From the Cover: Alan Turing invented the computer, helped win World War II and left us with one of the greatest puzzles of our time – the imitation game. Can computers do everything a human mind can do? Many scientists think we have a tenuous hold on the title, “most intelligent being on the planet”. They think it’s just a matter of time before computers become smarter than us, and then what? This book charts a journey through the science of information, from the origins of language and logic, to the frontiers of modern physics. From Lewis Carroll’s logic puzzles, through Alan Turing and his work on Enigma, to John Bell’s inequality, and finally the Conway-Kochen ‘Free Will’ Theorem. How do the laws of physics give us our creativity, our rich experience of communication and, especially, our free will?
Why I Chose It: I received a copy of this book through a Goodreads First Reads Giveaway. I entered the Giveaway because I was incredibly intrigued by the history of technology in relation to androids, and quite frankly, the comments on Lewis Carroll’s logic puzzles.
I was really excited to read about the history of computers and androids, and discover the evolution of the android. Tagg’s belief is that in order to understand the future of computers, we must travel far back into humanity’s past to understand philosophy and the birth of modern mathematics. There is a certain strength to Tagg’s writing and it lies in his ability to create examples. As I have no background in philosophy or mathematics, it was a relief that the author could create simple and easily understood examples for me to be able to digest such complex material. There were examples, logic puzzles, and even brain teasers that were enjoyable to read and fun to try to solve.
Tagg’s examples are the strength of his writing: however, they are also where his writing starts to break down and fail. There are simply so many examples that they take over the book. I felt lost in a sea of example upon example as I attempted to understand complex mathematical and philosophical theories, and I found that I kept wondering why? Why am I attempting to understand these theories when I seriously have no interest in doing so? As his examples compounded, I often lost the thread of argument both of the individual chapter and the entire book, and unfortunately became bored by the material I was reading.
I thought this book would have more to do with androids. You know, robots. Instead it looks quite closely the use of mathematics in computer programming and our ability to apply mathematical theory towards creative thinking, while not quite successfully relating the subject back to androids. The book also fails to have a definitive conclusion, whereby the author could successfully summarize these theories and ultimately prove his argument that humans will always be superior. It’s unfortunate, really, because this book does contain interesting facts and pieces of history, but these are lost among denser material that is much less engaging. While I believe that this book would be good for those with interests in programming or mathematics, I don’t think it’s a great book for the average reader.
Rating: 2 / 5
“Human brains are wonderfully creative things. We can compose music, play golf, write novels, and turn our hands to all manner of problems. Many people use their brains to write software. In our modern-day lives we use software all the time: when we access the web, type on a word processor or play a computer game.” p 233
“I am not arguing having a solution to a given mathematical puzzle presents a difficulty to a computer; I am arguing a computer cannot discover one. Take, for example, the search engine Google […] it ill retrieve a PDF of the proof as the third result. But you immediately see the difficulty. Google search already knew the answer, or more precisely had indexed the answer. The computer was not tackling a random problem from scratch. It was tackling a problem for which it knew the answer, or at least where an answer could be found.” p 253