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The Most Human Human: What Artificial Intelligence Teaches Us About Being Alive [Paperback]

by Brian Christian
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 6, 2012 0307476707 978-0307476708 2.5.2012

Each year, the AI community convenes to administer the famous (and famously controversial) Turing test, pitting sophisticated software programs against humans to determine if a computer can “think.” The machine that most often fools the judges wins the Most Human Computer Award. But there is also a prize, strange and intriguing, for the “Most Human Human.”
Brian Christian—a young poet with degrees in computer science and philosophy—was chosen to participate in a recent competition. This playful, profound book is not only a testament to his efforts to be deemed more human than a computer, but also a rollicking exploration of what it means to be human in the first place.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In a fast-paced, witty, and thoroughly winning style, Christian documents his experience in the 2009 Turing Test, a competition in which judges engage in five-minute instant-message conversations with unidentified partners, and must then decide whether each interlocutor was a human or a machine. The program receiving the most "human" votes is dubbed the "most human computer," while the person receiving the most votes earns the title of "most human human." Poet and science writer Christian sets out to win the latter title and through his quest, investigates the nature of human interactions, the meaning of language, and the essence of what sets us apart from machines that can process information far faster than we can. Ranging from philosophy through the construction of pickup lines to poetry, Christian examines what it means to be human and how we interact with one another, and with computers as equals—via automated telephone menus and within the medical establishment, for example. This fabulous book demonstrates that we are capable of experiencing and sharing far deeper thoughts than even the best computers—and that too often we fail to achieve the highest level of humanness. (Mar.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Each year humans and computers square off for the Turing test, which Christian describes as a kind of speed dating via instant messaging, with five minutes to prove which is human. In 2009, Christian traveled to Brighton, England, to compete in a contest matching four humans and four computers. Christian chronicles his preparation and time spent devising strategies to trump the chatbot computers that can imitate humans. Along the way, he draws on philosophy, neurology, linguistics, and computer science, recalling chess master Garry Kasparov losing a match to IBM�s Deep Blue computer and more recent developments in artificial intelligence. He explores how computers have challenged our bias toward the left hemisphere of the brain (logic) versus the right hemisphere (emotions) and how he and others have come to a deeper appreciation of emotional intelligence. He laments how so many jobs have trained employees with limited scripts that render them human chatbots. Christian intersperses interviews and musings on poetry and literature, observations on computer science, and excerpts from post-Turing test conversations for a fascinating exploration of what it means to be human. This book will surely change the way readers think about their conversations. --Vanessa Bush --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 2.5.2012 edition (March 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307476707
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307476708
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #151,961 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Brian Christian is the author of The Most Human Human, which was named a Wall Street Journal bestseller and a New Yorker favorite book of 2011, and has been translated into ten languages. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, Wired, The Guardian, The Paris Review, Gizmodo, AGNI, Gulf Coast, and Best New Poets, and in scientific journals such as Cognitive Science. Christian has been featured on The Charlie Rose Show and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and has lectured at Google, Microsoft, the Santa Fe Institute, and the London School of Economics. His work has won several awards, including fellowships at Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony, publication in Best American Science & Nature Writing, and an award from the Academy of American Poets. Born in Wilmington, Delaware, Christian holds degrees in philosophy, computer science, and poetry from Brown University and the University of Washington. He lives in San Francisco.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
48 of 54 people found the following review helpful
Excellent, well written book on computers that gives a different perspective. After watching "Watson" win on jeopardy, I was amazed at the ability of the computer to seemingly think about endless trivia. Calculations happen at warp speed but it is still hard to imagine that a machine can seem to imitate human thought. Mr Christian does a marvelous job explaining the history of AI, how computers really work to simulate human thought and what computers teach us about ourselves. His prose is clear and concise making for a very enjoyable read. Very well done! Highly recommended.
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33 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Art and Science of Conversation March 5, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is wonderfully readable, timely, informative and intriguing. The author makes potentially difficult subjects such as artificial intelligence and super-computer technologies accessible and entertaining. We learn how even the most sophisticated and complex machines humans can create, struggle mightily to do a simple, basic human activity - engage in conversations.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Starts Off Great. Lets You Down Hard. December 11, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Not a fan of critiquing. I just like to share my experiences.

I can describe this book in two ways; one of them is the title of my review, the other is the title of another 2/5 review here on Amazon: "Maddeningly Unfocused".

The book starts off great, very appeasing to a geek like myself who's into some light reading. The book takes a nosedive once it gets heavy on pretentious philosophy, random (and frequent) musings, and page after page of content that makes you go "wait, what does this have to do with anything?!"

