Tag Archives: artificial intelligence

New Book: Rebel Genius: Warren S. McCulloch’s Transdisciplinary Life in Science

Tara Abraham‘s Rebel Genius: Warren S. McCulloch’s Transdisciplinary Life in Science is now available from MIT Press. Rebel Genius recounts the life and work of neurophysiologist and cybernetician Warren McCulloch. As described by the publisher,

Warren S. McCulloch (1898–1969) adopted many identities in his scientific life—among them philosopher, poet, neurologist, neurophysiologist, neuropsychiatrist, collaborator, theorist, cybernetician, mentor, engineer. He was, writes Tara Abraham in this account of McCulloch’s life and work, “an intellectual showman,” and performed this part throughout his career. While McCulloch claimed a common thread in his work was the problem of mind and its relationship to the brain, there was much more to him than that. In Rebel Genius, Abraham uses McCulloch’s life as a window on a past scientific age, showing the complex transformations that took place in American brain and mind science in the twentieth century—particularly those surrounding the cybernetics movement.

Abraham describes McCulloch’s early work in neuropsychiatry, and his emerging identity as a neurophysiologist. She explores his transformative years at the Illinois Neuropsychiatric Institute and his work with Walter Pitts—often seen as the first iteration of “artificial intelligence” but here described as stemming from the new tradition of mathematical treatments of biological problems. Abraham argues that McCulloch’s dual identities as neuropsychiatrist and cybernetician are inseparable. He used the authority he gained in traditional disciplinary roles as a basis for posing big questions about the brain and mind as a cybernetician. When McCulloch moved to the Research Laboratory of Electronics at MIT, new practices for studying the brain, grounded in mathematics, philosophy, and theoretical modeling, expanded the relevance and ramifications of his work. McCulloch’s transdisciplinary legacies anticipated today’s multidisciplinary field of cognitive science.

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Go Ask A.L.I.C.E. – A Look Back at A. I.

Go Ask A.L.I.C.E. Panel Discussion @ Harvard from Harvard University, History/CHSI on Vimeo.

On November 29th, 2012 the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments (CHSI) at Harvard University held panel discussion to coincide with its museum exhibit, GO ASK A.L.I.C.E: Turing Tests, Parlor Games, & Chatterbots. The exhibit, which closed at the end of December and was one of a number of events organized to mark the centenary of Alan Turing’s birth, explored

… the strange afterlife of the Turing Test as it has circulated in popular, scientific, and commercial cultures. It reexamines elements of Turing’s own interactions with humans and machines, later imaginations of thinking machines, as well as a famous attempt to translate Turing’s parlor game into a real test of artificial intelligence: the Loebner Competition.

These issues were further explored in the GO ASK A.L.I.C.E. panel discussion, video of which is posted above. Among those who participated in this event Daniel C. Dennett (Tufts University), Fox Harrell (MIT), John Searle (UC Berkeley), Peter Galison (Harvard), Jonathan Zittrain (Harvard) and Sophia Roosth (Harvard). Video of the event can also be found here.

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