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Beyond AI: Creating the Conscience of the Machine Hardcover – May 1, 2007

4.4 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Taking us on an eloquent journey through an astonishingly diverse intellectual terrain, J. Storrs Hall’s Beyond AI articulates an optimistic view – in both capability and impact – of the future of AI. This is a must read for anyone interested in the future of the human-machine civilization."
RAY KURZWEIL, AI scientist, inventor
Author of The Singularity Is Near

"An entertaining and very thought-provoking ramble through the wilds of AI."

"Hall argues that our future superintelligent friends in the mechanical kingdom may develop superior moral instincts. I'm almost convinced. I learned a lot from reading this book. You will too."
Author of "The Legal Rights of Robots"
and Kinematic Self-Replicating Machines

About the Author

J. Storrs Hall, PhD (Laporte, PA), the founding chief scientist of Nanorex, Inc., is a research fellow for the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing and the author of Nanofuture, the "Nanotechnologies" section for The Macmillan Encyclopedia of Energy, and numerous scientific articles. He has designed technology for NASA and was a computer systems architect at the Laboratory for Computer Science Research at Rutgers University from 1985 to 1997.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (May 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591025117
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591025115
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,532,291 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The first two thirds of this book survey current knowledge of AI and make some guesses about when and how it will take off. This part is more eloquent than most books on similar subjects, and its somewhat different from normal perspective makes it worth reading if you are reading several books on the subject. But ease of reading is the only criterion by which this section stands out as better than competing books.
The last five chapters that are surprisingly good, and should shame most professional philosophers whose writings by comparison are a waste of time.
His chapter on consciousness, qualia, and related issues is more concise and persuasive than anything else I've read on these subjects. It's unlikely to change the opinions of people who have already thought about these subjects, but it's an excellent place for people who are unfamiliar with them to start.
His discussions of ethics using game theory and evolutionary pressures is an excellent way to frame ethical discussions.
My biggest disappointment was that he starts to recognize a possibly important risk of AI when he says "disparities among the abilities of AIs ... could negate the evolutionary pressure to reciprocal altruism", but then seems to dismiss that thoughtlessly ("The notion of one single AI taking off and obtaining hegemony over the whole world by its own efforts is ludicrous").
He probably has semi-plausible grounds for dismissing some of the scenarios of this nature that have been proposed (e.g. the speed at which some people imagine an AI would take off is improbable). But if AIs with sufficiently general purpose intelligence enhance their intelligence at disparate rates for long enough, the results would render most of the book's discussion of ethics irrelevant.
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Hollywood and the science fiction literature has indulged themselves over the last few decades in the prospect of highly intelligent machines either taking over human affairs or in fact acting to completely destroy human civilization. Oddly, these scenarios presuppose that entities that possess high intelligence would engage in this type of control or violence. Possessing high intelligence is assumed to be uncorrelated with possessing a conscience, or even being inversely related to it. Such biases make for excellent movies and science fiction novels, but there is no evidence as yet that would support the notion that conscience is independent of intelligence, nor has there been a careful scientific study of the connection between the two. But even in some quarters in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), there are those who are worried about the prospects of intelligent machines unleashing havoc on human civilization. Are these worries justified, and if so, what can be done to thwart the construction of these kinds of machines? Can one indeed build a machine with a conscience or should such machines be built?

This book gives a realistic appraisal of progress in artificial intelligence and sheds considerable light on these questions. It is careful to distinguish between fact and fiction, between what has been accomplished and what has not, and it does so without falling into the trap of extreme skepticism, the latter of which seems to happen to so many who are deeply involved in AI research. Indeed, after an initial period of extreme confidence in research results, and a designation as "intelligent", the confidence wanes until it is eventually viewed as a "trivial" discovery or merely a "program.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's hard to express how much I am enjoying this book. The writing style is very active-voice and lucid. I'm sure there's a really good editor somewhere in this mix, but not even the best editor can rehabilitate turgid prose (witness the prose we all have to slog through in the vast majority of books on technical subjects). The editor of this book probably had the opposite problem: how not to get in the author's expository way.

I don't know the author personally, but I can tell you this about him: he is truly educated. In the classical tradition. By that I mean he has not only been a student of things technical, he has been a student of great writing, poetry, social science, economics, politics and more. It's not that he attempts to parade his knowledge in these areas; rather, it's that his strong liberal arts education, very naturally, simply permeates his expository style. More than that, he has the rare ability to present complex topics in a way that any curious reader can comprehend. Isaac Asimov, R. Buckmister Fuller, Richard Feynman, Freeman Dyson and Carl Sagan are the writers of which the author reminds me. And, like the erudite writers in that list, it is quite obvious that the author is truly interested (dare I say fascinated?) in the subject about which he is writing. His enthusiasm is contagious. Above all, he wants you to "get it."

I don't think I've read a book that was written this well and inspired me intellectually this much since I read R. Buckmister Fuller's "Utopia or Oblivion" back in 1968. That book changed my life. Now, forty years later, I find another book that is so well written and intellectually provocative that it may just change my life again. This is a fascinating book. You must read it. Seriously. J.
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