How to Create a Mind: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: November 18th, 2012 by bobmorris

How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed
Ray Kurzweil
Viking/The Penguin Group (2012)

How and why the patterns theory of mind can help to reveal “the secret of human thought”

The title of my review is based on this passage in the Introduction, one in which Ray Kurzweil discusses recent neuroscience research that will, eventually, reveal the secret of human thought: “In this book, I present a thesis I call the pattern recognition theory of mind (PRTM), which, I argue, describes the basic algorithm of the neocortex (the region of the brain responsible for perception, memory, and critical thinking)…I describe how recent neuroscience research, as well as our own thought experiments, leads to the inescapable conclusion that this method is used consistently across the neocortex. The implication of the PRTM combined with the LOAR [i.e. the law of accelerating returns] is that we will be able to engineer these principles to vastly extend the powers of our own intelligence.”

These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye:

o Riding on a Light Beam (Pages 18-24)
o A Hierarchy of Patterns (35-41)
o The Language of Thought (66-69)
o The Sensory Pathway (94-101)
o Creativity (113-117)
o Neural Nets (131-135)
o Evolutionary (Genetic) Algorithms (147-153)
o A Strategy for Creating a Mind (172-178)
o You Gotta Have Faith (209-215)
o Paul Allen’s objections to Kurtzweil’s PRTM theory (266-270)

Kurtzweil is convinced — and, in my opinion, explains convincingly — that “there are no images, videos, or sound recordings stored in the brain. Our memories are stored as sequences of patterns. Memories that are not accessed [and activated] time over time.” Moreover, We can recognize a pattern even if only part of it is perceived (seen heard, felt) and even if it contains alterations. Our recognition ability is apparently able to detect invariant features of a pattern – characteristics that survive real-world variations…Thus our conscious experience of our perception is actually changed by our interpretations.”

So what? “This implies that we are constantly predicting the future and hypothesizing what we will experience. This expectation influences what we actually [do and do not] perceive. Predicting the future is actually the primary reason that we have a brain.” Creating a new mind, therefore, means changing our expectations that, in turn, will change our perceptions. Kurtzweil’s discussion of all this in Chapter 3 reminds me of what is generally referred to as the “Gorilla Experiment,” devised by Daniel Simons. Basically, this experiment demonstrates that people often tend to see only what they expect (even if whatever it is isn’t there) and not see what they do not expect (despite the fact that it is there). A demonstration of that experiment is among the most popular videos on FaceBook.

No brief commentary such as mine can possibly do full justice to the scope and depth of information, insights, and wisdom that Kurzweil provides in this volume. However, I hope I have given at least some explanation of why so many people hold this book and its author in such high regard. Ray Kurzweil believes that man’s destiny involves “waking up the universe, and then intelligently deciding its fate by infusing it with our human intelligence in its nonbiological form.” This book makes a major contribution to the process by which to achieve that admirable goal.

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