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The Society of Mind Paperback – March 15, 1988

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Editorial Reviews Review

For some artificial intelligence researchers, Minsky's book is too far removed from hard science to be useful. For others, the high-level approach of The Society of Mind makes it a gold mine of ideas waiting to be implemented. The author, one of the undisputed fathers of the discipline of AI, sets out to provide an abstract model of how the human mind really works. His thesis is that our minds consist of a huge aggregation of tiny mini-minds or agents that have evolved to perform highly specific tasks. Most of these agents lack the attributes we think of as intelligence and are severely limited in their ability to intercommunicate. Yet rational thought, feeling, and purposeful action result from the interaction of these basic components. Minsky's theory does not suggest a specific implementation for building intelligent machines. Still, this book may prove to be one of the most influential for the future of AI.

From Publishers Weekly

Minsky, cofounder of MIT's Artificial Intelligence Lab, is a charter member of the community of AI pioneers committed to understanding the workings of the human mind and mimicking its processes by computer. Here he takes his place as this generation's Buckminster Fullera revered seminal thinker whose depth and originality sometimes place him out of reach for many. But Minsky's difference is his style: he writes aphoristically, with wit and precision, and makes the most of his perception that the mind learns by images, which perform as agents that connect, interact and even "censor" in a staggeringly subtle "society" of microprocedures. This holistic view of the mind's learning stages is the culmination of Minsky's study, and its insights into the developing world of computers-as-machines are matched by paradoxically intuitive glimpses of the growth of a sense of "self" through introspection, short- and long-term memory, mind-frames utilizing pictures and language. Minsky's creative terminology for freshly perceived mental processes is a major contribution to the future of mind-science. Illustrated. Major ad/promo; Macmillan Book Club alternate.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Pages Bent edition (March 15, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671657135
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671657130
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 0.9 x 11 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #256,995 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

102 of 108 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Lee D. Carlson HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on July 4, 2001
Format: Paperback
In this book the author attempts to explain the workings of the human mind as a collection of a large number of autonomous mindless connected agents. The approach is metaphorical/philosophical, and no empirical evidence is given for the ideas expounded. The "society of mind", composed as it is of a collection of simple objects, is purely reductionist in its strategy and philosophy. It is though a highly original and thought provoking introduction to the major questions involving mental states, concept formation in the brain, learning theory, and artificial intelligence. The author gives many interesting examples that entice the reader to "think out of the box".
The book itself is written as though each chapter were itself one of these agents. Typically a chapter poses a question or a particular phenomenon, and the author then addresses how the mind would implement of resolve this question or deal with this phenomenon. Some interesting chapters in the book include:
1. Self-Knowledge is Dangerous: The author argues that mental constraints are needed to prevent the individual from artificially creating emotional states that would prevent deliberate action on our part. An intelligent machine will then need to have such constraints in order to prevent it from repeating endlessly the same activity.
2. Learning from Failure: Minsky argues that confining oneself to positive learning experiences will not be as robust or effective as one that will involve some kind of discomfort or pain. Such discomfort will enable more radical changes in conceptual structure.
3. Power of Negative Thinking: The author argues that an optimistic problem-solving strategy is contingent on the ability to recognize several paths to the solution, with the best path then selected.
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Cindy F. Solomon on February 28, 2005
Format: Paperback
In this book Minsky tries, as have many scientists before him, to explain what seems unexplainable. Even though in present day, many people believe in science over magic, the majority still believes that the brain is somehow magical and cannot be replicated. Minsky asks what stops us from building a brain out of steel instead of carbon? He breaks down the mind in a way that anyone can understand how it works.

I'm almost 14 and in the 8th grade. I picked up this book for a research project on Cognitive Psychology because it was the only thing I could find that wasn't written for graduate students. Not only could I understand it, but it kept my attention (unlike most non-fiction books) and I enjoyed reading it. I liked how Minsky could take the most complex thing in the world, the brain, and describe it in easy to understand terms. There were many pictures and diagrams used to represent the text. For example, to show the basics of how the mind works using many separate agents, Minsky used the example of a child building a tower out of blocks and how the agent in the child's mind, called "builder" and all of "builder's" agents beneath it created the tower out of blocks.

I recommend this book for anyone curious about what goes on in the mind to cause people's actions as well as anyone interested in artificial intelligence.
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50 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Random Access on June 16, 1998
Format: Paperback
This book does more to explain the fundamental structure of the human mind than all the volumes of developmental psychology that I've read. In a step-by-step process, Minsky constructs a believable thesis for a way in which the human mind in all its complexity can be built up, layer by layer, from the interactions of "agents", functional subroutines. Some agents are hard-wired by evolution and some are learned. The learned ones stay in consciousness only while they are being built and then become the substrate for higher-level constructs. "The Society of Mind" had shaped the way I look at consciousness.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Ofir on April 16, 2001
Format: Paperback
I have been reading many books concerened with artificial intelligence and the mind during the past years. Many of them drift off into endless philosophy, or get into too much psychological analysis.
Compared to other books out there, this one is easy to read, and is deeply inspiring. Chapters are concise, and comprehendible. I would recommend this book to anybody who is new to AI and overall theories of the mind.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Harinath Thummalapalli on August 8, 2003
Format: Paperback
The fundamental assumption underlying the principles in the book is that the mind is a result of many small and independent pieces that act in a predictable way and CANNOT think for themselves - but that the result (the mind) CAN think. Of course, the title 'The Society of the Mind' is not a good fit to the ideas in the book because Society and its parts (individual minds) can BOTH think.
But leaving these kind of simple inconsistencies and incongruencies (I discovered at least a couple after some deep thinking) to the side, this book makes for an absolutely fascinating read if you are interested in the subject of how the mind works. The approach is very unique, and the ideas are thought provoking. There are 270 components in the book grouped into 30 chapters and each component takes up 1-2 pages to explain the idea and some basic logic supporting the idea presented in that component. The book has 339 pages in case you are wondering (including the index).
The format of the book makes it very convenient to pick up the book once in a while and read 5-6 ideas in a 15 minute sitting. Of course, to get the most benefit from the book, you have to read one chapter at a time as each chapter contains ideas that are interconnected. The best approach would be to finish reading the book in 2 or 3 sittings so you can connect all the ideas. The author does warn you at the beginning that there are a lot of cross-connections between the different ideas that you may miss. You have to take this advice into consideration and pay extra attention to connecting the ideas in order to get the real theory that the author is trying to communicate. He never actually explains the theory in a nutshell. He leaves it to the reader to come to some conclusions that hopefully will match the author's theory.
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