The Emotion Machine : Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of the Human Mind
In this mind-expanding book, scientific pioneer Marvin Minsky continues his groundbreaking research, offering a fascinating new model for how our minds work. He argues persuasively that emotions, intuitions, and feelings are not distinct things, but different ways of thinking.
By examining these different forms of mind activity, Minsky says, we can explain why our thought sometimes takes the form of carefully reasoned analysis and at other times turns to emotion. He shows how our minds progress from simple, instinctive kinds of thought to more complex forms, such as consciousness or self-awareness. And he argues that because we tend to see our thinking as fragmented, we fail to appreciate what powerful thinkers we really are. Indeed, says Minsky, if thinking can be understood as the step-by-step process that it is, then we can build machines -- artificial intelligences -- that not only can assist with our thinking by thinking as we do but have the potential to be as conscious as we are.
Eloquently written, The Emotion Machine is an intriguing look into a future where more powerful artificial intelligences await.
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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Simon & Schuster
November 12, 2007
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Excerpt from The Emotion Machine by Marvin Minsky
Nora Joyce, to her husband James:
"Why don't you write books people can read?"
I hope this book will be useful to everyone who seeks ideas about how human minds might work, or who wants suggestions about better ways to think, or who aims toward building smarter machines. It should be useful to readers who want to learn about the field of Artificial Intelligence. It should also be of interest to psychologists, neurologists, computer scientists, and philosophers because it develops many new ideas about the subjects those specialists struggle with.
We all admire great accomplishments in the sciences, arts, and humanities -- but we rarely acknowledge how much we achieve in the course of our everyday lives. We recognize the things we see, we understand the words we hear, and we remember things that we've experienced so that, later, we can apply what we've learned to other kinds of problems and opportunities.
We also do a remarkable thing that no other creatures seem able to do: whenever our usual ways to think fail, we can start to think about our thoughts themselves -- and if this "reflective thinking" shows where we went wrong, that can help us to invent new and more powerful ways to think. However, we still know very little about how our brains manage to do such things. How does imagination work? What are the causes of consciousness? What are emotions, feelings, and thoughts? How do we manage to think at all?
Contrast this with the progress we've seen toward answering questions about physical things. What are solids, liquids, and gases? What are colors, sounds, and temperatures? What are forces, stresses, and strains? What is the nature of energy? Today, almost all such mysteries have been explained in terms of very small numbers of simple laws -- for example, the equations discovered by such physicists as Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, and Schrodinger.
So naturally, psychologists tried to imitate physicists -- by searching for compact sets of laws to explain what happens inside our brains. However, no such simple set of laws exists, because every brain has hundreds of parts, each of which evolved to do certain particular kinds of jobs; some of them recognize situations, others tell muscles to execute actions, others formulate goals and plans, and yet others accumulate and use enormous bodies of knowledge. And though we don't yet know enough about how each of those brain-centers works, we do know their construction is based on information that is contained in tens of thousands of inherited genes, so that each brain-part works in a way that depends on a somewhat different set of laws.
Once we recognize that our brains contain such complicated machinery, this suggests that we need to do the opposite of what those physicists did: instead of searching for simple explanations, we need to find more complicated ways to explain our most familiar mental events. The meanings of words like "feelings," "emotions," or "consciousness" seem so natural, clear, and direct to us that we cannot see how to start thinking about them. However, this book will argue that none of those popular psychology words refers to any single, definite process; instead each of those words attempts to describe the effects of large networks of processes inside our brains. For example, Chapter 4 will demonstrate that "consciousness" refers to more than twenty different such processes!
It might appear to make everything worse, to change some things that looked simple at first into problems that now seem more difficult. However, on a larger scale, this increase in complexity will actually make our job easier. For, once we split each old mystery into parts, we will have replaced each old, big problem with several new and smaller ones -- each of which may still be hard but no longer will seem unsolvable. Furthermore, Chapter 9 will argue that regarding ourselves as complex machines need not diminish our feelings of self-respect, and should enhance our sense of responsibility.
To start dividing those old big questions into smaller ones, this book will begin by portraying a typical brain as containing a great many parts that we'll call "resources."
We'll use this image whenever we want to explain some mental activity (such as Anger, Love, or Embarrassment) by trying to show how that state of mind might result from the activities of a certain collection of mental resources. For example, the state called "Anger" appears to arouse resources that make us react with unusual speed and strength -- while suppressing resources that we otherwise use to plan and act more prudently; thus, Anger replaces your cautiousness with aggressiveness and trades your sympathy for hostility. Similarly, the condition called "Fear" would engage resources in ways that cause you to retreat.