. The power of anger and encouragement. The emotional energy that bounces off two people. Conversation with another human being is very much rewarding. Something that computers will never take away from us. And i'll start to treasure the one thing that make me uniquely human.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Xavier Shay

    Fantastic. Very readable and surprisingly interesting given how much of the referenced material I've already read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    A competition called the Turing test takes place each year. Judges at computer terminals interact with unseen correspondents. Each judge has two correspondents, one a human being and one a computer program, and the judge tries to tell which is which after a five minute online conversation with each. The program that receives the most votes and highest judge confidence score is named the Most Human Computer. This title is highly coveted by programmers. A side result of the voting, however, is tha A competition called the Turing test takes place each year. Judges at computer terminals interact with unseen correspondents. Each judge has two correspondents, one a human being and one a computer program, and the judge tries to tell which is which after a five minute online conversation with each. The program that receives the most votes and highest judge confidence score is named the Most Human Computer. This title is highly coveted by programmers. A side result of the voting, however, is that the human who receives the most votes and highest judge confidence score is named the Most Human Human. It is from this side of the Turing test that author Brian Christian writes his book The Most Human Human. He sets out to participate in the test as a correspondent and to win the Most Human Human title. Along the way, he philosophizes about what it means to be human and how our interaction with computers is affecting that. He notes, “We once thought humans were unique for having a language with syntactical rules, but this isn’t so; we once thought humans were unique for using tools, but this isn’t so; we once thought humans were unique for being able to do mathematics, and now we can barely imagine being able to do what our calculators can.” The author makes the point that cell phones, texting, and programs that finish our words for us are making us less creative. It is easier to use the word the phone suggests than to fight the phone and type the word we meant to use. He writes, “I was detachedly roaming the Internet, but there was nothing interesting happening in the news, nothing interesting happening on Facebook…I grew despondent, depressed – the world used to seem so interesting…But all of a sudden it dawned on me, as if the thought had just occurred to me, that much of what is interesting and amazing about this world did not happen in the past twenty-four hours. How had this fact slipped away from me? …. Somehow I think the Internet is making this very critical point lost on an entire demographic.” Christian is an interesting guy. He has a dual bachelor’s degree in computer science and philosophy and a master of fine arts in poetry. He understands the scientific angle of the Turing test but also the human side of what it means for a human to challenge a computer. There is a wonderful scene during the Turing test when he spies on a fellow human correspondent’s chat with a judge and realizes they are chatting in shorthand about Canadian hockey teams, virtually assuring that the judge knows he is talking to a human. This causes Christian a moment of panic and despair when he fears that he will lose the Most Human Human title. Christian’s views on how we interact with the world are refreshing. He says, “I think the reason novels are regarded to have so much more ‘information’ than films is that they outsource the scenic design and cinematography to the reader. … This, for me, is a powerful argument for the value and potency of literature specifically.” I felt somewhat lost toward the end of the book when it got a bit scientific, but the science was not too overwhelming, and I wouldn’t let that put you off as a potential reader. I enjoyed this book tremendously, and it really made me think.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sheri

