Creating a mind is not near

It’s not exactly a surprise but Gary Marcus (Kluge: The Haphazard Evolution of the Human Mind author) does not see eye to eye with Ray Kurzweil ( The Singularity is Near author). In the New Yorker (here) Marcus reviews Kurtzeil’s new book, How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed.

In Marcus’ view, Kurzweil puts forward ideas but does not back them up with evidence – to Kurzweil the ideas are obvious. He presents the ‘pattern recognition theory of mind’. Marcus describes this thus, “the part of the brain that is most associated with reasoning and conscious thought, the neocortex, is seen as a hierarchical set of pattern-recognition devices, in which complex entities are recognized as a statistical function of their constituent parts.” Marcus has problems with this theory.

We all know that one thing the brain is very good at is pattern recognition and better than our computers at it. But saying that the brain is primarily doing pattern recognition is like saying that a car is primarily doing steering. Memory is more than pattern recognition; motivation, motor control, mood and a list of other things are not primarily pattern recognition. This is just not a reasonable way to look at the brain – there is more to the brain than the neocortex, there is more functions that perception, the processes are more complex than algorithms (and certainly there are more processes than just one).

I look forward to the day when we have a mockup of a brain on a computer. But I think we are going to get there using methods like Markram’s, following the biological trail. If someone builds a great computer program that does something well, that is great. But don’t pretend that it says something about our brains unless it actually does say something about our brains.

The Marcus review just confirms my prior characterization of Kurzweil and so I will not be taking the time to read the book. I’m not interested in ‘writing in the sky with a pitchfork’ as an old saying goes.