May 29, 1998
Since World War II, a group of scientists has been attempting to understand the human nervous system and to build computer systems that emulate the brain’s abilities. Many of the workers in this field of neural networks came from cybernetics; others came from neuroscience, physics, electrical engineering, mathematics, psychology, even economics. In this collection of interviews, those who helped to shape the field share their childhood memories, their influences, how they became interested in neural networks, and how they envision its future.
Subjects tell stories that have been told, referred to, whispered about, and imagined throughout the history of the field. Together, the interviews form a Rashomon-like web of reality. Prominent in these recollections are Norbert Wiener, Warren McCulloch, Frank Rosenblatt, and other mythic figures responsible for laying the foundations of modern brain theory and cybernetics. The interviewees agree about some things and disagree about more. Together, they tell the story of how science is actually done, including the false starts in the struggle for jobs, resources, and reputation. Although some of the interviews contain technical material, there is no actual mathematics in the book.
James A. Anderson is Professor of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences at Brown University.
Edward Rosenfeld is founder and publisher of the newsletter Intelligence and of businesstech.com, an online periodical.