    This was an interesting read. Not for the reasons I was expecting when I started it, but interesting nonetheless. Christian starts out with his raison d'ecrire (hah..try Shannon Gaming that one!) as the Loebner prize 2009 Turning test competition, but quickly veers off into a discussion of, well lots of stuff. As other reviewers have noted, he does not always follow a tangential line of thought and it is not always clear how all of his details are relevant. Nor does he really describe the Loebne This was an interesting read. Not for the reasons I was expecting when I started it, but interesting nonetheless. Christian starts out with his raison d'ecrire (hah..try Shannon Gaming that one!) as the Loebner prize 2009 Turning test competition, but quickly veers off into a discussion of, well lots of stuff. As other reviewers have noted, he does not always follow a tangential line of thought and it is not always clear how all of his details are relevant. Nor does he really describe the Loebner prize. Instead, he gives us a history of AI and computer science and a philosophical discussion about what it means to be a human (from the "I think therefore I am" POV all the way to "we don't parse our words when we speak aloud"). The discussion was interesting (and yeah, I get that he needed to write a full book and there is lots to meat up just the competition), but I kinda wanted to know more about the actual Turing test. I would have liked transcripts of THE ACTUAL COMPETITION for example. Despite not always relating, Christian is pretty easy to read and I learned some from the book, so it gets 4 stars. One of my chuckle aloud moments was when reading his footnote about how he always enjoys the beginnings of books more than the end. At some point, the completions of the project (finish the book) becomes more important than the book itself and he blames this (in part) on the book software he uses to review/take notes on what he reads. Hah! I can totally relate to getting to a point in a book where I know I am gonna finish it today or tonight and then HAVE TO WRITE A REVIEW. And yeah, I am eager to just get done with it already so I can start a new one. One that is bright and sparkly and doesn't have a pending review in the next few hours. I have below my favorite moments/comments/soundbytes: "Having a sense of a person--their disposition, character, 'way of being in the world'--and knowing about them--where they grew up, how many siblings they have, what they majored in, where they work--are two rather different things." "Our very essence is a kind of mongrelism. It strikes me that some of the bets and most human emotions come from this lichen state of computer/creature interface, the admixture, the estuary of desire and reason in a system aware enough to apprehend its own limits, and to push at them: curiosity, intrigue, enlightenment, wonder, awe." "I suppose when you get down to it, everything is always once in a lifetime. We might as well act like it." "It's what we want, chatting with old friends, when our familiar opening book....is not so much a conversation per se as a means for arriving at one-gives pleasantly way to the expectedly unexpected, awaitedly idiosyncratic veers; it's what anyone wants from any conversation, and what artist want from their art; a way to breeze past formalities and received gestures, out of book and into the real thing." "computers become in effect the first tools to precede their tasks: their fundamental difference from staplers and hole-punchers and pocket watches. You build the computer first, and then figure out what you want to do.....seems to chip away at the existentialist idea of humans' unique purchase on the idea of existence before essence."

  14. 4 out of 5

    Bastian Greshake Tzovaras

    I seem to have a thing going for books that describe how the author tries to achieve some weird self-set goal (reading the Britannica in order to win a game show, reading through the complete OED, becoming US memory champion). In this instance the goal is to win the 'most human human' award that is given out at an annual Turing test. To bring everyone up to speed: the Turing test was meant as a measure how well artificial intelligences perform. Judges have to have a 1:1 chat with a computer and I seem to have a thing going for books that describe how the author tries to achieve some weird self-set goal (reading the Britannica in order to win a game show, reading through the complete OED, becoming US memory champion). In this instance the goal is to win the 'most human human' award that is given out at an annual Turing test. To bring everyone up to speed: the Turing test was meant as a measure how well artificial intelligences perform. Judges have to have a 1:1 chat with a computer and a human confederate without knowing which 'intelligence' is only based in silico and have to make a call of which participant was human and which was the machine. If a computer can fool ~30% of the judges into believing that they are the human participant the program is said to have passed the Turing test and for the Loebner Prize there's the 'Most Human Computer'-Award for the program hat fools most judges, even if not passing the threshold. But as the competition is a zero-sum game (for each time the computer fools a judge into believing that it's human a human must be flagged as non-human) there's also the award for the human confederate that can convince the most judges that they are in fact human. So that's what Christian is trying to win. And instead of just acting like a regular human being he sets out to prepare for the test by reading up on AI, computational linguistics and information theory to find the weak spots of current chatbots. Which is fun to read and one quickly notices that he has a professional background in computer science, philosophy and poetry. I really enjoyed reading about the different strategies applied to fake being human, like turning the chat into a shouting match, as insults are no longer dependent on a larger context but from a computer science perspective are more of a Markov chain, where your retort is only dependent on the last observed state. Another fun topic was the application of the Shannon Entropy to text input on mobile devices via T9 and the different auto-correction algorithms around. Christian argues that these methods are shaping how you write, as they perform best on the vocabulary they were designed on and you thus unconsciously start to adapt to that vocabulary. Anecdotally this is just what I observe while typing away on my phone: Instead of the software adapting to my needs and figuring out what I wanted to say, I start to adapt to the idiosyncrasies of the auto-completion feature and try to predict what words the software can make most sense of, in order to avoid the software turning my intended writing into gibberish (especially for those üseless umlauts while typing in German. And I still have fond memories of T9 turning 'Sure, I'll come over and bring beer' into 'Sure, I'll come over and bring AIDS'). To borrow from Philipp's closings: Recommended for anyone interested in AI and computational linguistics (probably less if you're an expert in one of those fields).

