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What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason, by Hubert L. Dreyfus
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When it was first published in 1972, Hubert Dreyfus’s manifesto on the inherent inability of disembodied machines to mimic higher mental functions caused an uproar in the artificial intelligence community. The world has changed since then. Today it is clear that “good old-fashioned AI,” based on the idea of using symbolic representations to produce general intelligence, is in decline (although several believers still pursue its pot of gold), and the focus of the Al community has shifted to more complex models of the mind. It has also become more common for AI researchers to seek out and study philosophy. For this edition of his now classic book, Dreyfus has added a lengthy new introduction outlining these changes and assessing the paradigms of connectionism and neural networks that have transformed the field.At a time when researchers were proposing grand plans for general problem solvers and automatic translation machines, Dreyfus predicted that they would fail because their conception of mental functioning was naive, and he suggested that they would do well to acquaint themselves with modern philosophical approaches to human beings. What Computers Can’t Do was widely attacked but quietly studied. Dreyfus’s arguments are still provocative and focus our attention once again on what it is that makes human beings unique.Hubert L. Dreyfus, who is Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, is also the author of Being-in-the-World. A Commentary on Heidegger’s Being and Time, Division I.
- Sales Rank: #269290 in Books
- Published on: 1992-10-30
- Original language: English
- Number of items: 1
- Dimensions: 8.00″ h x .81″ w x 5.38″ l, 1.15 pounds
- Binding: Paperback
- 429 pages
About the Author
Hubert L. Dreyfus is Professor of Philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley.
Most helpful customer reviews
67 of 70 people found the following review helpful.
A response to Jeffrey Shallit.
By A Customer
Mr. Shallit compares the critique of cognitive science by Professor Dreyfus to ‘creation science’. He remarks that Dreyfus is not a computer scientist. This is true. But many ‘cognitive scientists’ aren’t either, cognitive science being an interdisciplinary pursuit engaging philosophers, psychologists, linguists, neuroscientists, anthropologists and sociologists. It is unfortunate that Dreyfus allowed himself to polemicize by using the word ‘alchemy’ to characterize his opponents, but he has, by far, been the victim of unargued diatribes against his work. The fact is: most of the salient issues in cognitive science are logical and conceptual, NOT technological. Here, Dreyfus broke new ground (although I would have preferred his treatment to have been more Wittgensteinian than Heideggerian). Phil Agre’s brilliant book on computation and human experience (Agre IS a computer scientist) shows that SOME AI-workers have found aspects of Dreyfus’s work very telling. But, of course, the issues are, again, not empirical but logical in this field. See, for example, Graham Button et al., “Computers, Minds and Conduct” (Polity/Blackwell, 1995) which picks up where Dreyfus left off. Shallit remarks that Dreyfus has been ‘refuted’: where? by whom?
The fact is that cognitivism is hotly contested by serious thinkers in many disciplines, but Shallit’s name-calling (and the comparison of cognitivism’s serious critics to creation scientists) smacks of an abdication from serious engagement and argument.
Dreyfus’s revised edition is a fine piece of work, worthy of serious intellectual discussion and confrontation. His many aarguments against Fodor, Chomsky, Simon and others have great merit. It is unfortunate that some folks simply close their eyes and argue from authority. But appeals to (even ‘scientific’) authority wear thin when left to stand alone!!
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful.
An absolute ‘must read’ for people interested in the role of computing in society
By A Customer
This is an absolute classic that everyone interested in or working in AI should have read. It is one of the very view books on a computer related subject that is over 25 years old and still useful today. That alone might tell you something. I find it interesting that many AI-workers seem to be actually afraid of this book. They should not. It may give the reader a far better sense on limits, use and future of AI work.
I would also recommend this book to people outside the AI world and who are interested in what role the digital computer may play in our lives. But the book is not about bits, so if you don’t like technical mumbo-jumbo, this is still a book for you.
The book is very well written. Some readers may find it a difficult book, as it also contains some philosophical issues. But some readers may find themselves in a bookstore asking for the work of Wittgenstein or Heidegger and actually understanding what they read (and like what they read) after having read this book.
I have only one complaint. The introduction to the 1992 MIT Press edition is in fact an afterword. It assumes that you already are familiar with the history of the subject. So, if you read this book, you should start with the Introduction to the 1979 edition instead and keep the Introduction to the MIT Press edition definitely for last
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful.
What AI researchers can’t do on computers – yet
By Steve Wilson
Dreyfus’ book is about the history of failure of Artificial Intelligence researchers such as Marvin Minsky to embody intelligence at the human level. It is easy to read, but is rather exasperating. It is like riding in a truck driven by Minsky, and other AI researchers, where they are trying to make a long trek across a country without roads. They keep getting caught in swamps, blowing tires, and hitting trees, all the time shouting “We’re almost there!” Meanwhile Dreyfus is a dog in the bed of the truck continually barking at dangers, and the folly of the drivers. Amidst Dreyfus’ continuous cacophony of sarcastic cynicism there are some important points on what assumptions are doomed to failure, which he made quite clear by tedious repetition.
Basically there are two types of mistakes made by Minsky and many others:
1. believing they were getting close to understanding human thought,
2. repeatedly announcing same to the world.
The philosophy of Dreyfus in the first 300 pages is largely concerned with fallacious assumptions made by AI researchers. Finally in the last 50 pages (350 page book) he settles down and gives us some interesting concepts that should be understood if we are to seek AI at the human level. He develops the concept of “nonformal behavior” – which we humans usually learn by generalizing examples and following intuition without use of formal rules. Examples: chess at the gestalt master level, and disambiguation of broken sentences.
Dreyfus acknowledges the possible importance of neural network architectures, but dismisses them as outside the scope of his critique. He touches on the poor idea of AI trying to program a full functioning adult, and further carries out a critique of machine learning (“reinforcement learning”).
The most important point he makes is that of nonformal behavior — the non-logical almost Zen-like process that humans must go through. The irony is that we have to struggle with our nonformal thinking to do simple formal tasks such as long division; whereas the computer must struggle with its built-in hard logic to attempt nonformal tasks such as pattern recognition.
The book is for the most part quite dated, but nevertheless, it is very worthwhile reading for anyone in a serious pursuit of machine intelligence. My criticism of his style is just that. I have only a minor criticism of the intelligent content and his restrictions in scope.
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