[This is one of the finalists in the 2022 book review contest. It’s not by me - it’s by an ACX reader who will remain anonymous until after voting

Your Book Review: Consciousness And The Brain

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2022-05-14 00:30:11

[This is one of the finalists in the 2022 book review contest. It’s not by me - it’s by an ACX reader who will remain anonymous until after voting is done, to prevent their identity from influencing your decisions. I’ll be posting about one of these a week for several months. When you’ve read them all, I’ll ask you to vote for a favorite, so remember which ones you liked - SA]

Imagine that there was a generally acknowledged test for artificial intelligence, to find out whether a computer program is truly intelligent. And imagine that a computer program passed this test for the first time. How would you feel about it?

We know this because it happened several times. The first time was in 1966, when ELIZA passed the Turing test. ELIZA was a chatbot who could fool some people to believe that they talk with a real human. Before ELIZA, people assumed that only an intelligent machine could do that, but it just turned out that it is really easy to fool others. Other tests for intelligence were playing chess, playing a whole variety of games, or recognizing cat images. Machines can do all this by now, and this is awesome. And yet, every success sparked new disappointment, because we didn't find any magic ingredient, some quality that would make a difference between intelligent and non-intelligent. When the groundbreaking GPT-3 and DALL-E suddenly could write news articles or poetry, or could dream up snails made of harp... the main improvement was that they used more raw computation power than the previous versions.

If you find this disappointing, then you will also be disappointed by "Consciousness and the Brain" by Stanislas Dehaene. The book is the condensed wisdom of three decades of cognitive research, and it tells you what consciousness is, how it operates, and why we have it. The book actually answers these questions. But if you were hoping that the book would Resolve Philosophy, tell you What Makes Humankind Unique, or whether Free Will exists, it doesn't do that.

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