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    The context for this exploration of human intelligence is an annual contest in which judges engage in casual 'chats' with computers and humans and try to determine which is which. The point of the contest, of course, is to determine the "most human" computer, a modified Turing test. The risk to the human entrants is that they might be judged a computer! The author was determined not to let that happen to him and so he engages in one of the most entertaining explorations of what it means to engag The context for this exploration of human intelligence is an annual contest in which judges engage in casual 'chats' with computers and humans and try to determine which is which. The point of the contest, of course, is to determine the "most human" computer, a modified Turing test. The risk to the human entrants is that they might be judged a computer! The author was determined not to let that happen to him and so he engages in one of the most entertaining explorations of what it means to engage in distinctively 'human' conversation. One flaw perhaps is that there is relatively little here about the details of the conversations that convinced the judges that the author (spoiler alert) was not a computer, or to show whether the computers were particularly inept that year at seeming human. Still, there are bits of transcripts from years of the contest to illustrate the strategies that do and don't work. Recently, I've read about a man who trained his mind to remember random information, but not where he parked his car (Moonwalking with Einstein), and a woman who obsesses over every detail of her life and each day's events, but can't remember phone numbers (The Woman Who Can't Forget). But this book convinces me that it would be far better to have some imagination and the ability to tell a good story than to have either of these extraordinary memory talents.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jesse

    I loved this book. I started with rather low expectations; sort of expecting a new york times style high level view of machine learning and its implications. What I got instead was profound insight into what machine intelligence can tell us about what it means to be human. I suspect I'll look at life differently, both my human interactions and my observations, for weeks to come. I wish I'd been taking notes, because every time there was a great concept which I thought deserved more thought or re I loved this book. I started with rather low expectations; sort of expecting a new york times style high level view of machine learning and its implications. What I got instead was profound insight into what machine intelligence can tell us about what it means to be human. I suspect I'll look at life differently, both my human interactions and my observations, for weeks to come. I wish I'd been taking notes, because every time there was a great concept which I thought deserved more thought or research, another one would come along and replace it. I'll definitely have to reread this book. If you're interested in philosophy or in how stuff works, I can't recommend this book enough.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Libby

    A very interesting, well researched book on what it means to be human in light of developments in artificial intelligence. The traditional factors that defined what it was to be human no longer apply due to the fact that computers can exhibit most, if not all, of these qualities - especially reason - so where does that leave us? What does set us apart? This book is highly thought-provoking. The author does wander quite a bit and it could have been more cohesive but overall it was very enjoyable.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Karel Baloun

    An exceptional book on what it means to be truly human, truly empowered for uniqueness and collaboration. Also, as literature, so many precise words and exquisite constructions. Stretched my mind.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

