The Mechanical Mind in History

Philip Husbands, Owen Holland and Michael Wheeler (Eds)

Publisher MIT Press
ISBN 978-0-262-08377-5
RRP £25.95
Reviewed by Patrick Hill CEng MBCS CITP
Score 9 out of 10

The Mechanical Mind in History The idea that the concept we term intelligence might be a purely mechanical process that can, somehow, be represented and implemented to form intelligent machines, has long captured the imagination of researchers and practitioners, across multiple disciplines.

'The Mechanical Mind in History' is a selection of articles describing certain aspects of thought relating to AI and cybernetics through history. The 19 chapters provide fascinating insights into a broad range of people, relationships, circumstances, ideas and implementations in the field of machine intelligence.

While a range of philosophical, cultural and technological influences are described, a key feature of the book is that a number of the articles describe aspects of early British thinkers and thinking relating to machine intelligence. This important history, particularly around the mid-20th century, has, the editors suggest, been under represented in literature.

The contributions are interdisciplinary, containing discussions relating to, among other topics, history, biology, the arts, politics, computing and philosophy. It readily becomes apparent that opinions in some areas are very much divided. Progress in AI has certainly not been made at the rates predicted by Minsky. Indeed, it is suggested that perhaps no progress has been made at all, save in the wrong direction. Further, many of the questions that were posed 60 years ago are still pertinent and unanswered today.

The 14 articles are supplemented with transcripts of interviews with five highly influential figures in fields related to machine intelligence. Together these contributions paint a vivid picture not only of cybernetic and AI research in particular, but more generally, of researchers and research communities at work.

This book is not always an easy read. However, I found it thought-provoking and hard to put down. I found the contributions by Wheeler and Dreyfus particularly enjoyable.

Further information: MIT Press

November 2008