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The Most Human Human: What Talking with…
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The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It…

by Brian Christian

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Christian essentially uses his participation a annual version of the Turing test to ponder on the interactions between human beings and computers.

Thoughtful and insightful. Christian has a background in both Computer Science and the humanities (especially poetry) and looks at this area in a original way. ( )
  lewissmith4 | Jul 22, 2013 |
Author Brian Christian enrols as a contestant in the Most Human Computer contest, in which judges have conversations with both computers and humans. Their job is to determine which is which, and the computer which fools the most judges is awarded the Most Human Computer prize. Mr. Christian is, however, more interested in the Most Human Human award, given to the participant who is most often correctly judged as human.

This book is an examiniaton of what makes us uniquely human -- what is it that AI and computers more generally will never be able to replicate?

I enjoyed the book, but found it disjointed and prone to wander down different avenues of discussion. How human! ( )
  LynnB | Jul 6, 2013 |
I was hoping for more of the artificial intelligence part of this book, but it turned out to be more "what we can do better than AIs", which wasn't quite what I was interested in. It's an interesting meditation on what sets us apart, in some places, though it's lacking in organisation -- if I tried to turn in my dissertation with such random chaptering and subtitles, I'd be whacked over the head with the red pen of loving correction by my supervisor. It didn't flow at all well. And I know it's non-fiction, but it felt clunkily info-dumpy. Half the time I was going duh, I know this stuff, that's why I'm reading this book and the other half whoa, slow down.

I think this could be a very interesting book, if it caters to what you're interested in. I was more interested in the artificial intelligences, of which there's very little direct discussion... ( )
  shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
Full review posted on Across the Litoverse

In 1950, mathematician Alan Turing predicted that computers would become so sophisticated we would start defining them as sentient, thinking beings. Each year the AI community gathers for the Loebner Prize, the field's most anticipated and controversial event, where the Turing test is administered—and the most advanced computer programs compete to fool a panel of judges into mistaking them for actual people. AI programs and human competitors are given five minutes to chat with a judge via instant messaging and, as the contest currently stands, no conversation topics are off-limits. The program that wins gets top honours as the Most Human Computer. However, real people compete, too, and the one who prevails wins the Most Human Human Award.

As Brian Christian prepares as a "human confederate" for 2009 Loebner Prize, his conversational strategies and tactics uncover greater answers than anticipated—in studying what behaviours are unique in human conversation, Christian discovers our numerous, shifting definitions of humanity in our digital era. What Turing conceived as the test of artificial intelligence has ultimately become a means of measuring ourselves.

Had a definite, immediate interest in the linguistic/language sections of the book based on my academic background. I came to realize how complex our interactions are right down to learning how to interrupt speakers and how we learn the difference between "uh" and "um", two sounds with no dictionary definition. I got a touch lost with the philosophical debates and the in-depth mathematics sections if only because I don't have a background in either field. For the sake of this book and the general approach to its subject matter, Christian had to assume some knowledge on behalf of the reader or otherwise offer extensive footnotes to explain difficult concepts. But, if reading about AI lets me improve myself as a human, well, I can never turn my nose up at that.

Ideal for: Science fiction fans who want a real-life dose of exceptional AI; Science geeks who shall inherit the Earth (or create a program to do so); Readers who revel in language and want to learn what makes English oh-so fascinating; Philosophy fans who can't get enough of the "what constitutes a human" debate. ( )
  MizMoffatt | Mar 6, 2012 |
Brian Christian was a (human) participant in the 2009 Loebner Prize Turing test competition, in which chatbots are pitted against each other and against actual people in an attempt to convince judges of their humanity. As well as an award for Most Human Computer, which honors the chatbot that is able to fool the most judges, there's also a Most Human Human award, for the real person who was least often confused with a machine. Christian decided he was going to win that Most Human Human prize and, despite repeated advice to just be his incontestably human self, he set about putting some real thought and preparation into how to be the most human conversationalist he could possibly be.

Honestly, it sounds kind of like a joke: "Yo momma so stupid, she had to study for the Turing test!" But Christian takes it all very seriously, using the competition and his role in it as a starting point for a discussion, both scientific and philosophical, about all the things that make us similar to and different from computers. How much of human activity, including conversation, is essentially mechanical? Where does the essence of human creativity lie? How can contrasting ourselves with computers help us to be more human?

