Corrections or additions?
This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the January 21, 2004
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Brains Work in Not-So-Mysterious Ways
The Holy Grail for computer programmers, particularly those that work
in artificial intelligence, is to create programs that grow to be like
human understanding. Such programs could make more robust and flexible
decisions. They would be real servants, brain substitutes for many
kinds of tasks, including the actual task of computer programming.
Eric B. Baum, a scientist who until two years ago was working at NEC
Research Institute on Independence Way, offers insights to the field
of artificial intelligence in his new book "What is Thought?" (MIT
Press, $40). Baum will speak at Barnes & Noble in MarketFair on
Thursday, January 22, at 7 p.m. His book is billed as a major
contribution to the study of the mind.
The title of the book refers to Erwin Schroedinger’s classic 1944
work, "What Is Life?" Ten years before the discovery of DNA,
Schroedinger suggested that life must be explainable at a fundamental
level by physics and chemistry. Similarly Baum contends that the
present-day inability of computer science to explain thought and
meaning is no reason to doubt that there can be such an explanation.
"I would argue that all thought is equivalent to execution of certain
very specific kinds of computer code, and my book is about how to make
sense of that," he says.
"This book is the deepest, and at the same time the most
commonsensical, approach to the problem of mind and thought that I
have read," says Philip W. Anderson, a Princeton University professor
who won the Nobel prize in physics in 1977.
Eric Baum’s father, Leonard, is a PhD from Harvard who had worked at
the Institute for Defense Analyses. Eric Baum graduated from Harvard
in 1978 and has a PhD in physics from Princeton University. He was a
senior research scientist at the NEC Research Institute Computer
Science Division from 1990 to 2002. He left NEC as a result of NEC
pruning its basic research laboratories to focus instead on project
development. He is married and has two teenage children. Both father
and son serve on the board of Netrics, a software development firm on
Baum’s theories on how DNA programs the brain lead to a better
understanding of human mental processes – of consciousness, of
learning, and of language. His theories also have major implications
for humans’ ability to produce smart computers that are like us. This
has practical implications. For instance, he is working on algorithms
based on machine learning and Bayesian reasoning in order to found a
But making computers smart is a harder task than artificial
intelligence scientists have previously thought, says Baum. For
instance, Baum’s kind of computer programming is very different from
the chess playing abilities of IBM’s Deep Blue. "People have abilities
that computers don’t," says Baum, "and my book covers what those
abilities are and how they come about."
The kind of DNA programming that he believes exists in the brain has
not been recognized by other scientists in the neural net field. His
theories are based on the idea that people don’t become smart as a
result of merely growing from being an infant to being an adult.
Instead, our intelligence largely results from 4 billion years that it
took for humans to evolve. "I claim that extremely hard computation is
necessary to extract what you need, and this is done by evolution,
which had massive computational resources at its disposal because it
took place over billions of years." So when an infant brain grows to
be an adult brain, it taps previously written code.
"If you look at most books by artificial intelligence theorists they
are optimistic that we can have smart machines in 20 years, just as we
produce smart adults in that length of time," says Baum. "Though I am
pessimistic about such quick development, my book does give models for
alternative learning algorithms that have speeded up the evolution of
computer programs and achieved results that approach understanding."
– Barbara Fox
"What is Thought?", Eric B. Baum, Barnes & Noble, MarketFair,
609-716-1570. Thursday, January 22, 7 p.m.
Mercer County Community College seeks actors age 30 and above for a
production of "The Grapes of Wrath." Auditions are Saturday, January
24, 1 to 5 p.m. in the Studio Theater (CM122). Call Nick Anselmo at
609-586-4800, ext. 3524.
Philomusica Choir offers a sight singing class for adults to develop
or improve their skills. Beginners, as well as those with some
experience, are welcome to register for the professionally taught
class given on Mondays from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Society, East
Brunswick. The next eight-week class begins Monday, February 9. Fee of
$170.95 includes textbook. Register by February 2. Questions to
firstname.lastname@example.org or 888-744-5668.
Arts Council of Princeton offers "Communiverses," a series of
creative writing workshops for students in grades 6 to 8, and for
homeschooled students. The series of seven workshops begins February
3, at 4:30 p.m., at 102 Witherspoon Street. The cost is $85. Register
United Jewish Federation Princeton Mercer Bucks has funds available
for Israel scholarships. To apply, call Edna at 609-987-8100.
Township of Lawrence seeks artists for the Lawrence Arts and Music
Festival to be held on Saturday, February 21, at Rider University.
Music, dance, theater, poetry, painting, photography, sculpture, and
ceramics are welcome. Call Steve Groeger at 609-844-7067 for
Arts Council of Princeton seeks artists, crafters, vendors, nonprofit
organizations, and performers for Communiversity 2004. The street
fair is held on Saturday, April 24, from noon to 5 p.m. in downtown
Princeton and across the university campus. Deadline for entrants is
Monday, March 15. Call 609-924-8777.
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