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Steven Pinker, “Thinking Machines”

Week 6

Steven Pinker, “Thinking Machines”

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Week 6

Executive Summary

Steven Pinker is a cognitive and evolutionary psychologist at Harvard University. Chapter 2 of his How the Mind Works defines intelligence—both human and artificial—in terms of computational processes.

  1. Defining intelligence is difficult, but we recognize it when we see it. “Intelligence is the ability to attain goals in the face of obstacles by means of decisions based on rational (truth-obeying) rules.” (p. 62)
  2. While intuitive psychology is still the most useful way of explaining the behavior of intelligent beings, it is not scientific psychology. It operates using terms such as beliefs and desires, which have not yet been proven to exist. Therefore, the best explanation is a third-person functionalist one—a description not of the internal constitution of intelligence, but of the roles it plays and functions it has.
  3. The core function of intelligence lies with information, which is “a correlation between two things that is produced by a lawful process (as opposed to coming about by sheer chance).” (p. 65)
  4. A symbol is a physical embodiment of information that has both representational and causal properties. A primitive example would be tree rings, which represent the age of the tree and can be further manipulated in an experiment or an algorithm.
  5. The computational theory of mind asserts that all intelligence is computation consisting of symbol processing. “When the caused things themselves carry information, we call the whole system an information processor or a computer.” (p. 67)
  6. When the information corresponds to the stored symbol within a system, and the logical step corresponds to the system’s actual behavior, the system can be called intelligent. Therefore, the intelligence of a system emerges just from the limited activities of its non-intelligent parts.
  7. Accordingly, computing machines and artificial intelligence already exist. “Though there are no Terminator-class robots, there are thousands of smaller-scale artificial intelligence programs in the world, including some hidden in your personal computer, car, and television set. And progress continues.” (p. 82)

Dr. Pinker’s book is available on Amazon. Summary by Andrei Volkov, 2020.

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