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Alan Turing invented the computer, helped win World War II and left us with one of the greatest puzzles of our time – the imitation game. Can computers do everything a human mind can do? Many scientists think we have a tenuous hold on the title, “most intelligent being on the planet”. They think it’s just a matter of time before computers become smarter than us, and then what? This book charts a journey through the science of information, from the origins of language and logic, to the frontiers of modern physics. From Lewis Carroll’s logic puzzles, through Alan Turing and his work on Enigma, to John Bell’s inequality, and finally the Conway-Kochen ‘Free Will’ Theorem. How do the laws of physics give us our creativity, our rich experience of communication and, especially, our free will?

James Tagg is an inventor and entrepreneur. A pioneer of touchscreen technology, he has founded several companies, including Truphone, the world’s first global mobile network. He holds numerous patents, filed in over a hundred countries. He studied Physics and Computer Science at Manchester University, Design at Lancaster University and Engineering at Cambridge University. He lives with his family on a farm in Kent, England.


ARE THE ANDROIDS DREAMING YET? attempts to introduce the lay reader to the landscape of issues surrounding human intelligence and its congruence, or lack thereof, with human intelligence. The author makes an earnest attempt to achieve his goal, and a layperson’s understanding of topics ranging from probability theory to quantum electrodynamics. The tone is light, and each topic is rounded out in just one short chapter. Each chapter concludes with an explanation of how its contents pertain to the way we perceive the relationship between human and machine intelligence. For those who are uninitiated to these topics, the explanations suffice. Such a reader will come out of these segments feeling that they have come to understand something that had previously been far over their heads.

While it is a great thing to bring understanding of complex topics to a lay readership, the unavoidable problem is that the shallowness of the introductions to these topics does not give the reader the tools necessary to follow the author from premise to conclusion. The worst that this problem brings to bear is that the book does not sufficiently address the fact that the conclusions presented are highly contentious in the eyes of professionals in their respective fields. For each mathematical and scientific alcove the author guides the reader through, he seems always to present the conclusion that points most strongly toward human cognition being non-computable. I get the feeling that the author decided before putting pen to paper that he wanted to show that human minds really are special, and then set out to find examples to support him. Nothing in this book indicates that he did the scientifically honest thing: looking at the literature first, and going from there. It doesn’t matter how fringe or mainstream the theory is. If that theory can be twisted to put human beings back in the center of the universe, then you can learn about it by reading this book!

If you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you’ll know that I’m a big believer in the importance of recognizing future AIs as having rights and being deserving of respect, just as any flesh-and-bones creature capable of love, fear, pain, and pleasure is. At the end of the last chapter, the author suggests that we shouldn’t worry about such things since, in 100 years, we probably still won’t be able to fashion an AI. I believe that this sentiment betrays an awesome lack of understanding regarding the power of recursive/iterative development patterns. Humans will not create the first AI. The first AI will probably create itself by means understood by some several dozen people, each of which understand some fraction of the process by which it happened, none understanding it in full. Just as I cannot judge you by your neurobiology because the entirety of your neurobiology is beyond my capacity to comprehend, likewise, we cannot judge the fitness of an AI to deserve rights we reserve for humans because the basis of its being “alive” is not within the possibility of comprehension of any person. Therefore, we simply have to hand those rights over. We also need to have a conversation about AI rights very quickly. Such an intelligence is fast approaching, in spite of the author’s assurance that humans minds perform processes that are non-computable (nonsense!), and that we perform various mental functions that cannot be translated into algorithms and logical circuits (also nonsense).

My final assessment of ANDROIDS is that lay readers will enjoy the expositions of niche topics in science, math, physics, computer science, and philosophy very much, and there is plenty of food for thought here. I would, however, advise savvy readers to keep a keen eye out for fishy-smelling claims and overused superlatives. If something seems odd, Google it.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”1910464031″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].