    I didn't know what to expect from this book, but it surprised and delighted me with its thoughtful but not stodgy exploration of what it means to be human. The author entered the annual staging of the Turing Test--not as an author of a chatbot, but as a human. The Turing Test is where judges blindly IM with chatbots and humans and try to tell them apart; if a chatbot is reliably mistaken for human, the creator of the test proposed, then it could be said to be artificially intelligent. The book e I didn't know what to expect from this book, but it surprised and delighted me with its thoughtful but not stodgy exploration of what it means to be human. The author entered the annual staging of the Turing Test--not as an author of a chatbot, but as a human. The Turing Test is where judges blindly IM with chatbots and humans and try to tell them apart; if a chatbot is reliably mistaken for human, the creator of the test proposed, then it could be said to be artificially intelligent. The book explores the nature of human intelligence and of artificial attempts at intelligence, from the significance of chess to competitive chatbots to neuroscience and philosophy. Think of the Turing Test. If a computer program wins, that means that a human lost: judges have two conversations at a time and must decide which is the human and which is the computer. If a program is declared to be human, that means the human was declared to be a computer. The human lacked ... humanity? The advice to human participants is to "just be yourself", but the author can't do that. He's an over-achiever, he wants to study for and excel at this test of his humanity. The topics weren't so enchanting as the approach; the author dazzled me with insight and connection on every page. I know a little about Artificial Intelligence, I thought: I took a class at uni, I pushed machine learning on O'Reilly Radar before everyone was doing it, I've written a chatbot, and I've read Douglas Hofstadter. But, not just once but repeatedly and consistently, Christian surprises me with a new way of looking at a familiar topic. For example:“Sometimes it seems,” says Douglas Hofstadter, “as though each new step towards AI, rather than producing something which everyone agrees is real intelligence, merely reveals what real intelligence is not.” While at first this seems a consoling position—one that keeps our unique claim to thought intact—it does bear the uncomfortable appearance of a gradual retreat, the mental image being that of a medieval army withdrawing from the castle to the keep. But the retreat can’t continue indefinitely. Consider: if everything of which we regarded “thinking” to be a hallmark turns out not to involve it, then ... what is thinking? It would seem to reduce to either an epiphenomenon—a kind of “exhaust” thrown off by the brain—or, worse, an illusion. I'm familiar with this line of thinking, but this is the first time I'd seen it presented in a way that let me connect it directly to the "God of The Gaps" argument. In that line of thought, God is presumed to be behind everything that science can't explain, which leaves God to be "what science hasn't explained yet", presumably on a monotonically decreasing course to irrelevance. Similarly, the Thing That Makes Humans Special (what Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert calls "The Sentence": "The human being is the only animal that can ___") is constantly being shot down and replaced with something new: And here’s a crucial, related question: Is this retreat a good thing or a bad thing? For instance, does the fact that computers are so good at mathematics in some sense take away an arena of human activity, or does it free us from having to do a nonhuman activity, liberating us into a more human life? The latter view would seem to be the more appealing, but it starts to seem less so if we can imagine a point in the future where the number of “human activities” left to be “liberated” into has grown uncomfortably small. What then? I really liked the section on computer chess. I had forgotten how seriously chess was held up as an icon of man's superiority over the machine, even though now that attitude seems a quaint relic of a bygone day. Particularly eye-opening was how IBM refused a rematch: as soon as they'd won (through a Kasparov error that was the equivalent of poker's throwing away the pair and keeping the mismatched cards), they dismantled Deep Blue, ended the research program, and moved on. So they would play rematches, improving the computer each time, until man and computer were close enough that the computer could win one series ... at which point they denied the human the chance to improve and regain superiority. Didn't seem right. He connects the strange conversational experiment of the Turing Test to speed dating (having to create a quick instant rapport with someone), Chat Roulette (one popular chatbot may work in a similar fashion, connecting humans to each other), philosophical insistence on "authenticity", coherence of identity (bots that learn responses from lots of people have no consistent self: will say they're a single woman when replying to one question, but happily married man as a reply to a different question), the Hardy Boy (written by a team of authors, not a single authorial voice), and finally: The New York Times reported in June 2010—in an article titled “The End of the Best Friend”—on the practice of deliberate intervention, on the part of well-meaning adults, to disrupt close nuclei of friends from forming in schools and summer camps.4 One sleepaway camp in New York State, they wrote, has hired “friendship coaches” whose job is to notice whether “two children seem to be too focused on each other, [and] ... put them on different sports teams [or] seat them at different ends of the dining table.” Affirms one school counselor in St. Louis, “I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults—teachers and counselors—we try to encourage them not to do that.” Chatroulette and Omegle users “next” each other when the conversation flags; these children are being nexted by force—when things are going too well. It's this charming pan across the range of life and experience, showing how the dilemma of humanity runs through each vignette, that makes this book a keeper. If it had kept up the delight and glory of the first third, I'd have given it five stars. To be fair, though, I did stay up to a ridiculously late/early hour to finish this, so flaws in the last two thirds may well be entirely in my mind. And that, I must say, seems fitting.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    Christian writes from the perspective that it will be bad if and when machines are intelligent, he's kind of an anti Ray Kurzweil. I completely disagree with his viewpoint but his book is interesting and illustrates lots of Turing problems that I'd never considered. He goes on to say that it will not happen that the same bot will win year after year but is proved wrong just 2 years after the book is written by Mitsuku who won in 2013,2016-2019 Christian writes from the perspective that it will be bad if and when machines are intelligent, he's kind of an anti Ray Kurzweil. I completely disagree with his viewpoint but his book is interesting and illustrates lots of Turing problems that I'd never considered. He goes on to say that it will not happen that the same bot will win year after year but is proved wrong just 2 years after the book is written by Mitsuku who won in 2013,2016-2019 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitsuku

