May 01, 2018

Robin Zebrowski

Want to read about artificial intelligence? Magic? Professor of Cognitive Science Robin Zebrowski has you covered.

Must Read in Your Field

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

By Douglas R. Hofstadter

This is probably still the classic cognitive science book. It’s fairly old for a disciplinary book, and there have been about a million other valuable books written since 1979, but it’s the book that I read in college and it ignited my interest in the mysteries of cognition. Reading it gives one that flash of excitement and spark of insight that all great (and greatly written) books offer.

Favorite Book to Teach

Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence

By Andy Clark

For the past 10 years, I’ve been teaching Andy Clark’s Natural Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence to one of my classes, and it’s definitely a contender for favorite. The technologies discussed are getting a bit dated, but Clark paints a picture of human beings as always entwined with our technologies. It is human nature to be altered, body and mind, by the tools we encounter (including written language). Students don’t always agree with the claims, but they’re always moved by the implications, and they love to learn about the state of emerging technologies and how they’ll impact their lives in the coming decades.

For Pure Enjoyment

The Stone Sky

By N.K. Jemisin

I just finished The Stone Sky, the third book in N.K. Jemison’s Broken Earth series. I think every book in the series has won the Hugo or the Nebula (or both). The three-book series plays with time and narration in clever ways. It’s about a world where there are planet-wide geological events that happen every so often and usually result in enormous widespread destruction of life. There is a special breed of people who are able to manipulate the rocks (to prevent, or sometimes cause, such cataclysms). The book reaches across deep time to chronicle (and challenge) the history of both the people and the planet. There are deep allegories for racism throughout, which is one of the ways the book does so much work. On the surface, it’s a book about growing up, parenthood, oppression, and magic. And more.

Book That Changed the Way You Think

Metaphors We Live By

By George Lakoff and Mark Johnson

Literally every book I’ve ever read changed the way I think at least somewhat, because that’s what books do! But I’ll offer one fiction and one non-fiction here. First, the non-fiction: Metaphors We Live By examines how our bodies play a constituting role in how we think, and about how language reveals deep truths about the structure of the mind. I had been studying cognitive science for about six years when I read it, and it completely upended everything I thought I knew about the mind. I went on to study with Mark Johnson because it was such a meaningful shift in my thinking.

[Fiction] Solaris

By Stanislaw Lem

Solaris had an early impact on me during a formative time. The premise involves an alien planet with an intelligent ocean. It was genuinely the first fiction I read that really challenged what I thought were necessary and sufficient conditions for being an intelligent creature. As someone who studies artificial intelligence, this is exactly the kind of challenge that excites me. I genuinely believe this story made me a stronger AI researcher.

Also In This Issue

  • Beloit’s Bold Experiment

  • Seeking a Good Society

  • Trend Report: Converse Shoes and Mom Jeans


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