On John Casti’s The Cambridge Quintet: A work of Scientific Speculation


In this  slender volume, John Casti takes the reader to an imaginary dinner party in Cambridge (England) some fifty years ago  at which five intellectual stalwarts who had unknowingly laid the foundations for what has come to be known as AI (Artificial Intelligence) exchange views and ideas on the nature, uniqueness, and possibility of non-biological replication of some of the unique functions of the brain. These are C. P. Snow, Erwin Schrödinger, Ludwig Wittgenstein, J. B. S. Haldane, and Alan Turing: names with which the general public may not be very familiar. The discussants argue and counter-argue on how important other experiences (such as pain and pleasure) are for consciousness and intelligence, whether mind is distinct from matter, the relevance of form to substance for intelligence to arise, about the role of language and culture, etc. From their conversations (which could be turned into a high-brow play for universities and academics) even the uninitiated reader can learn a great deal about this important subject, and the initiated will become aware of certain aspects and sources of the history of AI. The book, which is delightful reading all through, belongs to the Meeting-of-the-Minds genre of writing, and it closes with a short and intelligent summation which brings us up to date on the evolution of the subject, with appropriate reference materials. Highly recommended to all readers who wish to know about an important scientific thought current of our age, and how it all began in the minds of a few extremely intelligent and deeply insightful  individuals.

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About Varadaraja V. Raman

Physicist, philosopher, explorer of ideas, bridge-builder, devotee of Modern Science and Enlightenment, respecter of whatever is good and noble in religious traditions as well as in secular humanism,versifier and humorist, public speaker, dreamer of inter-cultural,international,inter-religious peace.
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