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tadeas Petak

    My favourite trait of Most Human Human was its optimistic tone. I have read a fair amount of AI criticism, lamenting that it might be very dangerous, moaning about it taking jobs away from people and whining that it is making us more stupid or at least less intelligent. Instead, this book embraces human endeavours directed into this field, highlights the achievements and their implications and treasures the foreseeable future of AI. The author has a very good reason for this, too: artificial intellig My favourite trait of Most Human Human was its optimistic tone. I have read a fair amount of AI criticism, lamenting that it might be very dangerous, moaning about it taking jobs away from people and whining that it is making us more stupid or at least less intelligent. Instead, this book embraces human endeavours directed into this field, highlights the achievements and their implications and treasures the foreseeable future of AI. The author has a very good reason for this, too: artificial intelligence has made us reappraise what it means to be intelligent. It has made us reconsider what it is to be human. Also, Brian Christian suggests that instead of the last few decades being a race of machines against humans, we are in it with them. We need to learn to co-exist and since we already have a pretty good idea regarding what computers excel at, we need to find out - or maybe rather rediscover - what we our qualities are. What makes humans... human. Or it least that's how I interpret it. The book will walk you through the basics of chatbot design and development and take you on the bumpy ride through the recent history of AI and computers in general. It will leave you ruminating on the art of conversation, not leaving out speed dating, pickup artists or the fact that heated arguments are non-contextual in the sense that the answer typically depends solely on the previous question. You will meet ELISA, a psychotherapeutic bot that, basically, by rephrasing questions, provides people with real therapeutic experience, leaving them feeling jollier afterwards. I really enjoyed the section dealing with computer chess and a different one focusing on entropy and statistics in the English language. The whole read is like this: a bit all over the place, pulling out information from every field that might add to the topic. And since the topic is humanity, there is a decent number of potential candidates. Apart from solid grasp of IT, the author seems to be educated (to an extent, anyway) in philosophy, poetry and music among other fields. The author was also 24 or something when he wrote this and he has my eternal utter respect for this achievement. It's about art, literature, small talks and about the fact that only real conversations, i.e. the ones where you cannot be finishing the other person's sentences, matter. The thing is full of beautiful quotes but one that stuck in my mind is that maybe, it is better to be asking: "How did you stay together?" instead of "How did you meet?". A lot of fairy-tales deal with the latter but almost none with the former. Btw, a friend of mine, also a software developer, recommended this book to me. If someone has read this and you have no connection to software development in your everyday life, could you let me know whether you liked it or not? To me, it seemed that the book is written and organized in such a way that it must appeal to the way minds of people bossing computers around all day long typically function. I am just wondering how well suits anyone else.

  22. 4 out of 5

    tisasday

    A lot of interesting data and theories shared about AI and perspectives we forget about as we just keep using tech every day.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Harold

    The Most Human Human is about the Turing contest in which computers and people have separate 5 minute text conversation with judges who try to pick which are humans and which computers. So far the computers have not yet sufficiently fooled the judges to win. Each year the judges also determine the most human human, and the most human computer -- the ones who get the most human votes in each category. The author volunteered to be one of the humans. and then tries to win the most human human label The Most Human Human is about the Turing contest in which computers and people have separate 5 minute text conversation with judges who try to pick which are humans and which computers. So far the computers have not yet sufficiently fooled the judges to win. Each year the judges also determine the most human human, and the most human computer -- the ones who get the most human votes in each category. The author volunteered to be one of the humans. and then tries to win the most human human label. The author is a poet and a programmer, and looks at the competition from both perspectives, as well as philosophically, linguistically, and several more. So the book is a fugue, one theme and several variations. Some are very interesting. I was particularly fascinated with the with how human language works, and the tells of the computer programs. If you want to try one, go to cleverbot.com. But some of the digressions also wind down dead ends. It is as if the human writer breaks down, and the computer takes over. Interestingly, like the computer programs, I am not sure that everyone would find the same parts the wooden ones. Not each judge in the competition had the same computer conversation, but still the computers haven't won yet. In the same vein, while different people might respond to different tangents, I doubt they all work for anyone. And particularly disappointing was that he led up to his own participation in the contest, he doesn't describe it, even though he did in fact win the title of the most human human. Was it anticlimactic? Certainly its omission from the book is. Yet all in, while uneven, the book did have a fascinating analysis of how computer conversation programs, and even chess programs work, and how we talk, and what some of the difference are. And it does teach something about what it means to be human, or at least sound human. I wonder what would the book would be like if he set out to convince the judges he was a computer. Yes I do. A sequel.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Fascinating subject - artificial intelligence and the Turing test: Alan Turing (Google celebrated his 100th birthday recently) developed the annual test to see if an AI program can fool a panel of judges into thinking they are conversing by text with a human and not a machine. Brian, the author, was one of the 'ringers' - they mix up real human contestants in with the AI programs - and was voted the 'most human human' at the end where they also vote for the 'most human' AI program. As a fellow B Fascinating subject - artificial intelligence and the Turing test: Alan Turing (Google celebrated his 100th birthday recently) developed the annual test to see if an AI program can fool a panel of judges into thinking they are conversing by text with a human and not a machine. Brian, the author, was one of the 'ringers' - they mix up real human contestants in with the AI programs - and was voted the 'most human human' at the end where they also vote for the 'most human' AI program. As a fellow Brown U Alumni, I got to attend the book discussion with the author in attendance at my Borwn Club book group and it was a terrifically entertaining discussion with a room full of smart, educated people. But we were all wondering why he didn't include a transcript of his actual Turing dialogue. When we asked him why not, he said he thought it was so boring, it wasn't worth including. Let us be the judge, Brian. He was charming though, and so cute (recently engaged and in love, which just made him cuter). Some of the writing was rather technical, even though he went to great lengths to explain, I still sort of glazed over chunks of this. But his deconstruction of what makes conversation was intriguing and I still find myself looking for the 'handholds' - he likens a conversation to reaching for the next hold in a wall climb, and how some people offer a lot of options, and with others you are reaching, reaching for the next sentence. Glad to have read it, interesting to find out about the Turing test, happy to have participated in the discussion with the author, but don't recommend it for the non-computer nerd reader.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Matt Musselman

