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The Emotion Machine: Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of the Human Mind Hardcover – November 7, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Twenty years after The Society of Mind, where he introduced the concept that "minds are what brains do," Minsky probes deeper into the question of natural intelligence. Don't look for simple explanations: he believes "we need to find more complicated ways to explain our most familiar mental events"; we need to break our thought processes down into the most precise steps possible. In fact, in order to truly understand the human mind, Minsky suggests, we'll probably need to reverse-engineer a machine that can replicate those functions so we can study it. Thus, he rejects the idea of consciousness as a unitary "Self" in favor of "a decentralized cloud" of more than 20 distinct mental processes. In this view, emotional states like love and shame are not the opposite of rational cogitation; both, Minsky says, are ways of thinking. This is not a book to be read casually; Minsky builds his argument with constant reference to earlier and later sections, imagining objections from a variety of philosophical positions and refuting them. A steady stream of diagrams helps clarify matters, but readers will be forced to dig for the "aha!" moments: they're worth the effort. 100 b&w illus. (Nov. 7)
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From Booklist

Minsky, a leader in the field of artificial intelligence (and author of the groundbreaking Society of Mind, 1987), asks nothing less of us here than to reconsider everything we believe about the human mind. He asks us to look at our brains as a kind of flesh-and-blood switching station, using a variety of preloaded "resources" (what he called, in his earlier book, "agents") in a sort of constant problem--solving mode. It is our ability to learn new sets of resources, to think in a variety of ways depending on circumstances, he argues, that makes our species unique. Some readers may find the writing a little stodgy (and Minsky's habit of using awkwardly written interjections from hypothetical readers is more than a little pretentious), but the ideas themselves are challenging and provocative. Ultimately, Minsky seems to be saying that in order to develop a "posthuman mind" we need to make our minds more like thinking machines rather than making the machines more like us. Sure to provoke much debate in the artificial-intelligence community. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (November 7, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743276639
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743276634
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #327,332 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Steven Matthias on June 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I agree with the reviewer who noted how odd it was that a book titled "The Emotion Machine" does not discuss Joseph LeDoux, even if only to refute him. But I think that the problem is with the title, not the book. I found many of Minsky's insights very helpful - it is a very good book about how machines think. And if you are not a dualist, then those insights apply to people too. The book is very well organized and clearly written, and helps you think about thinking. I especially enjoyed his discussion of qualia (although he does not use the term), and why he thinks it is not quite the problem that so many philosophers want to make it.

Minsky's main take on emotions is that emotional states are not fundamentally different from other types of thinking, and that the entire dicotomy of rationality v. emotion is misleading. He prefers to view them all as different ways of thinking - of utilizing various mental resources at one's disposal, some conscious and some not. He organizes his discussion of difficult material very well, but I wish there was more grounding in the underlying neural anatomy of human emotion.
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118 of 144 people found the following review helpful By Zentao on November 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Minsky is well known in the field of cognitive research (AI) and his earlier book was very interesting. However, his latest was a great disappointment to me. Part of this is the fact that I have high expectations for him and the book just didn't meet them; part of this feeling is simply that the book is lacking a lot.

It would seem to me if you're going to write about emotions that you would start by trying to understand the biological basis for them. That is, try to resolve the question of their utility - if they evolved as "higher" functions then they should have a major utility.

So the best place to start would be with the biology, medical and neurologists who have studied them. LeDoux's "The Emotional Brain" is the foundation for this area of research. Oddly enough, LeDoux references Minsky's earlier book; however, Minsky does NOT reference LeDoux. This is very odd since LeDoux's work is the de facto standard.

For anyone who has read LeDoux, a number of Minsky's hypotheses and conclusions are erroneous. If you intend to contadict the best theory for actual working "emotional based systems" then you had better have very strong arguments for why this is so. Such arguments are not within Minsky's book.

Instead, we have more vague "thought experiments" and hand waving about agent-based emotional subroutines. Sorry, this is why AI has not developed anything resembling even the intelligence of a wasp or ant in over 30 years...

Go and buy LeDoux's "The Emotional Brain" if you really want to learn something.
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Format: Paperback
Early efforts to model human-like thinking with machines using rules were interesting but failed in a number of ways to capture even simple ways that humans think. Marvin Minsky, AI pioneer at MIT, insists that we understand the mistakes and can begin to appreciate how the mind actually works in functional terms from the lessons we have learned. Learninig from our past mistakes, what a novel idea.

To put this into perspective, the question of whether a machine model can adequately describe a brain has long been considered in terms of either strong AI or weak AI. Most people find weak AI plausible: computers can solve certain kinds of problems better than humans. We mostly balk at strong AI however: machines can literally think like humans and solve the same kinds of problems just as well.

In The Emotion Machine, Marvin Minsky presents a very machine-like architecture that he claims actually represents the way real minds probably work in fundamental respects. That sounds pretty much like strong AI. So a lot of people will reject the concept of this book out of hand. I think that would be a mistake. Minsky has done a very good job identifying plausible specifics of why AI programs have failed to deliver on, where they have actually managed to deliver, and speculates on how we can fill in the gaps.

No, he doesn't spend time arguing against Searle's Chinese Room or other conundrums of AI, he just presents his case and gives examples in a clear, simple, accessible way. And I am persuaded that he probably gets a lot right. Probably more than he gets wrong. And that's a lot better than a lot of critics will give him credit for because it goes against both the mainstream disdain for strong AI and the mainstream love of flashy neuroscience images.
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34 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Lee D. Carlson HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on December 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Progress in the design and creation of intelligent machines has been steady for the last four decades and at times has exhibited sharp peaks in both advances and applications. This progress has gone relatively unnoticed, or has been trivialized by the very individuals who have been responsible for it. The field of artificial intelligence has been peculiar in that regard: every advance is hailed as major at the time of its inception, but after a very short time it is delegated to the archives as being "trivial" or "not truly intelligent." It is unknown why this pattern always occurs, but it might be due to the willingness of researchers to engage in philosophical debate on the nature of mind and the possibility, or impossibility, of thinking machines. By indulging in such debates, researchers waste precious time that is better used dealing with the actual building of these machines or the development of algorithms or reasoning patterns by which these machines can solve problems of both theoretical and practical interest. Also, philosophical musings on artificial intelligence, due to the huge conceptual spaces in which they wander aimlessly, are usually of no help in pointing to the right direction for researchers to follow. What researchers need is a "director" or "set of directors" that are familiar with the subject matter, have both applied and theoretical experience in the field of artificial intelligence, and that eschew philosophical armchair speculation in favor of realistic dialog about the nature and functioning of intelligent machines.Read more ›
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