Dr. Fred Bortz

Mind Matters Exploring the World of Artificial Intelligence

by James P. Hogan

(DelRey, 1998, $25.00, 400 pages)


Reviewed by Dr. Fred Bortz

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When IBM's "Deep Blue" defeated World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, nearly every popular book on the subject of Artificial Intelligence went out of date. Though the good ones had predicted that specialized silicon brains would soon outdo the best human ones on the game's 8x8 black-and-white battlefield, none could say for certain when that day would come. Hogan, a digital systems engineer turned full-time writer was perfectly positioned when that pivotal event took place.

Having turned thorough research into readable prose before the match began, he produced a book that, with only minor changes from its pre-publication galleys, could not only report Deep Blue's triumph but also explain its significance to people who don't know a rook from a knight. Carefully organized to carry its readers from the earliest attempts to understand the mind to current technologies to model logical thought and the behavior of that system of interconnected neurons in electrochemical soup we call the brain, this book is comprehensive, timely, and accessible.

It is also entertaining, with amusing chapter titles like "Occam's Chain Saw" and clever section headings like "What's Induction? Let Me Give You a Few Examples." Towards the end, a speculative discussion of genetic programming concludes: "(B)y that time, we would have turned to similar methods to give it a supporting hardware system that could grow itself through applied genetic engineering. Maybe we could call it a Biologically Reproduced Artificial INtelligence."

No computer program could ever be creative enough to come up with that acronym. Or might one? Stay tuned.

Ph.D. physicist Fred Bortz is an author of science books for young readers, including Mind Tools: The Science of Artificial Intelligence.