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Beautiful Intelligence

on Wed, 08/12/2015 - 14:10

Beautiful IntelligenceBeautiful Intelligence by Stephen Palmer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

True to form, Stephen Palmer has written a fantastic book. I recommend it heartily to almost any reader.

This book is one of the more interesting explorations of AI, at a time when AI is in our collective consciousness. It explores the concepts of types of AI - centralized vs. distributed, shaped by singular influences or collective influences, and the interactions of AI entities with other AI entities (in addition to the normal, homo-centric view of how they might deal with us).

And - unlike the disappointing book I read just before this, Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson - Palmer describes an advanced world in the context of a story, not like a library or Wikipedia entry, as Stephenson did. Palmer also effectively used the traditional narrative technique of parallel stories, interacting through both concept, and characters, and those interactions created wonderful tension, and pace.

Another wonderful aspect of the book is the insights about humanity, life, and perception. Examples:

... two people can experience the same event but feel different emotions. A woman standing at the edge of a sea cliff, who has dived in before ... she feels elation. But a novice feels afraid....

This is an interesting question to explore in relation to how an AI might perceive, interpret, and act on an experience it has.


... if we remembered every detail of our lives the model of reality built up would be unworkable. If the nuances of every relationship were not generalised, if memory was too good, then it would be impossible to act on the basis of the model's knowledge, since that knowledge could not be extracted. This is why minds have a vast unconscious part and a small conscious summit...

Wow - an amazing challenge for developers of an AI as we might envision it - one that functions constantly in our reality.

I've bookmarked / highlighted more passages in this book than I have in many others in the last several years. That's a sign of how impactful, and good, I think this book is.

Kudos to Palmer for another fantastic example of his vastly under-appreciated, and under-known talent.

Oh, and BTW - for those who have read others by Palmer, this book is both different, and the same. It reveals the same Palmer when it comes to world-view, people-view, and aesthetic. But atypically, it takes place in a more modern, technical world - not the semi-fantasy, or Olde England-type world we often see. Yet, this is a good thing - it shows versatility, and strength in his writing. Never fear, dear Palmer-reader - you'll see the guy you like.

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