    What obviously started based on the premise of entering to be a confederate in the annual Loebner Prize (based on the Turing Test), where the author would be a human trying to differentiate himself from various chat software programs attempting to pass as human, and what it means to win the award of being "the most human human" in this contest, Brian Christian delves into a delightful examination of: - What differentiates human thinking from computer "thinking"? Or from the cognitive proces What obviously started based on the premise of entering to be a confederate in the annual Loebner Prize (based on the Turing Test), where the author would be a human trying to differentiate himself from various chat software programs attempting to pass as human, and what it means to win the award of being "the most human human" in this contest, Brian Christian delves into a delightful examination of: - What differentiates human thinking from computer "thinking"? Or from the cognitive processes of non-human animals? - How does human thinking work? - What makes for interesting conversation? When do conversations work or not work? What conversations (and thus people) are most memorable? When are our conversations more robotic in nature? - What aspects of language make it a uniquely human endeavour? - What is the nature of emotion? Creativity? Poetry? Art? That Christian was able to explore all this while also spicing the mix with terrific references to source material from Aristophanes and Plato to grunge music, Heisenberg, Hofstadter, and David Foster Wallace, Cameron Crowe films, Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov, Alan Turing, Claude Shannon, and Bertrand Russell, Isaac Newton, Ezra Pound and Allen Ginsberg, the music of Sting and Feist and Bach, TED Talks, Terminator and The Matrix and Glengarry Glen Ross, Salvador Dali and Marcel Duchamp, Freakonomics, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. . . . I not only learned a lot, but also felt as if I had just walked into a room full of old friends, while also meeting some new friends to get to know. A terrific, fun, and enlightening read.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Soracha Petersen

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. So I should start off saying this is not my typical genre, but I love our bookclub because we read a diverse range of books. I did vote for this one because I was intrigued by the concept human vs AI chat bots... but also proving yourself as human in a world becoming increasingly more mechanized both in the physical act of technology growing and at a deeper level of us ourselves as a species becoming more "computerized". However it ended there for me. I can usually cruise through an audio book p So I should start off saying this is not my typical genre, but I love our bookclub because we read a diverse range of books. I did vote for this one because I was intrigued by the concept human vs AI chat bots... but also proving yourself as human in a world becoming increasingly more mechanized both in the physical act of technology growing and at a deeper level of us ourselves as a species becoming more "computerized". However it ended there for me. I can usually cruise through an audio book pretty quickly due to commuting around but I couldn't listen to this one for more then 20 minutes at a time. I give author's credit for narrating their own stories, I couldn't do it, but I felt it was VERY computerized/techy. I also just wanted to hear about the transcripts themselves from the competition, I understood the dissection of dialogue/human interactions in general, but I was completely lost and subsequently bored out of my mind, listening about Chess for over an hour, and bits and zipping. I felt like the author has a lot of specific, we'll call them "nerd" interests, and he wanted to push them all into the story, some flowed but most did not. I am rating a two because despite my disinterest in it, I have already recommended to a few others in the target audience for this book, who I think will enjoy the tangents and overall concepts explored, however I think there was a big miss in being able to connect with a wider population in general, like myself someone who doesn't usually read non-fiction but was intrigued by the concept.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Socraticgadfly

    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 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?

