#BookReview: A Thousand Brains by Jeff Hawkins

Amazing Discussion Marred By Myopia In Its Final Act. This book, by the guy that created the Palm Pilot (who has since turned to study neuroscience, which he had wanted to do from the beginning apparently), describes the intriguing new theory of how the brain works that he and his team have crafted very well. Hawkins does a truly excellent job of making the advanced theoretical neuroscience he works with approachable by all, from those who have barely ever heard of the word “neuroscience” to his colleagues and competitors in the field. In discussing the neuroscience leading up to the “thousand brain” concept and in discussing how the “thousand brain” idea directly impacts computing and artificial intelligence, Hawkins is truly amazing. The perils come in the third act, when Hawkins begins to apply the theory and what he believes it could mean directly to humans. Here, he begins to sound both Transhumanist and Randian in his claims of absolute certitude that certain beliefs are false – even while actively ignoring that by the very things he is claiming, there is so much that we simply cannot know – and therefore, logically, there can be no true certitude on these claims. While it was tempting to drop the overall work another star specifically for how bad this particular section is, ultimately the sections of the book leading up to that point are so strong that I simply can’t go quite that far. So read this book through Parts I and II, just be aware up front that Part III is the weakest section of the book and could easily be skipped entirely. Recommended.

This review of A Thousand Brains by Jeff Hawkins was originally written on October 17, 2020.

#BookReview: The Sentient Machine by Amir Husain

Great Overview Of Pervasive AI. This book is a love story to coding and its arguably most advanced manifestation – artificial intelligence. Husain spends quite a bit of time explaining what, exactly, AI is and its history, where we currently are, and where we will be in the near future. He then spends considerable time looking at various areas where AI research is already being done and where it is already having an impact. His praise of the idiot John Maynard Keynes is a bit too effusive, and is indicative of how wrong Husain’s thinking can be when he leaves the programmatic space. While this is but one concrete example, there are numerous others too that are the basis of the drop of a star. Among these are his praise for National Security Agency spying as well as domestic police spying on every day citizens, disregard of Constitutional freedom protections, labeling anything he disagrees with as a “myth”, and a few others. Still, quite a remarkable book when it sticks to its central thesis, and highly recommended.

This review of The Sentient Machine by Amir Husain was originally written on February 28, 2020.

#BookReview: We Know It When We See It by Richard Masland

Remarkable. This is one of those science books you love to find, no matter your particular interest in any field – a book written by seemingly one of the leaders in the field who has seemingly contributed much to the study of the issue at hand, yet who writes a book that we who barely know what the general subject is can understand the state of the field and the author’s contributions to it. In this particular case, we are hearing about the state of vision and perception research from a cellular biologist who has himself won a couple of awards for research in this very field. Masland writes with enough precision that his peers can likely only quibble, if anything, and yet with enough generality that the rest of us can fairly easily follow the discussion. Even with a lack of the discussed diagrams in this particular ARC, the discussion was easily enough followed and the mild humor – if a bit geeky – was appreciated. Very much recommended.

This review of We Know It When We See it by Richard Masland was originally published on December 16, 2019.

#BookReview: Synapse by Steven James

Christian Mass Effect? Religious Deus Ex? Fair warning on this book: It is explicitly Christian Fiction – and it is pretty damn heavy handed on the preaching. If that isn’t your thing, you don’t want to read the first sentence of this thing. The story itself is decent enough, but the hyper preaching aspects drag what could have been a pretty awesome scifi tale that could challenge some of the Golden Age masters into just another book that likely won’t reach much beyond your local (dying) Christian Bookstore. Instead of a subtle exploration of whether robots could have souls ala Blade Runner, you get what amounts to mini sermons – which is theoretically appropriate, with the central character being a preacher. Overall a solid story that could have been so much more, and recommended if you can withstand the preaching.

This review of Synapse by Steven James was originally written on October 9, 2019.

#BookReview: End Times by Bryan Walsh

Much Of This Book Should Terrify You. Walsh does an excellent job of sharing the current state of research into the various existential crises humanity faces – crises that would make the human species extinct if they fully come to fruition. He lays out the narrative in such a way that after beginning with asteroids, each crisis leads into a discussion of the next. Some of his own commentary is hit or miss and different readers will appreciate more or less, but overall the work is solid in its journalism standards. Very much recommended.

This review of End Times by Bryan Walsh was originally written on June 21, 2019. In accordance with its publisher’s wishes, it was originally published in wide circulation on release day, August 27, 2019.