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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Book Review: The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing



Richard Dawkin’s The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing covers a broad array of scientific writing that ranges from the universe to artificial intelligence. It provides an overview of various topics and scientific discoveries. For example, one could read about the genetic theory of natural selection or geons, black holes, and quantum foam. The book is broken into four sections, which include what scientist’s study, who scientists are, what they think, and what they delight in. 

You may find Alan Turing’s computing machinery and intelligence interesting. Alan was the pivotal scientist behind breaking the German Enigma codes. Some may argue that he was more important than Churchill in taking down the Nazi regime.  After the war, instead of reward, he was arrested for a private crime and committed suicide by eating an apple laced with cyanide. 

He invented the imitation game designed to try and create a computer that can think. In the game three people play while the main player tries to determine who is the man and who is the woman.  Both players can lie and make up stories.  Player A may be the woman, Player B the man, and player C the interrogator. Player B can help the interrogator but since all identifying tones and information have been stripped by relying on written forms of communication the interrogator has a difficult time determining the two. 

In a second form of the game Player C (interrogator) must determine who is the computer and who is the human being. If the computer can fool Player C then it is said that the computer passed the test. The factual responses of the computer are not important what is important is that it can fool a human being into thinking it is human. 

Turing broke the hypothetical child computer brain down to the following:

1.) Initial state of the mind (Biology of our brains).
2.) Education it has been subject.
3.) Experiences it has picked up in life.

The tests helped become the 1950’s pioneering work on artificial intelligence entitled Computing Machinery and Intelligence. The study helped highlight that computers can mimic human beings and fool people into believing they are real. At the time, all identifying information was stripped due to the inherent limitations of technology. Yet it opened up the possibility of cyber genetics to create a computer that not only thinks but also is generally indistinguishable from humans (i.e. the movie Terminator). 

If you find Alan Turing’s work interesting, you may want to pick up a book for yourself. It is fairly easy to read and written at a college level. Since it is from Oxford it has the British style of English. It is a collection of the various leading scientific discoveries of time and helps to give one a broad overview. If you read the book you will be more aware of what the root theories are.

Dawkins, R. (2009). The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing. Oxford, UK. 978-0-19-921680

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