  28. 4 out of 5

    Edward

    This is an interesting book that looks at AI and bots (particularly chatbots) from a different angle with a unique perspective. It was written a few years ago in 2011 but it is still timely read for me in 2016 given bots, digital assistants and AI are just starting to get more mainstream recently. A series of conscious thoughts are provided by the author, Brian Christian, who in 2009 participated in the Loebner Prize Turing Test competition as a human participant (called a human confederate). Brian was in an u This is an interesting book that looks at AI and bots (particularly chatbots) from a different angle with a unique perspective. It was written a few years ago in 2011 but it is still timely read for me in 2016 given bots, digital assistants and AI are just starting to get more mainstream recently. A series of conscious thoughts are provided by the author, Brian Christian, who in 2009 participated in the Loebner Prize Turing Test competition as a human participant (called a human confederate). Brian was in an unique position to think about how to beat a computer to be more human. Overall, I find this book illuminating and it sparks a number of insights in how one should think about when designing and personifying an AI. I don't find much discussion on this topic in other literature or text books, partly because this is an archaic subject and partly this is so new. Brian Christian gets philosophical at times but it also touches on different areas of information theory and some computer science problem such as chess playing. He has a poetry background (as well as computer science) and hence this explains why his writing style is somewhat different and for me I find it a little bit hard to follow at times.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    I know loving this book seals my geek status, but I don't care! Brilliantly conceived and written. I learned this new word, and I'm still trying to work it into my vocabulary: entropy. I also loved learning about the Shannon theory of entropy. Check this stuff out: P 143: “With poetry, as with philosophy, there is no exterior, only certain well-behaved interiors: in philosophy we call them sciences (physics originally began as the largely speculative field of ‘natural philosophy’), an I know loving this book seals my geek status, but I don't care! Brilliantly conceived and written. I learned this new word, and I'm still trying to work it into my vocabulary: entropy. I also loved learning about the Shannon theory of entropy. Check this stuff out: P 143: “With poetry, as with philosophy, there is no exterior, only certain well-behaved interiors: in philosophy we call them sciences (physics originally began as the largely speculative field of ‘natural philosophy’), and in poetry we call them genres. If a play wanders too far from the traditions and conventions of playwriting, the script starts to be regarded as poetry. If a short story starts to wander out of safe short-story territory, it becomes a prose poem. But poetry that wanders far from the conventions of poetry is often simply-e.g. “Howl”-better poetry.” p. 159: l’esprit de l’escalier = staircase wit, the devastating verbal comeback that occurs to you as you’re walking down the stairs out of the party. Finding the mot juste a minute too late is almost like not finding it at all. You can’t go “in search of” the mot juste or the bon mot. They ripen and rot in an instant. That’s the beauty of wit.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    Brian Christian brings us into the world of computer intelligence and the Turing test to ask and partially answer the question of what makes us human. Along the way, he wool gathers into the areas of computer chess, mathematics, the pick up artist, the novelist and the brain damaged.His book is incredibly information dense and diverse.I can see it used as the basis of a semester or even year long class about the hallmarks of humanity. He also asks the question, are humans becoming mor Brian Christian brings us into the world of computer intelligence and the Turing test to ask and partially answer the question of what makes us human. Along the way, he wool gathers into the areas of computer chess, mathematics, the pick up artist, the novelist and the brain damaged.His book is incredibly information dense and diverse.I can see it used as the basis of a semester or even year long class about the hallmarks of humanity. He also asks the question, are humans becoming more like computers. Mathematics, long considered the apex of human development is where computers excel. Is it possible that in making ourselves computational experts we are in danger of losing some of our humanity. Let's face it, there is no way to review this book without the review being nearly as long as the book. It touches on everything. It is interesting to note that Christian often refers to the book "Gödel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstadter. I think I am overdue for a reread.

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