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The Sciences of the Artificial - 3rd Edition 3rd Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0262691918
ISBN-10: 0262691914
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Editorial Reviews

Review

People sometimes ask me what they should read to find out about
artificial intelligence. Herbert Simon's book The Sciences of the
Artificial
is always on the list I give them. Every page issues a
challenge to conventional thinking, and the layman who digests it well will
certainly understand what the field of artificial intelligence hopes to accomplish.
I recommend it in the same spirit that I recommend Freud to people who ask about
psychoanalysis, or Piaget to those who ask about child psychology: if you want to
learn about a subject, start by reading its founding fathers.

(George A. Miller Complex Information Processing)

From the Back Cover

As the Earth has made more than 5,000 rotations since The Sciences of the Artificial was last revised, in 1981, it is time to ask what changes in our understanding of the world call for changes in the text.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 215 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; 3rd edition (October 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262691914
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262691918
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #146,510 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Let me first say a few words about the writing style. Simon's writing style is quite lackluster. He isn't a great writer like say Bertrand Russell, or George Orwell for that matter. But for the purposes of this book, his style suffices and is perhaps spot-on.

Ok my general impression about the book: I think historically it's a groundbreaking book; it's a book written by a visionary; it's a book that at the time must have challenged a lot of people's opinions on a lot of things; in short it's an extremely important book! Having said that, here one needs to ask the all important question, reviewing it as one is, after a gap of more than 40 years since it was first published: Overall, has the book stood the test of time?

The answer, surprisingly, is: `Yes' and `No'! Some of its insights are still very relevant, while some others are pretty outdated (which makes one wonder why Simon in later editions did not feel the need to say at least a few words about where he had gone wrong, and where he had over-simplified things to an astonishing degree).

But before talking about both the great and not so great parts, let me briefly sketch the central idea that Simon has delineated in this book, which in fact drives the entire book. Simply, it can be described as the importance of concentrating upon the interface of a system with its outer and inner environments, without having to understand in detail either the inner or outer environments. In Simon's words, "We might look toward a science of the artificial that would depend on the relative simplicity of the interface as its primary source of abstraction and generality".

Let's start with the parts that he got right. Well, first off, "Bounded rationality" of course.
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This book is one of the most thought provoking, challenging books I've come across in many years. Simon tosses off ideas like a Border Collie shaking off water. This is not a book to be skimmed, or to be taken lightly, but a slow careful reading will certainly pay off. I read this book for insights into product design, and it did not disappoint.
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Although the language is a little stilted at times and difficult to read, the range and scope - and implications - of Simon's ideas are profound. The relationships he describes between thinking, computing, and human behavior are extremely interesting and provide a "look toward the future". And the fact that Simon has been working and researching in this area for, like, FOREVER (some of the citations of his work is from the 50's) lends a lot of credence to his ideas.
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Upon reading this book for the third time over a span of two decades, I decided to react to its content this time rather than to simply dismiss it as poorly informed and seriously flawed. That assessment derives largely from my fifty years of experience as an aerospace system designer, with an extensive record in development methods R&D. Furthermore, I am dismayed at the book’s trivialization of design and its naive understanding of engineering practice in general. Regrettably, the book thereupon proceeds along an even worse course via its fatuous prescriptions for a purported science of design and its automation.

Questions for Inquiring Minds: forty-five years after its initial publication, how many books can be found on Amazon that address “design science” or the like, especially in the sense that Simon laboriously enunciated? Ok then, what actual impact has Simon’s version of design science in itself ever had on engineering or design practice? Did actual engineering practitioners or experienced designers in general ever regard this book as consequential or relevant?

Fundamentally, Simon construes design as amenable to casting as a science per se, rather than as an endeavor wherein many of the more challenging aspects are typically dealt with largely as an art. That design is informed or facilitated by science is vacuously true, not to mention irrelevant. Moreover, engineers/designers have developed much of that sort of science, because they are resourceful in finding better ways to fashion improved products. Disconcertingly, Simon’s thesis begins with the premise of design as problem solving, rather than one mainly of resolving problem situations by first systematically formulating problem statements.
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Format: Paperback
This is not an easy read -- and I suspect that Simon was quite cognizant that such a challenge would indeed be the case for readers of this excellent book. For me, there seemed at first to be a disjointedness among the first three or four chapters; however, as I progressed from chapter to chapter, Simon's principle themes continued to unfold ever more clearly. The final chapter on the architecture of complexity ultimately pulled together Simon's thoughts and elaborations from all preceding chapters.

In sum, this book is both highly insightful and thought-provoking. Admittedly, I was at first skeptical, due mostly to the various negative reviews posted on Amazon.com; however, having taken the time to read Simon's seminal work, I am truly glad I did. Very highly recommended.
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