e-book: When Things Start to Think

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WHEN THINGS START TO THINK | Preface

May 15, 2003
Author:
Neil Gershenfeld
Publisher:
Henry Holt & Company (1999)

I have a vested interest in the future, because I plan on living there. I want to help create one in which machines can meet the needs of people, rather than the other way around.

As more and more gadgets demand our attention, the promises of the Digital Revolution start to sound more like those of a disinformation campaign.

A counterrevolution seeks to protect our freedom to not… read more

WHEN THINGS START TO THINK | Chapter 1: The Digital Evolution

May 15, 2003
Author:
Neil Gershenfeld
Publisher:
Henry Holt & Company (1999)

To a species that seeks to communicate, offering instantaneous global connectivity is like wiring the pleasure center of a rat’s brain to a bar that the rat then presses over and over until it drops from exhaustion. I hit bottom when I found myself in Corsica, at the beach, in a pay phone booth, connecting my laptop with an acoustic modem coupler to take care of some perfectly mundane e-mail. That’s when I threw away my pager that delivered e-mail to me as I traveled, disconnected my cell phone that let my laptop download e-mail anywhere, and began answering e­mail just once a day. These technologies were like the rat’s pleasure bar, just capable enough to provide instant communication gratification, but not intelligent enough to help me manage that communication.… read more

WHEN THINGS START TO THINK | Chapter 2: Bits and Books

May 15, 2003
Author:
Neil Gershenfeld
Publisher:
Henry Holt & Company (1999)

The demise of the book has been planned for centuries. This came first by fiat, with bannings and burnings, and more recently by design, with new media promising to make old books obsolete. Today’s book-of-the-future is the CD-ROM, offering video and sounds and cross-references to enhance ordinary text. Who would ever want to go back to reading a book that just has words? cross-references to enhance ordinary text. Who would ever want to go back to reading a book that just has words?… read more

WHEN THINGS START TO THINK | Chapter 3: Digital Expression

May 15, 2003
Author:
Neil Gershenfeld
Publisher:
Henry Holt & Company (1999)

A few years ago I found myself on the stage of one of Tokyo’s grandest concert halls. I wasn’t going to perform; Yo-Yo Ma was, if I could fix his cello bow in time. The position sensor that had worked so well at MIT was no longer functioning after a trip around the world.… read more

WHEN THINGS START TO THINK | Chapter 4: Wear Ware Where?

May 15, 2003

Originally published by Henry Holt and Company 1999. Published on KurzweilAI.net May 15, 2003.

Steve Mann was one of the Media Lab’s best-dressed students. It’s easy to recognize Steve because you don’t see him; you see his computer. His eyes are hidden behind a visor containing small display screens. He looks out through a pair of cameras, which are connected to his displays through a fanny pack full of electronics strapped around his waist. Most of the time the cameras are mounted in front of his eye, but when he rides a bicycle he finds that it’s helpful to have one of his electronic eyes looking backward so he can see approaching traffic, or in a crowd he likes to move an eye down to his feet to help him see where he’s walking.

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WHEN THINGS START TO THINK | Chapter 5: The Personal Fabricator

May 15, 2003

Originally published by Henry Holt and Company 1999. Published on KurzweilAI.net May 15, 2003.

Thomas Watson, the chairman of IBM, observed in 1943 that “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” In 1997 there were 80 million personal computers sold. To understand his impressive lack of vision, remember that early computers were

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WHEN THINGS START TO THINK | Chapter 6: Smart Money

May 15, 2003

Originally published by Henry Holt and Company 1999. Published on KurzweilAI.net May 15, 2003.

Barings Bank was founded in 1762. In its long history it helped to finance the Louisiana Purchase (providing money Napoleon needed to keep fighting his wars), and counted the Queen among its loyal customers. In January of 1995 a twenty-eight-year-old trader for Barings in Singapore, Nick Leeson, lost most of what eventually proved to be $1.4 billion by trading futures in the Japanese Nikkei Index. That was twice the bank’s available capital; by February the bank had folded, and in March it was sold to the Dutch bank ING for £1.

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WHEN THINGS START TO THINK | Chapter 7: Rights and Responsibilities

May 15, 2003
Author:
Neil Gershenfeld
Publisher:
Henry Holt & Company (1999)

WHY . . . should things think? the rights of people are routinely infringed by things, and vice versa. Dumb computers can’t be fixed by smart descriptions alone. Useful machine intelligence requires experience as well as reasoning. We need to be able to use all of our nses to make sense of the world. read more

WHEN THINGS START TO THINK | Chapter 8: Bad Words

May 15, 2003

Originally published by Henry Holt and Company 1999. Published on KurzweilAI.net May 15, 2003.

A group from a major computer company once came to the Media Lab to learn about our current research. The day started with their explaining that they wanted to see agent technology. Agents are a fashionable kind of computer program designed to learn users’ preferences and help anticipate and act on their needs. Throughout the day the visitors saw many relevant things, including software to assist with collaboration among groups of people, environments for describing how programs can adapt, and mathematical techniques for finding patterns in user data. I almost fell out of my chair at the wrap-up at the end of the day when they asked when they were going to see agent technology. They had clearly been tasked to acquire some agents, but wouldn’t recognize one if it bit them.

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WHEN THINGS START TO THINK | Chapter 9: Bit Beliefs

May 15, 2003

Originally published by Henry Holt and Company 1999. Published on KurzweilAI.net May 15, 2003.

For as long as people have been making machines, they have been trying to make them intelligent. This generally unsuccessful effort has had more of an impact on our own ideas about intelligence and our place in the world than on the machines’ ability to reason. The few real successes have come about either by cheating, or by appearing to. In fact, the profound consequences of the most mundane approaches to making machines smart point to the most important lesson that we must learn for them to be able to learn: intelligence is connected with experience. We need all of our senses to make sense of the world, and so do computers.

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