February 1, 1998
Is the human mind really as special as we’ve always thought? After all, we’ve discovered that chimpanzees and dolphins are remarkably smart, and more recently scientists have proposed that even lobsters and octopuses demonstrate intelligence.
What about machines? IBM’s Deep Blue computer posed a formidable threat to world chess champion Gary Kasparov, and another computer recently demonstrated creative reasoning by coming up with an original mathematical proof. Can machines now think, too?
In this fascinating and far-ranging exploration of the most advanced studies of animal and artificial intelligence, acclaimed science writer James Trefil presents a compelling and powerful argument to prove that the human mind is a unique organ of intelligence.
With great verve and clarity, Trefil shows that animal minds are different not only in degree of intelligence, but in the kinds of intelligence and consciousness of which they are capable. What’s more, despite the awe-inspiring achievements of computer designers, no computer of any kind or at any time will ever truly replicate human intelligence.
However, in a startling and controversial twist to the artificial intelligence debate pitting man against machine, Trefil proffers an astonishing proposition: computers will one day develop a powerful new kind of intelligence and consciousness all their own. Computers may well become truly conscious in some powerful new way we have yet to understand.
Are We Unique? offers a stimulating survey of the vast landscape of intelligence science. Ranging from brain mapping to Gödel’s theorem, from complex systems to animal language, this is an intriguing, exhilarating exploration of exactly what it means to be intelligent, and human.
James Trefil is Robinson Professor of Physics at George Mason University. He is the author of fifteen books, including coauthorship of the bestselling Science Matters and the perennially popular Sharks Have No Bones. A regular contributor to Smithsonian magazine, he is also a science commentator for National Public Radio. Mr. Trefil lives in Fairfax, Virginia.