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How to create a mind.

Picked up this book at Word in Jersey City on a weekend afternoon. Did not realize at the time as to how old the book was. It made for a fascinating reading when on a five hour plane ride from Newark to San Diego. The coffee and the calmness conspired to motivate me to read this book with an attentive zeal I‌ had not experienced in years. The book is indeed awe-inspiring as the author starts to tear into the meat of the matter.
Started to read this book again after a long gap. Started reading at chapter 3.
The book talks about how the neocortex of the brain separates mammals from non-mammals and how the presence of a large neocortex has enabled humans to essentially dominate the animal kingdom. As a species, humans have evolved so drastically so as to be on the verge of creating the very intelligence that helped it gain that dominance. Scientific research shows how most of the neocortex is very uniform and the fundamental structure that makes up this uniformity is a neocortical column. This neocortical column is hypothesized to be composed of many sub-units that are not biologically disparate but functionally so. These sub-units are pattern recognizers. These pattern recognizers are networked in a hierarchical fashion and tend to represent “concepts” - from the low-level concepts such as printed alphabets (This itself is actually quite a higher level concept) to even higher ones like words, their meanings, their allusions, moral lessons and more. The pattern recognizer is split into 3 parts - the inputs to it, the concept it represents and the part it is of another pattern. The concept that it represents is decided by the strength of these inputs. It is interesting to note how various continuums are encoded as signals based on their strengths and how these signals feed into pattern recognizers.

The first couple of chapters encourages the reader to really think about thinking and imagine the kinds of processes that might be taking place. He also brings up interesting insights on how many breakthroughs in Science happened by applying models of existing knowledge to new fields of study.

The third chapter goes in depth to talk about model of the pattern recognizer that is the neocortical column. Ideas about the inputs, output, feedbacks and parameters relating to the PR are discussed. The fourth and fifth chapter talk about the biological brain itself. The author details how the neocortex gets its signals in the first place to start building up and using these hierarchical models. He also talks about how the "old-brain" or the non neocortex aspect of the brain still plays an important role in all things that are more primal. The sixth chapter talks a little about the transcendent capacities of the brain like creativity, love and aptitude and the author maintains that a lot of these are also a product of the neocortex. However, the motivations of the neocortex and the starting-point are modulated by the old brain and genetics, the author argues.

The seventh chapter is hands down one of the most spellbinding reads I have ever come across. It articulates exactly the kinds of ideas that I had in my mind and it clarifies a lot of questions. The pages are extremely rich in scientific knowledge and crystal clear insight. I could not stop keep the book down through this chapter and the eighth which talks about the evolution of computing and its journey to ultimately come to mimic and overpower the brain.

I have fallen deeper and deeper in love with the brain after this book. Ray Kurzweil's profile as a leading researcher in this field itself should be reason to listen to what he has to say. But the clarity with which he conveys these ideas are simply marvelous.


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