Some of his thoughts on the subject are more insightful and original than others, but the book as a whole is thoughtful, engagingly written, mildly provocative, and generally worth a read. ( )
3 vote bragan | Aug 3, 2011 |
Showing 5 of 5
In his landmark 1950 paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” the mathematician, philosopher and code breaker Alan Turing proposed a method for answering the question “Can machines think?”: an “imitation game” in which an “interrogator,” C, interviews two players, A and B, via teleprinter, then decides on the basis of the exchange which is human and which is a computer.

Turing’s radical premise was that the question “Can a machine win the imitation game?” could replace the question “Can machines think?” — an upsetting idea at the time, as the neurosurgeon Sir Geoffrey Jefferson asserted in 1949: “Not until a machine can write a sonnet or compose a concerto because of thoughts and emotions felt, and not by the chance fall of symbols, could we agree that machine equals brain — that is, not only write it but know that it had written it.” Turing demurred: if the only way to be certain that a machine is thinking “is to be the machine and to feel oneself thinking,” wouldn’t it follow that “the only way to know that a man thinks is to be that particular man”? Nor was the imitation game, for Turing, a mere thought experiment. On the contrary, he predicted that in 50 years, “it will be possible to program computers . . . to make them play the imitation game so well that an average interrogator will not have more than 70 percent chance of making the right identification after five minutes of questioning.”

Well, he was almost right, as Brian Christian explains in “The Most Human Human,” his illuminating book about the Turing test. In 2008, a computer program called Elbot came just one vote shy of breaking Turing’s 30 percent silicon ceiling. The occasion was the annual Loebner Prize Competition, at which programs called “chatterbots” or “chatbots” face off against human “confederates” in scrupulous enactments of the imitation game. The winning chatbot is awarded the title “Most Human Computer,” while the confederate who elicits “the greatest number of votes and greatest confidence from the judges” is awarded the title “Most Human Human.”

It was this title that Christian — a poet with degrees in computer science and philosophy — set out, in 2009, to win. And he was not about to go “head-to-head (head-to-motherboard?) against the top A.I. programs,” he writes, without first getting, as it were, in peak condition. After all, for Elbot to have fooled the judges almost 30 percent of the time into believing that it was human, its rivals had to have failed almost 30 percent of the time to persuade the judges that they were human. To earn the “Most Human Human” title, Christian realized, he would have to figure out not just why Elbot won, but why humanity lost. . . .
added by PLReader | editNY Times, David Leavitt (Mar 18, 2011)
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385533063, Hardcover)

The Most Human Human is a provocative, exuberant, and profound exploration of the ways in which computers are reshaping our ideas of what it means to be human. Its starting point is the annual Turing Test, which pits artificial intelligence programs against people to determine if computers can “think.”

Named for computer pioneer Alan Turing, the Tur­ing Test convenes a panel of judges who pose questions—ranging anywhere from celebrity gossip to moral conundrums—to hidden contestants in an attempt to discern which is human and which is a computer. The machine that most often fools the panel wins the Most Human Computer Award. But there is also a prize, bizarre and intriguing, for the Most Human Human.

In 2008, the top AI program came short of passing the Turing Test by just one astonishing vote. In 2009, Brian Christian was chosen to participate, and he set out to make sure Homo sapiens would prevail.

The author’s quest to be deemed more human than a com­puter opens a window onto our own nature. Interweaving modern phenomena like customer service “chatbots” and men using programmed dialogue to pick up women in bars with insights from fields as diverse as chess, psychiatry, and the law, Brian Christian examines the philosophical, bio­logical, and moral issues raised by the Turing Test.

One central definition of human has been “a being that could reason.” If computers can reason, what does that mean for the special place we reserve for humanity?

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:35:49 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"The Most Human Human" is a provocative, exuberant, and profound exploration of the ways in which computers are reshaping our ideas of what it means to be human. Its starting point is the annual Turing Test, which pits artificial intelligence programs against people to determine if computers can "think.… (more)

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