Book Review : HOW TO CREATE A MIND by Ray Kurzweil

Ray Kurzweil’s “How To Create a Mind” is a fascinating and practical exploration into the process of creating the physical substrate of an artificial intelligence. A mind-bending glimpse into what’s possible, even practical, in the near future!

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Back in medical college, I spent an incredible amount of time reading Snell’s ‘Neuroanatomy’ to understand the structure and function of the human brain.

It’s a myriad of nerve connections, with different bits being hooked up to others, some nearby, others almost halfway across the brain. What’s more, there are redundancies galore.

And keeping track of what links to what, through diagrams that showed sweeps of colored arrows pointing both ways, was mind numbing. I studied all of this, not because it’s so fascinating, but because we had an exam to pass at the end of a semester.

So I learned about the lateral geniculate nucleus, or the caudate nucleus, or the red nucleus. And the insula, colliculi or corpus callosum. Without quite understanding how relevant, useful or practical it would all be.

It wasn’t. At all.

For the next twenty five years, I have never once had to use ANY of that information in my medical practice!

So, was it all a waste?

As Steve Jobs said in his famous 2005 Stanford commencement address,

“None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But 10 years later, it all came back to me… You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.”

Now, as I indulge my curiosity about artificial intelligence and read about machine learning, all this background swotting becomes suddenly useful in understanding the basis of how modern technology is digitally duplicating our brains.

Thanks to a friend’s recommendation, I picked up Ray Kurzweil’s book – and in it is this lovely quote:

“Each of us lives within the universe – the prison – of his own brain. Projecting from it are millions of fragile sensory nerve fibers, in groups uniquely adapted to sample the energetic states of the world around us: heat, light, force, and chemical composition.

That is all we ever know of it directly; all else is logical inference.”

– Vernon Mountcastle.

And so, I’m back trying to understand more of those nerve bundles we collectively call “our brain”… by reading Ray Kurzweil’s ‘How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed‘.

If you’re fascinated by AI (artificial intelligence), interested in learning how the human brain works, and are unafraid of facing a few technically forbidding bits of neuroanatomy, you’ll enjoy this read.

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