The Tomorrow Makers
By: Grant Fjermedal
Type: Non-fiction survey with touches of biography
Based on interviews with some of the most notable cognitive science researchers in the country and their students, Fjermedal’s book walks the line between non-fiction and biography. Without going into the messy details, he shows that many people in the world believe in the possibility (probability?) of building robots and computers “smart” enough to hold carbon copies of a human mind and continue its thinking processes after the download.
Fjermedal realizes something that not many other survey interviewers do: in an institutional setting, the big names aren’t necessarily the ones who do the most work. Fjermedal not only concentrates on the big fish in the AI pond, such as Marvin Minsky, Joseph Weizenbaum, John McCarthy, Allen Newell, Gerald Jay Sussman and Danny Hillis. He also focuses on the students. Many of them stay up for days at a time working on projects with the kind of dedication that most people don’t give to their careers. They deserve a round of applause, and Fjermedal gives it to them. The student viewpoint is also interestingly fresh because they are accomplished dreamers. They are not afraid to speak of what they think will happen twenty or thirty years down the road. Whereas some university professors will pad their opinions and say, “Well, that might happen someday,” the students respond with, “That will happen. And I’ll do it.” This approach may not be entirely realistic, but reality is not necessarily a good culture for new ideas.
This book, combined with Machinery of the Mind, by George Johnson, works well as a non-technical survey of the directions of artificial intelligence and the people driving there. Fjermedal goes a little more into the personalities and the distance possibilities than Johnson does, but the two books give a consistent view of the field. Specifically, Fjermedal tries to show why the researchers are trying to create intelligent computers and shows the energy with which they are working.