Had the book continued the way it started, I would be its biggest fan. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Still, some pages worth reading. 2/5
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding How We Think and How Computers Do Not April 24, 2011
You say you are a human. Now, prove it. Wait, wait - it's too easy to point to your face or to perform a tap dance as you sing "Bicycle Built for Two." That will not do at all. You must, instead, at your computer terminal type in your part of a conversation that will show to the other conversationalist that you are not yourself a computer. And you will be competing with computers who have been programmed to try to prove that they are humans. This is the basis for the Loebner Prize, a controversial annual competition within the artificial intelligence community. A panel of judges has a series of five-minute-long conversations via screen and keyboard; at the other end of the conversation might be a computer programmed to pretend to be a human or it might be a human trying to dissuade the judges that they are typing to a computer. The judges, of course, don't know beforehand who is who (or, I suppose, what is what), and vote for the conversations that seem most human to them. The Most Human Computer Award, a research grant, goes to the programmers of the best computer conversationalist. But oddly, there is a Most Human Human award for the human who did the best job of making the judges think they were typing to a human. In 2009, Brian Christian won the award, and he has written about it in _The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive_ (Doubleday). It is a curious look into the history and potential of artificial intelligence, and a brilliant comparison between artificial intelligence and our natural variety. Christian may have won a prize demonstrating his humanness, but confirms his victory in this humane, humorous, and thought-provoking book. Read more ›
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Maddeningly unfocused July 8, 2011
The central subject is the author's experience participating in a Turing test competition, but the majority of the book consists of rambling digressions and shallow philosophizing, sprinkled with self-indulgent irrelevancies. I got the feeling that while he was working on the book, whenever any random thought that could somehow be tacked onto the existing mass of text popped into his head, he immediately ran to the computer to add it to his manuscript, marveling at his own brilliance all the while. He relies too heavily on questions masquerading as insights, along the lines of "Could it be that this is what makes humans human?"

The parts that actually had to do with the Turing test competition, and the strategies employed in it by humans and computers, were actually quite interesting. But there was too little of that, and it was frustrating because it was so incomplete and doled out in such small fragments. The author could not stay on the topic long enough to provide any more than tantalizing glimpses of that story.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sublime: paradoxical, real, wide-ranging, inspiring April 2, 2011
The poetry of information theory, conversational and quirky, with the snap of a thriller. I'm a fast reader, but this book has stopped me, engaged me completely. I haven't quite brought myself to finish it yet; I'm relishing it too much. In a larger sense I know that I'll never "finish" it, nor could I, nor would I want to. I can't explain that really, you just have to read it. Here's one of the book's hundreds of illuminations: putting spaces between written words was invented only in the seventh century, to help monks who were weak in Latin...but there are no spaces between spoken words...why this difference? If you think or worry about machines versus humans, and if you like Dillard, Thoreau, Hofstadter and/or Pirsig, then you'll probably like this book a lot. I love it. He writes, "... a durable love is one that's dynamic, not static; long-running and not long-standing; a river we step into every day and not twice. We must dare to find new ways to be ourselves, new ways to discover the unimaginable aspects of ourselves and those closest to us."
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great food for thought
What do minds do that computers can't? TMHH seeks to answer that question with reference to myriad human thinking capacities that range from the subtle to the profound, the... Read more
Published 1 day ago by Librum
5.0 out of 5 stars Loving this book
This wonderful book is filled with page after page of soul nourishing and mind expanding food for thought. Beautifully written, witty, well researched. Read more
Published 1 month ago by A. Karpenko
2.0 out of 5 stars Pretentious Nattering On
I added "The Most Human Human" to my list a couple of years ago after hearing an interview with the author and finding it fascinating. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Josef K
5.0 out of 5 stars Do computers think?
The `Turing Test' is an experiment first suggested in 1950 by English scientist Alan Turing (who later died in jail when being held prisoner by his government for being gay). Read more
Published 3 months ago by Carl_in_Richland
5.0 out of 5 stars Written by a student
This is a graduate student's work documented with witty honesty. Combines our advancing societies attributes with it's more recent origins. Read more
Published 4 months ago by John
1.0 out of 5 stars Awful & pretentious book
Book is a scattered mess. Tries too hard to be philisophical, filled with filler material, etc. I can see what the author is tryng to get across, but he failed to deliver his... Read more
Published 6 months ago by rga
4.0 out of 5 stars Lots of info, disjointed storytelling though
I am giving this book 4 stars simply for the fact that there is a lot of very interesting information in it, and the author shows actual interest and curiosity about the info... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Quantum Kev
3.0 out of 5 stars Good topic but the book is slow
I enjoy the subject but the author's thoughts go off on tangents quite a bit. The writing is a bit dry, even for the subject material. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Shelley Pasternak
5.0 out of 5 stars Have you not read this?
I was assigned this book as part of the reading for a class in computer science focused on exploring artificial intelligence. Read more
Published 13 months ago by C. Soffer
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazingly dense but very readable and a lot of fun
Ostensibly the book is about Brian Christian's adventure preparing for and playing as a human "confederate" in the 2009 annual Loebner Prize contest. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Dennis Littrell
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