The Computer and the Brain

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9780300007930: The Computer and the Brain

This book, composed of material prepared for the Silliman Lectures by john von Neumann before his death, represents the views of one of the greatest mathematicians of the twentieth century on the analogies between computing machines adn the living human brain. He concludes that the brain operates in part digitally, in part analogically, but uses a peculiar statistical language unlike that employed in the operation of man-made computers.

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Review:

Whether they think that artificial intelligence is impossible or inevitable, most people have highly polarized views on it. John von Neumann, genius, mathematician, and inventor of the nearly ubiquitous computer architecture that bears his name, blazed trails for both camps in The Computer and the Brain. This short book, which was written originally for Yale's Silliman lectures, but published posthumously, summarizes his views on machine and biological intelligence with unprecedented clarity and precision. His understanding of neuroscience was that of a brilliant and strongly motivated amateur at the end of the 1950s--good enough to take on the problem, but by no means matching his comprehension of the machines to which he had devoted much of his professional life. Still, his take on intracranial computation is stunningly prescient--he looks beyond the then-fashionable digital metaphors to suggest a semi-analog strategy that uses parallel processing to make up for its deficiency in speed. Prominent neuroscientific thinkers Paul M. Churchland and Patricia S. Churchland provide a brief, enlightening foreword to this second edition, placing the author's thinking in context and grounding the reader in the scientific milieu that gave rise to The Computer and the Brain. Although his computer architecture slowly is growing obsolete, von Neumann has given us a more lasting legacy in his thinking about thinking. --Rob Lightner

About the Author:

At the time of his death in February 1957, John von Neumann, renowned for his theory of games and his work at the Electronic Computer Project at the Institute for Advanced Study, was serving as a member of the Atomic Energy Commission. Paul M. and Patricia S. Churchland are professors of philosophy at the University of California, San Diego.

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