What is the mind? How did it evolve? Can we engineer it?
This interdisciplinary short book explores the mind and its development from a computational perspective. It touches on its evolutionary development, its algorithmic nature and its scientific history by bridging ideas across Neuroscience, Computer Science, Biotechnology, Evolutionary History, Cognitive Science, Political Philosophy, and Artificial Intelligence.
Never before had there been nearly as many scientists, resources or productive research focused on these topics, and humanity has achieved some understanding and some clarification. With the speed of progress it is timely to communicate an overreaching perspective, this book puts an emphasis on conveying the essential questions and what we know about their answers in a simple, clear and exciting way.
Humans, along with the first RNA molecules, the first life forms, the first brains, the first conscious animals, the first societies and the first artificial agents constitute an amazing and crucial development in a path of increasingly complex computational intelligence. And yet, we occupy a minuscule time period in the history of Earth, a history that has been written by Genes, by Cultures and by Consciousnesses. If we abandon our anthropomorphic bias it becomes obvious that Humans are not so special after all. We are an important but short and transitory step among many others in a bigger story. The story of our computational minds, which is ours but not only ours.
- What is the relationship between computation, cognition and everything else?
- What is life and how did it originate?
- What is the role of culture in human minds?
- What do we know about the algorithmic nature of the mind, can we engineer it?
- What is the computational explanation of consciousness?
- What are some possible future steps in the evolution of minds?
The underlying thread is the computational nature of the Mind which results from the mixture of Genes, Cultures and Consciousness. While these three interact in complex ways, they are ultimately computational systems on their own which appeared at different stages of history and which follow their own selective processes operating at different time scales. As technology progresses, the distinction between the three components materializes and will be a key determinant of the future.
Among the many topics covered are the origin of life, the concept of computation and its relation to Turing Machines, cultural evolution and the notion of a Selfish Meme, free will and determinism, moral relativity, the hard problem of consciousness, the different theories of concepts from the perspective of cognitive science, the current status of AI and Machine Learning including the symbolic vs sub-symbolic dichotomy, the contrast between logical reasoning and neural networks, and the recent history of Deep Learning, Geoffrey Hinton, DeepMind and its algorithm AlphaGo. It also develops on the history of science and looks into the possible future building on the work of authors like Daniel Dennett, Yuval Harari, Richard Dawkins, Francis Crick, George Church, David Chalmers, Susan Carey, Stanislas Dehaene, Robert Boyd, Joseph Henrich, Daniel Kahneman, Moran Cerf, Josh Tenenbaum, David Deutsch, Steven Pinker, Ray Kurzweil, John von Neumann, Herbert Simon and many more.
Andres Campero is a researcher and PhD student at the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department and at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).